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Effects of COVID-19 on Personal Injury Law in California

COVID-19 has changed the landscape of the United States. From employment to personal relationships, the “new normal” is affecting everyone. 

This includes personal injury cases. 

When you are involved in a physical altercation with another person, specific laws constitute self-defense. Because of COVID-19, your court case may be conducted differently — so it’s important to be aware of the changes.

Self-Defense

In California, self-defense is defined as defending yourself when you feel you are in imminent danger of physical harm, and force is necessary. However, the degree of force used must be reasonably necessary, depending on the circumstances. 

A few examples of reasonable force are:

  • Preventing a rape with lethal force
  • Hitting or kicking a burglar
  • Pushing an attacker away or down a staircase

California also recognizes the Castle Doctrine. This doctrine refers to a set of laws that allow lethal force to protect your home. No laws have changed or been altered in the age of COVID-19, but the way these cases are heard and settled has become more difficult. 

Once you meet with a lawyer and determine there is evidence to proceed with a personal injury lawsuit, there are a series of steps through the California court system to follow. Each phase has been affected by COVID-19. Let’s take a look at some of these issues.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for filing an injury claim in California is two years. That means once two years have gone by, you no longer have the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit. 

If you have any questions about when to file a personal injury lawsuit, consult a lawyer. They have the experience and knowledge to help you navigate the complicated court system.

Potential for Delayed Medical Care

Before COVID-19, going to a doctor or the ER was a simple matter of showing up and being seen for your injuries. That is not to say you should wait if you have an urgent medical emergency. While you may experience long waits in the ER due to understaffing and the number of COVID patients being treated, you still need to be treated. 

If your injuries don’t warrant a visit to the ER, contact your physician as soon as possible. Most general practitioners and some specialists are performing telehealth appointments. While it may not be the same as seeing the doctor in person, they can still assess your injuries and advise a course of treatment.

It’s essential to have your injuries documented as soon as possible after the altercation and get treatment. Accurate records of injuries and potential long-term effects are a crucial component of a personal injury lawsuit.

Changes to Insurance

Since insurance is a private industry, they are not subject to the same laws regarding personal injury. Since the onset of COVID-19, insurance companies are scrambling to reassess risks associated with the virus and the amount of money available to cover damages to another person. 

In addition to these changes, individuals have let their auto insurance and home insurance lapse due to the inability to pay. While this is the last thing you want to worry about when you’ve been injured, it’s important to understand that you may receive a lower than expected settlement.

Court Delays

Stay-at-home orders have changed the landscape of court workers. Delays due to working from home have pushed court cases further out in the calendar. Civil courts where most personal injury cases are presented have been significantly impacted. 

Hours have been cut in half to minimize exposure and allow work from home for clerical tasks. It’s understandable to want your case to be heard as quickly as possible, COVID-19 has impacted the courts exponentially, and it may be months before your case is presented. 

Even with these delays and roadblocks, your case is still important and must be filed promptly to receive a favorable outcome. When selecting a lawyer, make sure they can help you to navigate through these hurdles.

Increased Pressure to Settle

Insurance companies tend to try and settle as quickly as possible, and even more so now that the courts are backed up, and cases are delayed. Even if your suit doesn’t involve an insurance company, an individual defendant will attempt an out-of-court settlement. 

The pandemic’s increasing economic pressure might sway you to choose a quick settlement and get a check faster. However, settling can harm you in the long run. Most initial settlement offers undercut both your injury value and the harm you’ve experienced as a result. 

Trust your attorney’s advice and evaluate every settlement offer honestly, negotiating with the opposing party for a fair settlement that accurately reflects your injury and the damage caused.

Settlement vs. Trial

Even if you feel that the settlement offered is sufficient, your lawyer can negotiate a better settlement or take your case to court for a judge to determine. There are pros and cons to both means of settling a personal injury lawsuit.

Trial

A trial can significantly increase the potential compensation for your claim. For example, a jury could award more for your pain and suffering than an insurance company or individual offers. You also get a better sense of justice by having a trial. During the trial, the defendant is found guilty, whereas they never have to admit fault in a settlement.

The downside to a trial is the length of time it can take. Lawsuits can be a long, drawn-out process. The longer the trial takes, the more expensive it can become. Taking your case to court also creates the risk of not winning. Speaking with a qualified lawyer will help you determine if a trial is a right choice for you.

Settlement

Settlements take less time than a trial and can save you money in court costs and lawyer fees. You have more control over the settlement process. You and your lawyer can negotiate a better settlement and have the final say in accepting it. 

Unfortunately, in a settlement, the amount may be substantially less than what could be determined in a court case. However, there is always a chance that the court will award you nothing. Settlements are permanent. Once the money is paid, there is no other recourse. 

Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer

Even in the era of COVID-19, personal injury lawyers are standing by to take your case. Most offer online consultations and meetings, making sure that everyone stays safe. The lawyer you choose will help you navigate the complicated process of your personal injury claim and help you determine the best route to go. 

Hann Law Firm has a dedicated team of personal injury lawyers ready to take your call. We advocate for you in the face of these challenges. We’ll get you the compensation you need to heal and move forward with your life. 

Fighting for fair treatment from insurance companies and big businesses can seem like an uphill battle, but we’ll protect your interests every step of the way. We have a long, proven track record of success in San Jose and throughout California – you can trust us when it’s most important. Contact us today for your free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers.

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