The Coronavirus Effect on Personal Injury Cases
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, we heard today about restaurants being ordered to discontinue serving sit-down patrons as well as local gyms in the area, such as Vasa, closing their doors to gym patrons. We also heard about Intermountain Health Care restricting non-essential surgical procedures. I also heard today of a chiropractor that I know who closed his doors, at least temporarily. With worsening conditions affecting these types of establishments, how might these types of restrictions affect those who have personal injury cases?
Medical Treatment Will Be Limited. After an accident, an injured person will generally seek and receive medical treatment. At least in Utah, an accident victim has a duty to “mitigate” their damages, or do everything they can to get back to where they were before the accident happened. So what do you do if your chiropractor or physical therapist has closed their doors or if you are uncomfortable seeking treatment because of the COVID-19 scare?
First, if your medical provider has closed their door, it may be possible to switch to another provider that is still open for business. While it may be too early to tell, I predict that the trend of these clinics closing their doors will continue, and you might get only an extra week before the clinic you switch to closes their doors. If this is happening to you, let your attorney or case manager know so they can make a note in the file. There is little that we as attorneys can do in this client to force a doctor or therapist to treat you. It may be a situation where we all have to ride out the storm. If you were asked to do home exercises, it could be that you continue those while your clinic remains closed. Hopefully if you know that your particular clinic will be closing down, you can get some specific instructions on how to continue your exercises at home while you wait for them to reopen.
Second, if you are nervous about going into your clinic or to a doctor’s appointment, you are probably not alone. If you are nervous, it might be that speaking with their staff will help reduce some of your concerns. Perhaps you could wear a face mask to minimize the germ transfer. As above, let your attorney know if you are experiencing anxiety in this area.
The reality is that medical care helps drive the value of these personal injury cases. So if your doctor has prescribed certain treatment for you and you cannot complete it, the value of the case will be affected. Of course, you will have a good excuse if you develop a gap in treatment because of restrictions stemming from the Coronavirus. Yet quality treatment, or the lack of it, will be a factor in the insurance company seeking to lower the value of your case. Hopefully your doctor or therapist will document in their file the extraordinary circumstances that led to restrictions on your healthcare.
Access to Justice Will Be Affected. This past weekend, the Supreme Court issued an order that will delay or cancel all pending non-essential hearings or trial dates. While they say that the courthouses will remain open, this is mostly for those hearings and procedures deemed “essential,” where someone life and liberty might hang in the balance. Hearings and trials set for personal injury matters will not be considered “essential” and as of the announcement this past weekend, will be reschedule for another date.
Insurance Coverage Will Be Affected. When the cost of things we all need to buy goes up and an income earner’s ability to work goes down, the average consumer will look for ways to cut corners. Once of the ways they can do this is to cut down the amount of insurance they wish to buy or in some cases, waive it completely. When this happens, it puts everyone on the road at risk for not being able to take care of essential medical procedures related to the injury. The reality is that the at-fault driver may carry only the state-mandated minimum of $25,000. Then, if your insurance policy is low, you may be limited on the amount of under-insured benefits you can tap into.
One way to reduce the uncertainty is to make sure you have purchased enough coverage on your own car insurance. This way, if the at-fault driver is responsible for the wreck an only carriers a minimum policy, you can tap into your own “under-insured” coverage to make an additional claim once they have paid out their policy limits.
Delay Will Add to Additional Devaluation of Your Case. Some might be tempted in situations like this to put off making a claim. The strength of your case, however, may never be restored if you do this. Don’t put off talking with your attorney about your case. The early you have these crucial conversations, the sooner you can get the help you really need if you’ve been heart in a car crash. So don’t delay the reporting of your case. And if you are worried about coming to our office amid the outbreak. Put your mind at ease as we have implemented a number of safety procedures to make sure you are safe when you come to visit. We even offer an initial evaluation using technology, such as Skype and other programs. So call today so we can start helping you get justice for your case.
Ron Kramer is an attorney representing persons hurt in personal injury matters throughout Utah..