Jury Trials in the Age of Covid-19

Times are strange for trial lawyers throughout the United States. The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in massive shutdowns of courthouses across the country. For clients who have experienced catastrophic losses as a result of a wrongful death or severe personal injuries to themselves or a family member, the courtroom shutdown means a delay in justice and, in some cases, the denial of justice altogether.

For a wrongful death lawyer, like from Mishkind Kulwicki Law, CO., L.P.A., trial dates are an important force for resolution of outstanding claims. Typically, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits will settle within a few months of a definitive trial date, or, if not settled, the case will be tried to a conclusion on that trial date. Without a pending trial date, insurance companies often refuse to settle, particularly on the bigger cases where clients are most needing relief, like cases involving amputation, paralysis, traumatic brain injury or wrongful death.

Some states are taking active measures to try to accommodate jury trials even as Covid 19 infection rates sore. For example, New Jersey’s Supreme Court recently ordered that jury trials proceed in a virtual format if both parties agree to that format. Initially, mutual consent is required. However, beginning on April 5, all parties will be subject to virtual trials whether they consent or not. This step is going to be needed in every state in order for the courts to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to administer justice.

The State of Ohio attempted for a short period to conduct trials outside of the courthouse in a facility with large classrooms, plenty of space to social distance and technology to permit all participants, the judge, jury and lawyers, to view exhibits and even testimony provided by witnesses who appeared via Zoom or some other virtual format.

The Ohio experiment quickly failed as infection rates soared leading courts to once again close their courthouses on a temporary basis. These closures have real consequences. Trial dates now are pushed back months and sometimes years.

One case that I am handling involves a client who is nearly 80 years old. Will she be around when the case is finally tried? This case involves the wrongful death of her husband at the hands of negligent hospital workers. Will she ever get justice? The need for virtual trials is compelling in this circumstance.

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the fateful day on which many states first shutdown their courthouses due to the Coronavirus. The pandemic continues to surge. Though there is currently a vaccine rollout, it is not anticipated that most Americans will receive a vaccine before mid-year. Given the complete lack of a response to the pandemic by the Federal Government, the states were left to a patchwork of policies while many citizens rebelled against taking common sense measures to protect their fellow citizens at the urging of our negligent President.

As a result, many lawsuits have languished in purgatory. It is time for state courts to step up to the plate and order virtual trials immediately, so personal injury and wrongful death lawyers can bring their clients lawsuits to a prompt conclusion.