This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.
HealyScanlon, formerly The Healy Law Firm, is comprised of seven trial attorneys. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-922-4500 or 312-977-0100). www.HealyScanlon.com. The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.
Unprecedented Impact of COVID-19 on the Courts and the Litigation Practice of Law
The effects of COVID-19 have impacted the lives of all of us. And it has had a severe impact on the operation of our judicial system and the practice of law as well. On March 23, 2020, all civil jury trials were suspended in the Circuit Court of Cook County with no date certain when they would resume. All motions, which is an essential part of civil litigation, were continued, but for emergency motions.
In the Circuit Court of Cook County Law Division, which handles the large civil claims for injuries and damages, all cases that were set for a jury trial from March 17, 2020 through December 31, 2020 were continued. These actions were unprecedented in the operation of the Circuit Court.
Healy Scanlon Attorneys Receive One of the First Bench Trial Awards in Cook County Law Division Since the Start of COVID
Healy Scanlon represented two clients in an injury case set for a jury trial on May 18th of this year. Due to the shutdown, that date was stricken, and the matter was continued generally. However, H/S was able to get the matter set for a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial, without a jury – the trial judge plays the role of both the judge and the jury, resolving disputes of both law and fact.
On November 11, 2020, Dennis M. Lynch and Neil Schelhammer conducted a bench trial via Zoom before Judge Lorna Propes in the Circuit Court of Cook County. It was one of the first Zoom civil bench trials in Cook County Law Division. This was also a first for H/S, where the entirety of the trial was conducted through Zoom.
The case resulted from a multi-car auto collision. Plaintiffs, two sisters from Ireland, one living here and one visiting, were rear-ended by two other vehicles. The entire trial was conducted virtually through Zoom. Law Division Judge Propes was in her courtroom hosting on Zoom. None of the parties, their attorneys, nor Judge Propes were ever present together. All four parties, two plaintiffs and two defendants, gave their testimony through Zoom. Even more noteworthy, was the fact that one of the plaintiffs, the Irish resident represented by H/S testified real time from her home in County Kildare, Ireland. Due to the time difference, she testified first thing in the morning our time (late afternoon for her), but remained on Zoom into the night in Ireland to witness the entire trial. Following the trial, the judge returned a very favorable judgment for the two sisters.
Resolution of Workers’ Compensation Claims have also been Impacted
This particular trial resulted from a non-work related accident. However H/S also represents injured individuals in workers’ compensation claims. Hearings on these matters were also suspended on March 17, 2020 by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Recently, H/S resumed trying these matters on behalf of injured clients as well. These claims were tried before an Arbitrator, so they do not present the challenge of trying a case before a jury. The trials took place live and in person. The protocols required face coverings and social distancing during a hearing. However, because of the recent surge in COVID, as of November 13, 2020, these hearings have again been suspended indefinitely.
First Responders and Essential Workers get Rebuttable Presumption of Coverage
COVID-19 has also brought about changes to the Illinois Workers’ Occupation Diseases Act. Specifically, the Act now allows for any first responder, front-line worker, or any individual employed by essential businesses and operations, who contracts COVID-19 to have a rebuttal presumption that they contracted the disease as a result of their employment.
This recent change is meant to protect workers who may be exposed to the disease as a result of their work. H/S represents numerous clients who have been exposed to the disease in their workplace. The presumption applies to all workers who were diagnosed with COVID-19 on or after March 9, 2020. The presumption may be rebutted by evidence that the employee was exposed to the disease by an alternate source.
To protect employers during this difficult time, the Act also provides that “under no circumstances shall any COVID-19 case increase or affect any employer’s workers’ compensation insurance experience rating or modification.” 820 ILCS 310/5.
Healy/Scanlon remains committed to advocating for their clients even without the traditional courtroom settings. If you are injured during these difficult times, contact our office for further information.
By Martin Healy Jr., Dennis M. Lynch, and Neil Schelhammer