At the beginning of April I wrote a blog about the potential effects of COVID-19 on personal injury claims. This was a few weeks after lockdown had commenced and the short-term future looked very uncertain. Four months on, I am looking back and assessing what I’ve learnt. It is a tentative reflection as the prospect of a second wave looms large.
As anticipated, clients have had their rehabilitation interrupted, with face to face sessions only just being resumed. During this hiatus clients have either been left waiting or have received sessions via Zoom or similar. Clients report this works fairly well for some treatments such as psychotherapy but there is limited benefit for others such as physiotherapy. Case managers have found themselves busier than ever.
It is too soon to assess what this delay in treatment will mean for a client’s overall recovery. Where there is a psychiatric injury, some clients report the lockdown as being beneficial for conditions such as anxiety. Others say that the easing of lockdown and the prospect of a return to a semblance of “normality” has acted as a trigger.
And what about the progression of cases? I am pleased to say that the legal world has coped very well. Most lawyers are able to report that given the right technology and infrastructure, their jobs can be done as well whilst working remotely as in the office. Many firms report implementing paperless or paperlight systems if not already in place, something which may have been in the longterm business plan in any event.
At the beginning of June I had a three day trial via Skype and, despite reservations on both sides, the platform worked very well. My colleagues and I have also successfully conducted joint settlement meetings using various media platforms as well as the old fashioned telehpone. No doubt hearings and even complex trials via Skype or similar will feature on the legal landscape beyond the pandemic. There will be time to iron out the glitches and bed down the protocols.
The people we work with within litigation have also coped well. Experts have embraced technology and been able to conduct assessments virtually where possible. The ability to access an expert in this way opens up the prospect of instructing experts who previously could not be considered due to distance. Non-medical and medical experts alike can attend conferences virtually saving time and costs.
It has not all been good. Some medical assessments need to be face to face and the obtaining of these reports has been delayed. The courts are backlogged and waiting for routine applications to be processed can frustrate being able to move on to the next steps. However, the collaborative spirit I reported in April has been maintained and cases have progressed as far as they are able during the uncertainty of lockdown. I have missed not seeing clients and I am pleased that visits have resumed where we are satisfied that our client’s safety is not compromised.
Overall, I have felt there to be a new found flexibility in litigation which was always possible but which it has taken the conditions of lockdown to realise. Lockdown has forced change, but this is change which we are able to use for the benefit of our clients in both the short and long term.