MORROW, Ga., July 29, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented pandemic that has impacted every area of our society, and this includes the legal system. Attorney Melody Fox from Stein & Fox, LLC in Atlanta recently shared some of her insights on the legal issues with COVID-19, the shutdowns, and the process of reopening:
Question: What are some of the issues with the courts that you have been running into as Georgia has been reopening after COVID-19? And how are these issues impacting your clients' cases?
Melody: The courts have been at a standstill, and the statewide emergency order that has been implemented since the beginning of all of this has made it more difficult to get clients into the courtroom. They keep extending the order every 30 days, and it now runs through August 11.
Most clerks' offices can still accept pleadings through e-file, and hearings and depositions can be conducted through Zoom, but jury and bench trials can't move forward. The courts have already been operating with a backlog even before COVID, so this is just making the situation worse.
This has the potential to negatively impact settlement negotiations, because of course the credible threat of going to trial is our best leverage. The majority of insurance companies still negotiate in good faith, but there are some that have tried to take advantage of the situation by making very unfair offers.
When our clients receive an unacceptable offer, we advise them to be patient, because they will get their day in court. It will just take longer because of the current backlog. In times like these, it is especially important for those who need legal help to work with an experienced attorney who specializes in a particular area of practice, rather than a general practitioner.
This is where I think being represented by a firm like ours is extremely beneficial. We've been here and practiced personal injury exclusively in the Atlanta area for 40+ years. We have handled some of the most complex personal injury cases that ever come up, and we know what needs to be done to build the strongest possible case. We also limit our attorney caseloads so we can dedicate the time and energy that each case deserves, and we will turn over every stone to maximize our clients' recovery.
Question: Georgia was one of the first states to start reopening after the nationwide lockdowns that were designed to slow the spread of the virus. What concerns, if any, do you have about the way the state has handled the reopening process?
Melody: One major concern is that the safety of our citizens seems to have been politicized. The state is at odds with the counties and cities over various issues like mask ordinances, and they do not appear to be on the same page about a lot of things.
The Senate and House has also passed a bill creating a standard of care for businesses whose customers might contract COVID-19. Other states have passed similar laws. Essentially, the law gives businesses protection from lawsuits as long as they put up a sign that warns customers that they could get COVID if they enter. There is one exception though. The law does not protect a business from gross negligence, malice, or reckless or intentional infliction of harm. If this were to happen, a customer who ended up with the virus might still have a case.
Question: What about schools reopening this fall? What concerns do you have about bringing the kids back?
Melody: Each of the counties is doing something completely different. Some are doing traditional, some are doing distance learning, and some are doing a hybrid of the two. Meanwhile, the government is pushing to reopen schools, but there are concerns that they are not providing the funding and guidelines needed to do so safely.
I suspect that a lot of schools might choose to start with distance learning to protect themselves legally. If a school forces the issue and makes all the kids come back without taking appropriate measures to keep everyone safe, then they could probably be held liable if kids, teachers and others who work at the school were to contract the virus.
Question: What about workplace safety? What legal rights do employees have if they end up with the virus through work?
Melody: It would be an uphill battle if you ended up with COVID-19 through your job. Insurance companies are always looking for a way to point the finger at another source, so you would need a direct causal link that shows you got it at work. As long as employers took proper precautions and followed appropriate safety procedures, it would be difficult to hold them liable. But like we talked about before, if you can show that they were grossly negligent or engaged in willful or malicious conduct that resulted in an employee contracting the virus, then you might have a case.
Question: More than 1,300 residents of nursing homes in Georgia have died from COVID-19, accounting for a little under half of the total coronavirus-related deaths in the state. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that testing delays, staffing shortages, and equipment scarcity were major factors in the failure of these facilities to protect their vulnerable residents. Do you agree with this assessment? And what legal rights do family members have if they lost a loved one in a Georgia nursing home?
Melody: There were a lot of things that went wrong in nursing homes, and even though the state is working on this new legislation to provide businesses with liability protection, I believe there are likely to be numerous class action lawsuits against these facilities. The negligence and the fact that there are so many deaths - just the egregiousness of the injuries to such a vulnerable population make it likely that there will be some large settlements for surviving family members.
If someone lost a loved one to COVID-19 in a nursing home, I would strongly suggest that they speak with a firm like ours to review the specifics of the case and discuss their legal rights and options. We would be more than happy to provide them with a free case assessment.
About Stein and Fox, LLC Stein & Fox is an Atlanta-area personal injury firm with attorneys that have served Georgia clients for nearly half a century. The firm has earned strong recognition over the years for its ability to take on personal injury and wrongful death cases of all levels of complexity, recover maximum compensation for their clients, and provide highly personalized representation throughout the process.