Judges and court staff throughout New York are returning to their assigned courthouses, many for the first time in more than a year. Awaiting them is a massive backlog of cases that have built up since COVID-19 virtually shut down the court system in early 2020. A significant number of those delayed cases are personal injury lawsuits.
With almost no trials taking place during the past year, insurance companies and defendants knew they would not face the possibility of juries awarding plaintiffs more money. So rather than settling cases, they have been delaying, reducing, or refusing settlement offers. The insurance companies hoped that by these methods they could essentially force injured people to accept a very low offer because they needed something to make ends meet.
“It’s very clear to me that insurance companies are taking advantage of the COVID-19 epidemic to delay because they don’t have the hammer of a jury trial over their heads,” Sanford Rubenstein of Rubenstein & Rynecki said in a recent article in the New York Daily News. The numbers bear this out. There were 39 percent fewer lawsuits resolved in our state in 2020 than in 2019, according to the Daily News. The Rubenstein firm also saw a large drop in case settlements, from about 350 in 2019 to about 175 in 2020.
A bill currently in the state legislature proposes charging interest in personal injury cases from the date the accident occurs. The thought is that this would encourage defendants and insurance companies to settle claims more quickly. “Applying interest from the date of the injury, just like in breach of contract, will help address the problem of injured parties who cannot afford a delay,” said state Sen. Brian Benjamin, who supports the bill.
With judges and court staff now back on-site, and with the continuation of virtual proceedings to help make things more efficient, the caseload backlog may soon be cleared and cases can start moving through the system normally. The promise of resumption of jury trials will have a pronounced effect on the pace, fairness, and adequacy of personal injury settlements.
Rubenstein & Rynecki is a Brooklyn personal injury law firm dedicated to helping people get full and fair compensation. We are actively working on pending cases and taking new clients, so if you need legal help please call (718) 522-1020 or contact us online for a consultation with one of our New York injury attorneys.