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Courthouses are usually packed with people — potential jurors, judges, clerks, attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, sheriffs, bailiffs, court reporters, and many more people who help keep the judicial system operating. In March 2020, the global pandemic forced nearly all judicial processes to come to a halt.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Outlines New Procedures
On March 16, the Supreme Court of Virginia declared a judicial emergency in all district and circuit courts int he Commonwealth (pursuant to VA. Code 17.1-330) and suspended all non-emergency, non-essential court proceedings for 21 days. The order was extended through May 17. The Court issued a fourth order extending the suspension through June 7, 2020. The key provision in the order reads
Effective immediately, it is ORDERED that all civial and criminal jury trials are suspended and shall be continued until further notice and no jury trials shall occur in the Commonwealth
On May 18, Fairfax County Circuit Court — where many of Frei, Mims and Perushek cases are heard — issued an order and advisement outlining a phased transition from emergency to routine operations. Under this plan, certain judicial processes can now take place “by means of other than in-person court proceedings” such as phone or video conferencing methods.
What does this mean to you and your personal injury lawsuit in Fairfax Circuit Court? In general, what this means is that the courts and attorneys are adapting to the limitations created by the pandemic and working to safely serve the public and clients. At a minimum, this means that the overall progress of your personal injury lawsuit will be slower than in pre-pandemic times.
It does not mean that you will receive anything less than the highest standards of representation by us. Frei, Mims and Perushek are at work today and have maintained our full staff, client service, and case development throughout this difficult time. We are adhering to Governor Northam’s and the Court’s directives. During this compromised office work, we want to ensure that we take the best possible care of our clients.
What progress is made through “other than in-person” proceedings?
- Settlement Conferences: Our attorneys have successfully set up virtual settlement conferences by first helping all parties become familiar and comfortable with video conferencing technology. Several settlements have been achieved through this virtual method since the pandemic outbreak.
- Depositions: Our firm is aggressively moving forward with preparing our cases for trial by obtaining depositions needed for trial by tech-advanced methods. Although not ideal, improvements in technology have made remote depositions effective. These virtual meetings eliminate costly air travel and generally are far easier to get scheduled.
- Petitions and Motions: Your personal injury lawsuit is a multi-step process and many steps require Court action. For several months, cases came to a standstill while courts had limited functions or were closed. Gradually, some actions were processed by phone. Now, from Jun 1,2020 forward, the Fairfax County Circuit Court hears motions via video or teleconference. This is a major action that enables us to keep moving your case forward.
What’s happened to my scheduled jury trial? When can my case be set for trial?
- “Suspended and continued” means that if your trial (jury or bench) was scheduled between March 16 and June 7, it must be moved to another date. This is unfortunate for both defendants and plaintiffs, but unavoidable. Setting a case for trial involves coordinating the calendars of many parties including the judge, the lawyers, witnesses, experts, and others who might need to testify.
- Jury trials are suspended until at least August 3, 2020; trial by jury cases are permitted to be set for trial after August 3. The Court cautions that further postponements may occur, depending on the then-state of the judicial emergency.
- Bench trials of two days or less that are currently scheduled for June through July remain on the docket. Bench trials are those cases tried before a judge without a panel of jurors, at the request of both the plaintiff and defendant lawyers.
- Bench trials of two days or less, not currently scheduled, may be set for trial for available dates on the court’s calendar.
How the pandemic impacts your Virginia medical malpractice lawsuit
- Medical records: One of the most important elements of your medical malpractice lawsuit is the medical records associated with your injury. Even during pre-pandemic times, it could take weeks to obtain records from health professionals and organizations. Frei, Mims and Perushek lawyers and staff have redoubled our efforts to, politely but persistently, obtain records.
- Your trial date: The pandemic has “continued” or pushed back many cases well into 2021. Most cases now being set for a jury trial are nine to 14 months out. Bench cases, those heard by a judge versus a jury, are likely going to be set for trial within a shorter time frame, if they will take two days or less. Some, but not all medical malpractice cases might be best served if set as a bench trial. However, few medical malpractice cases can reasonably be expected to consume less than two days.
How the pandemic impacts your Virginia personal injury claim due to a serious accident, defective product, or dangerous condition
- Statute of limitations: If you’ve suffered an injury through the negligence of another, you generally have two years from the date of the injury to file your claim. Generally, after two years, you cannot file your claim so it is important, even during stay-at-home orders, to begin the process. In some instances, the statute may be stayed during the pandemic. Contact us to discuss what you need to do next.
- Insurance claims: The pandemic won’t change the goal of an insurance company when evaluating your injury, which is usually to kill the claim or keep the settlement low. During such difficult economic times, it may be tempting to accept any offer, but it may not be the wisest decision for you and your family. Speak to one of our attorneys to discuss the merits of your case and what might constitute a reasonable offer.