In a scenario nobody predicted, the Covid-19 coronavirus led to the closure of businesses throughout California. However, not only restaurants, retailers, and recreational outlets have been affected – so have the courts. But what does that mean if you were injured in an automobile accident and in the midst of pursuing a civil case with the assistance of a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles? Does that mean your case cannot move forward, and that you will have to wait an uncertain amount of time to receive the compensation you deserve for injuries and property losses?
Before we answer those questions, let’s review what is going on in Los Angeles with regards to the civil courts, including what restrictions exist, when they were put in place, and when they are expected to be lifted.
Timeline of courthouse closures in Los Angeles due to coronavirus
On March 13, 2020, with awareness of the potentially devastating and widespread effects of Covid-19 in mind, Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, announced that as of March 16 all new civil jury trials should be continued for a minimum of 30 days and all preference jury trials for at least 15 days. Although emergency closure orders can only be issued under the authority of the Chief Justice and/or California governor, Judge Brazile did have the authority to delay trial court operations in the interest of public health and welfare.
Only a couple of days later, Judge Brazile announced a scale-down of operations in all 38 Los Angeles-area courthouses, with an eye toward meeting social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC. Any courtroom operations deemed “non-essential” were scaled back, which included civil cases like car accident lawsuits. As a result, no new jurors could be summoned for civil jury trials for 30 days, the trial judge for any jury or non-jury trial already in session could use their discretion to continue the trial or declare a mistrial, and judges were encouraged to offer telephone appearances or pursue similar strategies to reduce courtroom traffic.
The same day, the Superior Court announced that, effective immediately, any person fitting the following criteria was no longer permitted to enter any courthouse under its jurisdiction:
- Anyone exhibiting known symptoms of active Covid-19 infection, including fever, severe cough, or shortness of breath
- Anyone formally diagnosed with the coronavirus or who had known contact with someone diagnosed
- Those already told to self-quarantine by their physician or a hospital or other health agency
- Any person who traveled to a country listed by the CDC as having been classified a Level Two or Level three travel healthy notice within the past 14 days
Therefore, anyone already scheduled to go to court as part of a personal injury case had to notify their attorney, who then was directed to alert the court that they could not appear. And if the lawyer fit any of the above criteria, they were required to notify the court of their own situation and not appear. As you can imagine, this created some significant challenges for everyone already in the process of, or just about to begin, a trial for their automobile accident case.
Soon after these announcements, more schedule changes and restrictions were imposed. In response to an emergency authorization requested by Judge Brazile and granted by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, all non-essential operations were shut down entirely for three days (March 17-19) and time and filing deadlines related to all cases, including civil, were extended. These “Court Statutory holidays” closed every Los Angeles courthouse to the public, and only certain courtrooms were scheduled to reopen after that to manage essential and emergency cases (e.g., requests for emergency restraining orders). The judicial system of California faced a challenging task – to continue meeting their requirement to provide equal access for individuals pursuing justice through the courts in a “fair, timely, and efficient” manner while also protecting public health and the safety of all courtroom personnel.
Within a day, this holiday period was extended significantly. All nonemergency trials were continued for 30 days, suspending all civil trials through April 16. Jurors were told not to report to court and no prospective jurors could be summoned during the 30-day suspension. On March 23, the Superior Court closed the Clerk’s Offices in all 38 courthouses while establishing telephone and other alternate means for litigants, Los Angeles attorneys, and others with court business to complete time-sensitive, essential, and limited services. This ruling affected ex parte proceedings in civil cases (i.e., any decision made by a judge without requiring all parties to a dispute to be present). Examples of this with regards to car accident personal injury cases include requests to cancel a subpoena, for additional time to serve the other party in the lawsuit, or for more time to file a response if you were served.
Despite this abundance of caution, one of the courthouses in Los Angeles notified Judge Brazile that an attorney who had appeared as part of a permitted cases was diagnosed with Covid-19, which required all personnel present to go into quarantine for 14 days. Not surprisingly, Judge Brazile almost immediately exercised the authority granted to him by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye to restrict courthouse access to authorized parties only from March 23 through June 22. Only judges, commissioners, courtroom staff and authorized persons would be allowed in-person access. Several courthouses were fully and completely closed to the public, including Beverly Hills, Catalina, and Spring Street. All civil jury or non-jury trials were ordered to remain suspended until further notice as well.
Plans to resume Los Angeles civil court activities in progress
The estimated date for a resumption of civil court trials as of this writing is “sometime after” June 22, at which time parties are to be notified of their new trial date. However, with an eye toward resuming hearings on or after June 22, the Clerk’s Office is scheduled to reopen on June 15 with reservations required.
In preparation for reopening the closed courts, a newly established Virtual Clerk’s Office and Court Service Departments plans to include virtual jury service, telephone and video (WebEx) assistance, and information on how to reserve a seat in the courthouse for in-person assistance, with more virtual services planned under the Here For You, Safe For You plan. This plan will require the following:
- Use of masks by all judicial employees and courtroom visitors (with very limited medical-based exemptions)
- Management of social distancing with signs and marked areas inside and outside courthouses
- Provision of hand sanitizers and wipes at the entrance to the courts, interior court rooms, and other heavily trafficked areas
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting throughout courthouses
The plan will also enable appearances by phone in certain situations. Whether that will include remote appearances for those involved in personal injury cases remains to be seen.
With the right Los Angeles car accident attorney you may never need to go to court
A skilled and experienced automobile accident lawyer can often get you a settlement for your injuries and losses without your ever having to set foot in a courtroom. This is especially important now when civil cases are being delayed until after the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted. Additionally, in order to protect you and all our valued clients, we are offering the ability to meet with us via telephone, email exchanges, or through video conferencing. If you want to pursue compensation safely during the coronavirus pandemic — and perhaps avoid having to go through a civil court trial at all — then please contact auto accident attorney Scott J. Corwin at (310) 683-2300.