While everyone is understandably trying to be as careful as possible during the Corona virus pandemic, unfortunately, accidents can and still do happen. This post addresses some of the legal issues surrounding the COVID 19 Stay at Home restrictions as well as some thoughts on the steps you can take to protect your rights while staying safe and healthy.
Similar to Governor Pritzker’s extended Stay at Home Order, the Circuit Court of Cook County has also limited in person court proceedings. As a result, the Court has significantly scaled back operations limiting many Court hearings to an emergency basis only. Trials, motions and other proceedings have been delayed. These restrictions are expected to remain in place well into June impacting thousands of cases currently being litigated.
Time Periods for Filing
During this time, lawsuits can still be filed electronically although the initial court appearances will generally be delayed. Under Illinois law, you have time to file any lawsuit. Most lawsuits for personal injury, whether it be from a car accident, fall, dog bite, medical malpractice or nursing home injury can be filed up to two years after you were hurt.
In some cases, this period is longer. For example, in some medical malpractice cases, the two-year period may not begin when the alleged malpractice occurred but rather, when the mistake was discovered. In other cases, the period may be shorter. When a lawsuit is filed against a state, city or county, the time period to file may be as short as one year and include specific notice requirements. These would include cases involving an injury on city property such as a fall from a damaged sidewalk or an injury while riding on the CTA.
The bottom line is that lawsuits do not have to be filed immediately after the injury occurs. Unless you are approaching this time limit, commonly called the statute of limitations, there is no need to rush to court. At the same time, we recommend you speak with a lawyer as soon as possible to understand how much time you have to file a lawsuit so that the statute of limitations does not expire.
Similarly, injuries on the job, whether you are an office worker, waitstaff or delivery person are generally covered by worker’s compensation. Under Illinois law, worker’s compensation claims may be filed up to three years after the injury. Similar to the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Worker’s Compensation Commission is also operating on a limited basis during the COVID emergency. However, while the claims process may be slowed during this time, claims can still be filed.
Preserve Your Evidence!
Even if a claim is not going to be filed immediately, you should not let evidence disappear. For example, if you are involved in a car accident, you should take as many photographs as safely possible. These should include pictures of the vehicles, any damages and your injuries, the location where the accident occurred, and any skid marks. You should also take down the names and contact information of all of the drivers, passengers and any witnesses.
Similarly, if you suffer from a fall, whether it is in a grocery store, a pothole or stairway, it is important to take pictures of the area where you fell and take down the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the fall. If you see security cameras that may have captured the fall, you should take a picture of those too. You should also get the names of anyone from store or property who spoke to you after the fall and the name of the owner of the property.
These types of information should be gotten as quickly as possible so that you are not at a disadvantage when it is time to file your claim. With this evidence preserved, you can call an attorney when you feel ready. At the same time, we always recommend speaking with an attorney before speaking with anyone from any insurance company. Although we are currently working from home, Leopold & Associates is available to speak with you about any legal concerns you may have during this time.
Dates for Cases and Claims Already Filed
If you have a pending case or upcoming court appearance, you can contact your attorney or the Office of the Cook County Clerk to find out if you need to appear or if the date has been rescheduled. We recommend checking back often as the situation is fluid and dates are continuing to be shuffled and rescheduled. And of course, if you feel sick, it is important to stay home if possible.
Additional Legal Resources
Additionally, there are many other resources available should have legal questions or concerns during this crisis. For example, if you are worried about paying your rent, Illinois has placed a hold on all eviction proceedings during the length of the Stay at Home order. If you run a small business, there are some limited government programs available to help meet payroll and other business expenses. And if you find yourself laid off from work because of COVID, the government has increased unemployment benefits and deferred certain student loan payments during this time. We have linked to the various programs throughout this post but please feel free to call our office if you have questions or need help being pointed in the right direction.
This is a scary and uncharted time. It is understandable to be stressed, tired, and overwhelmed. Hopefully, this information will help relieve any worries you may have about the timing of claims and lawsuits.