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How COVID-19 Is Impacting Your Claims, as of March 20, 2020

March 16, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">As of March 20, 2020, while some Courts where we practice, like <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NY-Courts-3.19.20.pdf">New York</a> and <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/PA-Courts-3.18.20.pdf">Pennsylvania</a>, have issued more specific information about remote conferences and the like, trials and in-person conferences remain on hold.  The CDC has recommended against 50-person gatherings through mid-May, and we doubt Court proceedings will return to "normal" before that time.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Just yesterday, on March 19, 2020, the NY Chief Administrative Judge issued an <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/March-19-NY-ORder.pdf">updated order</a>, wherein, all NY Courts "strongly discourage" any attorney functions that require any in-person congregation at all, including depositions or appearances.   Moreover, the Courts have finally addressed summary judgment motion deadlines, which have been a primary concern of plaintiffs and defendants.  Judge Marks suggests that if any party is unable to meet a litigation deadline, including a summary judgment deadline, <em><strong>parties shall use "best efforts" to stipulate to an extension</strong></em>.    The implication, we think, is that if an attorney seeks a deadline extension during the shutdown, in good faith, Courts are more likely to consider that request, when deciding whether that motion was timely.  As we and our colleagues on the bar, both plaintiffs and defendants, grapple with the challenges presented by the current climate, we think extensions of courtesies should be universal, and will be guided accordingly by J. Marks's words.</p>
The remainder of the information below, originally posted on Monday, March 16, 2020, is largely still accurate, and has been updated for publication on March 20, 2020.
<p style="text-align: justify;">In the scheme of things, how we practice law and handle claims is far less important than your health and safety.  To that end, we wish you all good health and safe (limited) travel, as we all navigate this new landscape.   The past several days have been rife with uncertainty for all of us, within and without the United States, and we, like all of you, have been monitoring recommended COVID-19 protocols.  As we noted in our emailed post <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-and-wcm/">on Friday</a>, WCM remains fully operational, despite what has evolved into mandatory remote working for our attorneys and staff, for the next several weeks.  Despite the social distancing directives, life goes, on, and we all have work to do.  Going forward, we will continue to monitor Court updates, and will advise you all accordingly.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In keeping with the times, WCM had already implemented a remote access system and a cloud-based case management system.   (In all candor, while we did not intend to roll this program out to all attorneys at once, in a 24 hour window, we are equipped to continue to practice, remotely.)  As unprecedented and frustrating as this situation seems, we are all fortunate that COVID-19 did not surface as recently as five years ago, when remote work and paperless function were far less operational than they are in 2020.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Now, specifically, what direction have we received from the Courts about the impact of COVID-19 on our cases?  It depends on the Court, and the answers seem to vary hour by hour.  We will continue to monitor all the jurisdictions where we practice, but hereby provide an update on what we know, as of March 20, 2020. Just days ago, the CDC recommended that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/mass-gatherings-ready-for-covid-19.html">gatherings of 50 or more people</a> be cancelled or postponed for the next eight weeks, which effectively eliminates jury trials and in-person court conferences into mid-May.   We have collected the following information from our Courts of practice, as of this morning:</p>

<ul style="text-align: justify;">
<li>In New York, <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/MEMO-3.13.20.pdf">effective March 16, 2020</a>, all jury trials and in person court conferences are suspended until further notice.   Courts are still functioning, motions are being submitted and decided without oral argument, and court conferences are being conducted via stipulation, among the attorneys.</li>
<li>Pennsylvania Courts have taken different measures, depending on the County. Philadelphia remains the most backward as of this morning, but we expect an update soon. Montgomery County, for example, has <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/March-13-UPDATE-MEMO-Montgomery-County-Courts-008478.pdf">officially suspended all jury trials through March 27, 2020</a>, and we suspect, will extend this date in the coming days.  While a few other counties have not made official press releases clear yet, the PA governor has strongly discouraged large gatherings, which essentially prohibits jury duty and in-person conferences.
<ul>
<li>Update -- Philadelphia is <a href="https://www.courts.phila.gov/pdf/notices/2020/FJD-Closures-03-16-2020.pdf">now shut down</a> until April 1.</li>
</ul>
</li>
<li>In New Jersey, <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NJ-memo-3.16.20.pdf">jury trials are suspended as of March 16, 2020</a>, discovery deadlines are relaxed for the next two weeks , and court adjournments are being entertained on a case-by-case basis.</li>
<li>Federal Courts’ directives differ based on locale, but the SDNY, for example, has <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/SDNY.pdf">suspended jury trials through April 27, 2020</a>, whereas the Eastern District of PA has suspended them through April 13, 2020. Other federal courts are less specific, but we anticipate additional directives to be issues in the coming days.</li>
</ul>
<p style="text-align: justify;">So in terms of how the Courts are dealing with COVID-19, there are no appearances for the foreseeable future.  We have not received any guidance from the Courts as to how COVID-19 will effect discovery end dates, but we will continue to monitor the situation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">But what about Depositions and Examinations Under Oath, which do not take necessarily require Court participation?</p>

<ul style="text-align: justify;">
<li>While WCM is equipped and prepared to commence remote depositions, our adversaries have may have differing technological capabilities, and it takes global participation to make these arrangements viable.</li>
<li>We also note that many of our vendors offer remote deposition capabilities, which we can explore, depending on the nature of the testimony.</li>
<li>By March 30, 2020, we expect remote / telephonic depositions to become more normalized where we practice, and recommend a case-by case (or, in fact, a witness by witness) collaborative evaluation, as to whether remote testimony is worth pursuing.</li>
</ul>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The “big picture” takeaways for WCM and our partners are that jury trials are on hold for now and in-person Court conferences are suspended, which makes sense, given the social distancing recommended by the CDC.   But Courts are still functioning, motions are being decided, and attorneys can still reach each other.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">So our attorneys and staff are still working full time, remotely, as we continue to await further directives from the experts and authorities.   Attorneys are most easily reachable by email, and all contact info is accessible at wcmlaw.com.   We will continue to monitor updates in all jurisdictions where we practice, and will keep you apprised.   In the interim, please stay safe, follow CDC recommendations, and please reach out to us with any questions.</p>

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