As South Florida media reported on empty supermarket shelves because of COVID-19 panic-buying, some personal injury attorneys say they saw a spike in car accident cases.
Miami Lakes personal injury attorney Gregory Ward said his firm the Ward Law Group received almost 30% more calls last week—from drivers who’d crashed in and around store parking lots and from drivers delivering food to people at home.
“Last week, it was more significant than even the holiday season,” Ward said. “Most of it was distracted driving and people just not thinking because of the fear they have about this coronavirus. People were very getting anxious about getting things like toilet paper and forgetting basic safety in parking lots and on the roads.”
Likewise, Michael Steinger said his firm Steinger, Greene & Feiner has attributed a similar surge in car accidents cases to the pandemic.
“Our week-over-week intake has gone up for auto accidents in the last week,” Steinger said. “Certain states, particularly Florida, continue to see a lot of auto movement as we are less restricted than many other states.”
Now that traffic congestion has decreased following government advice and curfews, the attorneys suspect car crash cases will dip, but become more severe as drivers, already distracted and anxious, are stepping on the gas.
“Because the roadways are a bit lighter with less bumper-to-bumper traffic, people now have more room to pick up greater speeds,” Steinger said. ”This, unfortunately, has been resulting in much larger impacts.”
It’s an unprecedented situation, in Steinger’s view.
“In this scenario, it’s not so much about rushing to the mall to shop and pick up the perfect present in time,” Steinger said. “This takes it a bit further, because people are perceiving everything as a need for survival.”
System ‘on life support’
Personal injury attorney Scott Schlesinger of Schlesinger Law Offices in Fort Lauderdale said he’s noticed those drivers while jogging around his neighborhood.
“You’ve got people that are distracted, you’ve got folks playing with their phones and people who, every single minute want to check the latest news, which just makes it worse,” Schlesinger said. “I am seeing people that are driving a little faster and a little more aggressively. There is a recipe for danger there.”
New car accident cases, though, are not going anywhere fast.
“We can try to focus on folks that are the most in need and prioritize them, but it’s hard to push things through the system when the system is very much on life support and judges have, to be honest with you, a lot more important things to do,” Schlesinger said. ”The kids are home, the family’s home, the news is on, the president is on and there’s a lot coming at us. You’ve got to have that ability to be extra careful. Take a breath. Don’t end up in the emergency room.”
To avoid going to hospitals and clinics, Steinger said most of his clients are using telemedicine platforms for evaluations, prescriptions and therapies.
Not all personal injury lawyers are in agreement, as Judd Rosen of Goldberg & Rosen in Miami says he’s experienced “almost the opposite.”
“I don’t think people are scrambling and crashing into other,” Rosen said. “I think the streets are empty, which is leading to less accidents, and I think that overall people are being more conscientious of each other, of each other’s space.”
Time to call a lawyer?
Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein co-founder Dan Dolan, currently in quarantine awaiting results after being tested for coronavirus a week ago, has noticed a different phenomenon.
“We’re not a traditional advertising firm that has billboards and things like that, so I don’t know that we’ve seen a spike in premises or car crash cases, but what we have seen is that folks who are at home are investigating other legal claims that maybe they’ve been considering or are unique to this period,” Dolan said.
Dolan said his firm has seen an abnormal increase in calls about medical malpractice, legal malpractice and business interruption cases, and coronavirus exposure suits against cruise lines.
“It makes a little bit of sense, because folks are sitting at home, have more time for internet research, and they’re using that opportunity to look into law firms, look into cases,” Dolan said.
Dolan said the firm is apprehensive about a potential slowdown in settling cases, though, as insurance companies and corporate defendants tend to “want to keep their powder dry” during a recession.
“It’s too soon to tell,” Dolan said. “But it’s a natural reaction, I think, for most people and businesses to hoard cash when they think that they may not be getting a new influx.”