February 27, 2021
It’s no secret that court closings in the wake of the pandemic have had a profound impact on the criminal justice system. A case I tried last March in the Grafton County (N.H.) Superior Court was the last jury trial that court has seen, and I have not stepped foot in the building since. Nationwide, the backlog has meant that thousands of criminal defendants — many being held in jail for lack of bail — have been deprived of their constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Less noticed, but equally troublesome, is that the closing of the courts has also meant that injured plaintiffs waiting for jury trials to resolve their claims have, too, been deprived of their opportunity to present their cases.
And insurance companies have taken notice.
As this article in the New York Daily News notes, many insurance companies have been reluctant to engage in serious settlement discussions without the specter of a looming trial hanging over their heads. After all, the longer the insurance company can hold onto its policyholders’ premium dollars, the more time it has to invest the money, which means greater profits for its shareholders.
According to the New York Office of Court Administration, the number of lawsuits resolved in 2020 was 39% smaller than in 2019, while the courts’ backlog of open cases grew by 8%.
Some legislators in New York want to do something about it. A bill has been introduced that would award plaintiffs interest on any judgment obtained at trial, retroactive to the date of the injury.