Zooming to a Conclusion (Personal Injury Depositions During Covid-19)

A bulldog working at home participating in a online web meeting.

Question: What takes three lawyers, four clients, and five laptops?

Answer: Online depositions in a case I recently resolved.

This brave new Covid-19 world has forced all of us to rethink how we do our jobs. In my case, the biggest problem is how to keep my cases moving forward when the courts are on hiatus until it is determined how and when they will be able to “reopen.”

Currently, the courts in Cook County are closed, except for emergency matters and a few other things, as well as online filing. Many judges are hearing matters virtually, using Zoom. Pretrial conferences are also being handled virtually in many cases. Things like motions are often being disposed of without oral argument.

However, without the regular case management conferences, where all attorneys must appear before the judge and explain what they are doing, what they have done, and what needs to be done, it is difficult to hold the defense attorney’s feet to the fire. While many of my opposition brethren are fully invested in moving cases forward toward a resolution, others take the “delay, deny, don’t pay” motto literally. Delay works to their benefit.

Pushing Cases Without Pushing Paper

Returning to the opening riddle, it took a bit of convincing to get two defense attorneys to agree to depose my clients virtually on a Zoom-like platform. At first, I was met with resistance from one (likely, he was receiving pressure from his client’s insurance carrier). It is difficult enough for two lawyers to agree, but in this case, with two separate defendants and two plaintiffs (both of whom I represented), it took a bit more to get to “yes.”

I argued that the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent amendment to Rule 206, while not mandating online depositions, strongly encourages them. After some back and forth, I finally prevailed. We scheduled my clients’ depositions during Covid-19 restrictions.

The deposition of a plaintiff in a personal injury case is critical, because it serves as a dress rehearsal for the trial. During the deposition, the defense attorney evaluates my client’s demeanor and truthfulness, how the client would present to a jury, how accurate the testimony is, and whether the client is likeable. The defense lawyer reports all of these factors back to the insurance carrier and use them to evaluate the strength and value of the claim.

Therefore, preparation of my client is crucial. The client has to know the facts, understand the basics of the case, and know how to communicate without losing their cool. At the same time, a client should never memorize facts or sound rehearsed. I usually communicate the basics in person, often while examining key documents or photos.

With in-person meetings forbidden, or at the very least dangerous and inconvenient, the preparation becomes even more important than usual.

Zoom 101 for Clients

No one will ever accuse me of being a technophile. I admit to a certain level of tech-anxiety. While I am conversant in technology and quite good at using it to run my practice, I still prefer person to person contact, which enhance nuance, body language, and focus. Besides, I’m the type of person who expects that if technology and I are paired, something will invariably go wrong.

I decided the best way to get my clients up to speed was to set up a Zoom meeting. Beforehand, I emailed some key documents and photos to them and ran through some basic expectations.

Our meeting went well. Neither client (who are sisters) had any problem using the technology. Both were comfortable with the facts of the case. We were all on the same page. However, that was not a guarantee, as I have seen depositions unravel for virtually every reason in the book. But I will leave the stories of physical assaults, name calling, and profanity-filled accusations for another day.

Deposition Day

I chose to wear a full suit and tie. It is who I am as an attorney. I wanted my clients to see me as a lawyer, not just some guy in his extra bedroom. Granted, I wore flip flops, but we can’t be perfect.

My clients dialed in without incident. Both attorneys were courteous and polite. They did a thorough job of examining my clients without making things personal or trying to upset them. That made everything easier. The clients, while prepared for the aforementioned mayhem, were able to relax and focus on telling their stories.

It was a very long day. Over the course of about four and a half hours, we complete both depositions. It could have been longer, because I was scheduled to depose both defendants after the plaintiffs’ depositions. Instead, we rescheduled the defendants’ depositions at the last minute.

Debriefing After a Deposition

Generally, I try to conference privately with the opposing counsel after a deposition to gauge the pulse of the case, try to understand their position, discuss what other depositions might be required, and figure out a timeline for moving the case forward.

After the stellar performances of both my clients, the two defense attorneys told me to send them a demand for settlement, which I did within the hour. After several weeks of back and forth negotiations, lien reductions, and other issues, we resolved both cases for far more than either client expected.

I received the policy limits for my most seriously injured client from one insurer. Plus, I managed to get almost the entire amount of Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage from the other defendant.

The moral of this story is that the world as we know it is constantly changing. It is up to us to adapt as quickly as possible to ensure that clients received the justice they so richly deserve.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as auto accidents, premises liability , or product liability.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.