For many people, the uncertainties resulting from the spread of COVID-19 are reason to put off major decisions and the related commitment of significant amounts of money. For some, however, those same uncertainties increase tensions and problems enough to make decisions and action more urgent than they were before “social distancing” became a common phrase.
The Coronavirus has brought about many changes in daily life. The state courts are largely closed in compliance with the Governor’s Stay-At-Home Order. Most civil proceedings and even most criminal proceedings have been vacated and postponed. But some emergency matters and certain proceedings mandated by statute are going forward.
New cases are still being filed, and both new and old cases can largely be processed despite the shut-down. Filings have been done electronically anyway for a few years now. More and more work is being done through the internet, over the phone and through various media for conferencing. Even when in-person contact is necessary, an appropriate social distance can be maintained.
Cases that can and should be settled have seen little impact from the shut-down. Settlements rarely require court hearings for review, approval and signing of papers anyway.
It does seem that during this pandemic a higher percentage of litigants are motivated to settle their cases. There’s no hard data on this; it’s entirely impressionistic. But it makes sense that as resources become scarcer, people are quicker to cut to the chase and less influenced by emotions. And the current situation has created uncertainty as to when the courts, through trials or other hearings, will be able to resolve anything. So there is more pressure on litigants to explore whether they can resolve their disputes without requiring the courts to do anything beyond signing off.
Whenever a business perspective overrides emotions, that’s generally positive for settling cases on terms that make sense for both sides. The old adage that when both sides are unhappy with a settlement that’s usually a sign of a fair settlement remains as valid as it ever was. People just seem to be coming to that reality sooner these days.
None of this is to suggest that the process of settling a case is any easier than it was a couple months ago. Just that some people seem to be more serious about making the effort sooner. It still takes information and good advice to know where the likely settlement range is located and how best to get there. As always, representation by an attorney is highly recommended whether the approach is to go to trial or to settle a case or to be able to shift from one approach to the other.