Category Archive: Atlanta Law

Medical Debt Collection Lawsuits Continue Amid COVID-19

It was a Sunday night and 39-year-old breast-cancer survivor Blanche Jordan was just sitting down to do a puzzle in her living room when she heard a knock on her door. Following social distancing guidelines because she is high-risk, she put a mask on before opening the door and was greeted by a process server who handed her papers and said “You’ve been served.” To Jordan’s dismay, the hospital that she had just recently paid off a debt weeks prior for a surgery not covered by her health insurance was suing her for $7,150 for unrelated medical services.

A lawsuit was the last thing she expected during the Coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, Jordan is not the only one facing a lawsuit during a global pandemic.

A Rising Trend

Wisconsin, like the rest of the nation and most of the world, has been significantly changed over the past few weeks due to the Coronavirus outbreak. On March 12, Wisconsin declared a public health emergency. Nonetheless, law firms representing health systems in Wisconsin continue to sue patients over past-due medical debt. According to a report published by Wisconsin Watch, of The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, hospitals in the state have filed at least 104 lawsuits in small claims courts since March 12th against patients who have medical debt. At least six other health systems have sued patients in the midst of COVID-19.

Jordan’s lawsuit is just one of at least 46 lawsuits filed by Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital. While the hospital’s spokesman advised that it has suspended filing small claims lawsuits as of March 18 in response to the pandemic, court records showed at least 18 new lawsuits filed between then and March 31. All 18 of those lawsuits were subsequently dismissed.

Suspension of Suits, Maybe

While many of the health systems responded to news reports by stating legal actions on debt collections have been suspended, in rare cases the lawsuit will be pursued. The reason is to preserve the health system’s rights to pursue the debt, particularly if the debt is old and the statute of limitations on filing suit is about to expire. While this time is difficult, legal actions need to move forward — at least in order to preserve a party’s right under the law so that the action is not barred as a result of the expiration of a contractual or statute of limitations.

 

With Rent Payment Suspended, Landlords and Tenants Facing New Reality

Businesses have been shut down across the nation, many American workers are facing furloughs and layoffs due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The result is that a significant portion of the working population has lost part or all of its income. Many Americans have had to have the difficult conversation with their landlords because they are unable to pay next month’s rent.

Eviction Moratorium

As of the first week of April, as many as 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Additionally, nearly one third of American renters had not paid April rent as of the 5th of the month according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Across the nation counties, cities, and states have enacted eviction moratoriums. These laws essentially protect renters from evictions due to non-payment of rent resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic.That being said, in many situations landlords are not being punished for serving evictions; instead, the law serve as a defense for tenants in the event they end up in an eviction action in the court system.

Nationwide, landlords are responding differently to the Coronavirus pandemic according to a report published by USA Today. While some landlords have lowered rent across the board, others are working out payment plans or other flexible terms, and still others are issuing three-day notices anyway in spite of the moratorium. For a good amount of these scenarios, however, communication between renter and landlord is key to keeping the relationships.

Keeping Tenants Safe

It is true that landlords need to properly deal with the difficulties many tenants may be having in making rent due to furloughs, unemployment or underemployment as a result of the pandemic. They also, however, need to ensure their properties are safe and try as best they can to prevent an outbreak.

Some tips for landlords to keep their buildings and tenants safe include:

  • Use education as a defense: let tenants know to wash their hands frequently, ask them to wear a mask if not feeling well, and seek medical attention right away if they think they may contracted the virus;
  • Keep your tenants informed: letting tenants know that management is aware of the virus and is taking the necessary and reasonable steps — and let them know what these steps are in writing; and
  • Provide reliable resources: information on how tenants can protect themselves and their families from the virus from credible sources — like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Center for Disease Control (CDC) should be made available.

The above steps will not only help protect landlords and tenants from the virus, but can also shield landlords from lawsuits that may arise due to Coronavirus.

For more information, please contact us.

What Litigators Must Do During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic that has hit the globe is causing all of us to adjust how we live, work, and play. Lawyers are no exception to this. In order to continue to live up to the calling that requires attorneys — particularly litigators — to be custodians of our society’s ideals, there are a few things that should be done during this world-wide pandemic.

You Must Resolve Your Cases

Attorneys are called on to resolve disputes, which can be difficult during normal times. The best thing for a litigator to do is to put on his or her “closer” hat. More than ever, clients are losing income. It does not matter if you represent a plaintiff or a defendant — the downturn in the
economy affects everyone, and it is not known when the economy will bounce back from this pandemic. Clients are also in shock and disoriented. Defendants may be wanting to solely focus on business operations and not deal with lawsuits. Plaintiffs may want their lawsuit resolved sooner rather than later because of their current circumstances. Attorneys must be aware of these issues, while still balancing zealous advocacy and not selling the client short. Getting opposing counsel to come to the table is critical during this difficult time. Likewise, court dockets — which are backed up and trials delayed — will appreciate the civility employed by litigators to resolve cases.

You Must be Efficient

While the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us all to be more aware of personal hygiene, it has also forced businesses to become more efficient. The legal field, in many ways, is also a business. Law firms across the nation have transitioned to remote work for attorneys and staff alike. Attorneys — just like remote workers across the nation — are having to juggle work, family time, and schooling children. Legal work requires writing, editing, re-writing, analyzing, and researching, among other skills. While silence is key to these tasks, it is likely not available in prolonged periods right now. Using your time effectively is more critical than ever. Whether this means early mornings while the house is quiet or late evenings when everyone is in bed, squeezing in work and keeping clients up-to-date needs to happen.

Keep Using Discovery

The courts need not be involved in the discovery phase of a lawsuit — unless there is a need for motion practice or hearings due to disputes that cannot be resolved without court intervention.   Use of requests for admissions (RFAs), requests for production (RFPs), interrogatories (Rogs), and depositions are ideal ways to move your case forward during this time. While depositions may be difficult due to social distancing requirements, these can be done via video conference — although, admittedly, they are not the same as in-person depositions. That being said, litigators must be patient with opposing counsel because this time requires this type of civility.

The Case Must Go On

While it is true that the global pandemic has placed us all in an unprecedented position, attorneys must continue to practice zealously for their clients while employing additional patience for those on the other side of the case. In doing so, we can maintain our obligation to our industry while still properly representing our clients.

Will Georgia Be The Next State to Hand Out Virtual Justice?

On Monday, Texas became the first state in the nation to present a trial before a virtual jury. The groundbreaking legal move follows Emory Law School’s jury trial class, which allowed its students to take its final exam via Zoom on April 17. Many Georgia counties have been using videoconferencing for their hearings since April, when the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the closure of the courts, with the exception of certain hearings and bond motions.

Emory Law School found that the trial by Zoom, with real judges and facts from an actual case, had real benefits. Objections were handled in a more orderly manner by raising “objection paddles.” The attorneys and judges could see themselves, which made everyone more self-aware of facial expressions. Sequestration was a cinch as Zoom allows you to place participants in a virtual waiting room with the push of a button. The same can be said of the judge needing a break, to confer with the bailiff or attorneys — simply push a button and the jurors are in the virtual waiting room.

Texas had more than 24 potential jurors log in, who were then guided on selection by two judges. Decades of potential jurors going to the courthouse were turned on its head as the courthouse virtually came to the jurors. As with depositions handled by Zoom, basic instructions were given about background noise and the need for privacy from the rest of the household.

In neither instance did videoconferencing have a negative effect on the proceedings. No technical hiccup was noted. In fact, Zoom capabilities gave all parties the convenience of doing their civic duty from home, without having to deal with morning traffic, the headaches of parking and the general stress and frustration of reporting to the courthouse.

While teleconferencing and videoconferences have been used for various proceedings, no Georgia court has yet announced plans for a jury trial by Zoom as of this date. However, we are clearly on track to follow Texas’ lead, at least with regard to its non-binding jury verdict.

To view a portion of Texas’ virtual jury trial, see this YouTube link.

For EGCR’s tutorial on Zoom meetings, see this YouTube link.

For tips on keeping your caseloads moving during COVID-19, see this article.