Shifting Paradigms

The world finds itself in a different place this week. I have been reluctant to join the cacophony regarding COVID-19. The subject permeates the news and our respective consciousness. With each day, we have worries and anxiety. I succumbed to the topic March 15 with mention in Remotely Swearing Witnesses. It is surprising how seemingly few attorneys were aware of the 2019 legislative changes enabling this new process. I followed on March 19 with Stress in the Time of COVID-19. There is ample stress to go around.

People are anxious about the availability of products. Somehow toilet tissue has risen to commodity status. I have heard complaints about reduced store hours, constraints on restaurant availability, the closure of night clubs, and more. I have been amazed that some complain about how COVID-19 is impacting their individual existence, and then moments later will lament that this or that entity or agency is not doing more in response. I think much of that is stress. 

Following the Remotely Swearing Witnesses post, I had an inquiry from an attorney regarding how practitioners might conduct discovery in a "social distancing" world. We did a fair amount of research regarding various platforms that are available in our Internet-focused world and that yielded refreshing news. On Saturday, we published Internet Platforms for Conferencing. Since that post published, I have had the opportunity to use one of the platforms, and it appears these alternatives might well facilitate multiple attorneys, a court reporter, and a witness for deposition.
Many are unfamiliar with these platforms. The potentials they offer for virtual interaction may impact the process of litigation. One of the effects of COVID-19 has been an increased awareness and acceptance of telehealth. I will be participating in a webinar this week discussing these platforms and how they may be implicated in the delivery of healthcare and litigation, specifically in the workers' compensation environment. I plan to write about what I learn later this week. 
The next question, of course, may be whether such a platform might be viable for hearing a case. The OJCC has been working toward that potential for days. Webcams have been procured, and several districts already have them in place. These will facilitate judges utilizing such platforms for hearings at their discretion. It will not "be the same" in the eyes of some. It will not be "as good" in the eyes of some. But, in the time we are living this may be the only alternative that offers a chance for hearing at the present. We are not alone, other states are moving toward such an Internet-hearing paradigm potential.
Some will prefer to accept the other alternative, delay. This COVID-19 is not here to stay. The incredibly imaginative and creative scientific community is intensely focused upon this virus, and I would suggest its days are numbered. Each day brings stories of survival and scientific progress. The virus began in China, and yet more recently that country has provided positive news of progress in a diminishing volume of new cases, according to CNN. Various medications are showing progress. A vaccine is actually already undergoing human trials. This virus will not last. The decision on delay for trials is up to each practitioner and ultimately the assigned judge. 
But for now, we find ourselves in a new reality. What will come next? The news trumpets recent decisions in California, NewYork, Illinois, and New Jersey to require residents to "shelter in place." There have been instances in which municipalities have similarly requested residents to do the same. And, there is conjecture overheard in communities as to "what if" and how such an order might affect you or I in our locality, profession, or lives. What such an order addresses, or how it might impact really depends upon the details of such an order. The devil, they say, is in the details. The "what if" does not move us forward. If such decisions are made, the OJCC will adapt.
Will depositions occur on the Internet? Will hearings be conducted that way? How long will this virus last? What are my chances of getting it? How can I best avoid it? What do I do if I know I have been exposed? Should I go to the hospital? What if there is a "shelter in place" order in my community? The questions abound, and we await the answers. 
If you have been exposed, there is good information from various health organizations: the Center for Disease ControlDepartment of LaborFlorida Department of Health, and more. A commonality in advice seems to be calling your healthcare provider if you have symptoms. If you do not have a regular physician, then a call to your county health department is likely a good decision. These professionals are best situated to provide advice on how you should proceed with any symptoms. The key seems to be having symptoms. 
Exposure is a reality; the potential exists for any of us to be exposed. It is the minimization of our personal contact, the "social distancing" that best limits the potential for exposure. Some will ignore the plea for social distancing; we have seen that with ignoring requests from government officials. Some are reluctant to follow instructions, and that has led to increasing efforts on our behalf. Night clubs, restaurants, and more are being shuttered or restricted to accomplish this "distancing" that some eschew and reject on a voluntary basis.

How will the virus end? Yes, it will end. There is an interesting opinion piece by a physician published on Fox yesterday morning that is worth reading. It propounds potential outcomes as weather, human action, and science converge on this threat. 
Where will the restrictions end? How will the OJCC operate in coming days? Valid questions. We will continue to strive to answer them as and when we can. It is conjecture to wonder or prognosticate as to "what if." Know that the OJCC team is striving to work through the implications of this virus and its impact on your workers' compensation litigation. When changes occur, if any, I will strive to post them here. And, they will be included in social media.

For now, if you are ill or think you are ill please stay out of our OJCC facilities. If that means filing a motion for continuance or other relief, do so. If you are not able to even file a motion, that can be addressed in days to come. You staying out of our facilities while ill is an act of responsibility and I applaud it. You really should stay home if you are ill, or if you reasonably believe you have had a significant exposure (you know that for more than ten minutes you were within 6 feet of someone who has been confirmed as infected). Stay home. Use your sick leave or other accommodation. Coming to work in such scenario risks infecting others and necessitating cleaning and disinfecting. 
You can follow the @FLJCC on Twitter. And, can see those posts even without joining twitter (instructions here). You can follow the FLCC on Facebook. Announcements and communications are also found on LinkedIn. All of these are monitored during urgent situations and updated as often as practical.
In the end, there are concerns about COVID-19. It is serious, and it is not over. As time passes, it will affect our professional lives. Tune in here for updates. When I know more, you will hear it here and on the various social media platforms at our disposal. For now, "socially distance," wash those hands often, keep your hands away from face (eyes, nose, and mouth particularly), and follow the advice of government officials. As sure as the concerns are inevitable, it is just as sure that this situation will subside. We will get through it.
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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