The Disability System’s Response to The COVID-19 Pandemic

We are all living in unprecedented times.  That is no different in the legal world.  That said, the benefits of technology have allowed some things to continue with some modifications in procedures while other things have been changed completely.  We have attempted to centralize the various changes to inform our clients and the community at large of how the disability legal systems are adapting under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s start with the most obvious issues for a legal system – litigation.  Currently our Court systems are adapting in various ways to keep the wheels of justice turning while still protecting the rights of individual parties and protecting the safety of everyone involved.  Currently the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) has postponed most trials in hopes that sometime soon we will be able to bring in small groups into a court room to adjudicate legal issues.  The exception is that the WCAB is allowing expedited trials to occur when medical treatment or temporary disability benefits are in dispute.  These hearings are being held telephonically.  All other hearings however including settlement conferences are occurring via teleconference at the various Boards.  Similarly, the civil courts are moving forward with most hearings telephonically except most trials which have been postponed.  On the other hand, The Social Security Administration (SSA) is allowing trials to move forward telephonically if the claimant is in agreement.  If there is no agreement by the claimant, that trial would be continued to another date when we can appear again in person. 

Meanwhile, legal discovery methods used to gather evidence to prove your level of disability is not as structured.  It is more reliant upon agreement by all parties.  Some depositions are moving forward by video or by teleconference, but some attorneys or deponents have objected and are simply waiting for the pandemic restrictions to ease.  Medical evaluations are still occurring with some willing doctors, wither by video, telephone or some in separate rooms with glass partitions or barriers.  However other evaluations have been postponed.

The provision of disability benefits however still appears to be continuing.  Medical treatment is still happening, although telemedicine is now being employed much more frequently.  Insurance carriers continue to authorize and dispute medical care as before and benefits checks are continuing.

Lastly, and most importantly, while some law firms have temporarily halted operations while the Safer-at-Home orders continue in force, others, like Ghitterman, Ghitterman & Feld continue to work on their clients’ behalf.  At GG&F, we invested many years ago in technology that allows for remote work and video and teleconferencing from any location.  We continue to meet with new clients, we continue to push our cases forward to maximize benefits and we continue to work with insurers and the governmental agencies to resolve cases in favor of our clients or set the matter for hearing at the earliest opportunity.  We continue to relentlessly protect our clients’ rights, no matter what hurdles are placed in front of us.