Workers' Compensation

Voice from the Chair

By Jack Goodchild

Greetings to my fellow stay at home and virus survivor community. It is hard to believe that so little has changed since I sat down to write last month’s article. Many of us are still sheltering at home and others are working in half empty offices, keeping our distance and wearing face coverings hoping that the measures we take will protect us. We watch the news obsessively and look for something to give us hope.

Meanwhile, the world around us seems strange and surreal. Streets and stores are largely empty. Yet the supermarkets are too crowded for a sense of safety a great deal of the time. We are having strange dreams and often reality seems even stranger.

In the context of all this, we are finding our area of practice to be a hotbed of new issues and dilemmas. Mass layoffs, injuries and covid-19 cases among front line workers and essential workers are not the only problems coming up. In addition there are complications related to getting medical treatment for existing claims, keeping QME evaluations etc. on calendar, telemedicine, handling hearings of various types by conference calls, remote depositions and how to handle new case sign ups. These challenges are among the several new realities we face in our daily practice.  Moreover, we are trying to run our offices with all these multiple restrictions on our ability to operate fully and effectively. Cash flow has dried up or withered for many of us and just staying alive as practitioners has become a full- time endeavor.

Our court system, both civil and administrative, is dealing with social distancing, judges working from home or in access restricted courthouses, furloughed workers, and the multiple issues regarding how to conduct hearings and trials under these new conditions. As I stated last month, the silver lining to this experience will be the lessons we learn and the steps we take to use recent technology and new rules to accommodate the needs we are presented with at this time. If we are forward thinking, we will use this as an opportunity to prepare for the next crisis (whatever it may be and whenever it may occur) by incorporating this new flexibility and adaptiveness into our Workers’ Compensation system going forward.

Among all these challenges, your Workers’ Compensation Executive Committee recently held its meeting (by Zoom) and worked to re-gear our activities so as to remain of service and availability to the community we serve. We, unfortunately, had to cancel our Spring Conference to comply with all state and local directives prohibiting mass gatherings and requiring social distancing in order to promote the health and safety for everyone. We are working now to continue our presentation of webinars and to prepare for the annual California Lawyers Association meeting in the Fall. Our section held a free webinar on the legal implications and considerations regarding COVID-19 in our workers’ compensation system recently. There was an excellent turnout from the section members. Depending on developments, the annual meeting educational program may have to be done online as well. If it takes place, we will, likely, be presenting an updated seminar on COVID-19, a case law update, and a gig economy /independent contractor update per AB-5.

In short, the times are difficult and challenging and we are doing our best to rise to the occasion and to continue to provide the services to the community to which we are fully committed.

As always, I remind everyone that this is YOUR committee. Please feel encouraged to reach out to us with your comments, suggestions and proposed contributions to our education and service commitments.

Stay safe, stay at home if you can, and know that we are not alone but rather connected in our mutual goal to make the system to which we have dedicated our professional lives function fully and properly under these very difficult circumstances.

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