The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, and play – and the Ontario courts’ handling of personal injury claims and other courtroom matters is not exempt from these changes.
On February 25, 2021, the Ontario Court of Justice confirmed its ongoing directive urging the use of remote proceedings (such as Zoom hearings) for all court hearings given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic unless an in-person hearing is “absolutely necessary”. This means that, for the foreseeable future, personal injury claims will be heard over teleconferences or Zoom hearings, which is uncharted territory for most litigants and many lawyers.
The Ontario courts have used remote proceedings sparingly in the past. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Zoom hearings have become an essential tool for ensuring ongoing access to justice while keeping the public safe. Note that, like many orders and regulations arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario courts’ rules relating to remote proceedings may be subject to quick (and perhaps unexpected) changes. Ongoing uncertainty regarding how the Ontario courts will respond to the changing COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to consult with skilled personal injury lawyers for your personal injury claim – whether you are dealing with an ongoing claim or have been recently injured.
The information in this post is current as of February 25, 2021. Given that notices and announcements may be released by the Ontario courts without warning, please check with your lawyer for the most up-to-date information if you have a claim in progress.
In-Person Hearings Versus Videoconference Courtroom Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Personal injury claims will likely be heard via Zoom hearings for the foreseeable future.
Many of us are used to Zoom meetings by now but attending a court hearing over a video conference is different than other meetings. Most of the same rules you would have to follow in court apply regardless of whether you are attending an in-person hearing or a Zoom hearing. For example:
- Dress as though you are attending court in-person – remember: even if you aren’t physically at the courthouse, you’re still in court!
- Don’t eat or drink – while it might be tempting to reach for a quick snack, you shouldn’t eat or drink anything (except water) during the videoconference proceedings.
- Don’t record or take photographs of the hearing! Section 136 of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act prohibits recording, photographing, publishing, or broadcasting court proceedings without the permission of the presiding judicial official. It is an offence to do any of these things in an in-person court proceeding, and a videoconference proceeding is no different.
- Show up early – whether you’re attending an in-person hearing or a Zoom hearing, it’s always a good idea to show up at least 15 minutes before your hearing starts to ensure you are on time and ready for court.
- Do not speak over other participants – when more than one person is speaking at once, it makes it exceedingly difficult for the court to keep a record of what is being said during a Zoom hearing. Not only are you showing respect to the other parties, but you’re also helping to ensure that the court record is clear and accurate.
Tips for Videoconference Courtroom Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In addition to the suggestions above, personal injury claimants who are less familiar with Zoom and videoconferencing should review, among others, the following recommendations in advance of their Zoom hearing:
- familiarize yourself with the Zoom app and test it on your device well in advance of your hearing to avoid any stressful, last-minute audio or video setting issues;
- find a quiet, private space to set yourself up (ideally, keep pets, children, and other members of the household out of the room to avoid background noise or other distractions); and
- mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking.
Zoom’s Online Help Center is a great resource if you are in the process of familiarizing yourself with this software. See https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us for further details.
Skilled Personal Injury Lawyers Serving Eastern Ontario and North Bay
At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our experienced personal injury lawyers have the advocacy skills and resources to adapt to our changing legal landscape. Though your “day in court” might look a little different during the COVID-19 pandemic, our lawyers are diligently following changes to courtroom protocol and are well-positioned to tackle your personal injury claim in court – wherever “court” might be!
We recognize that no two claims are the same, which is why we give each client the personalized attention needed to bring about the best possible resolution. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team.