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Commercial Litigation in the Time of COVID-19

Posted on July 24, 2020 by Julie Pendleton

It is undeniable that COVID-19 has affected all of our lives in more ways than we might ever have imagined. It is unsurprising that COVID-19 is affecting the way the Courts operate. In Washington State the Courts are adapting and setting up new guideline that allows pending litigation to continue and new matters to be filed.

Certain cases and filings are postponed. Some of these restrictions come from the State level with the Washington State Supreme Court which suspended jury trials until July 6, 2020. Other guidelines are specific to particular courts. King County Superior Court, for example continued all civil jury trials to on or after August 3, 2020 and will be conducting all bench trials via video conferencing until the end of 2020. Courts are doing their best to keep litigation moving and are ruling on motions without oral argument or with oral argument conducted via conference call.  Courts are utilizing Zoom conferencing to help move cases along. As with the virus itself, the guidelines are constantly changing. King County Superior Court indicated that it is still developing the protocols for conducting trials via Zoom.

In evaluating your dispute in the context of COVID-19 a couple things bear mentioning. First, unlike some other states, Washington has not tolled the statute of limitations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. A statute of limitations is the time you have from the injury or dispute to file an action with Court. If you have a dispute or claim that predates COVID-19, you should seek an attorney’s advice as soon as practical to make sure that you do not miss the deadline to file your lawsuit.

Second, even though the Courts are doing their best to keep civil litigation moving, there is a large backlog of jury trials. This includes numerous criminal trials. While King County Superior Court has not issued guidelines as to how the backlog of jury trials will be prioritized when jury trials resume it likely that criminal trials will be prioritized over civil trials. Prior to COVID-19, in King County most cases are scheduled for trial one year after the filing date, however, given the backlog of jury trials, new cases may take much longer to be heard. If you have a pending lawsuit, your jury trial will probably be delayed from the assigned date. If you have a new lawsuit to file, it is likely that it will take longer for the case to make it to a jury trial.

If you have a case that requires a more efficient resolution, consider alternative dispute resolution. Private arbitrations and mediations are being conducted via videoconferencing more efficiently than through the Courts. Out of court settlements may be negotiated through counsel while maintaining social distancing.

Third, specific types of cases are impacted by COVID-19. Governor Inslee extended an eviction moratorium until October 15, 2020. This moratorium prevents evictions from being filed or even threatened in most situations. The moratorium allows evictions to move forward in limited circumstances. King County Superior Court is currently requiring additional documentation that accompany evictions that are filed to ensure that they comply with the moratorium.

Each civil litigation matter will be impacted differently by COVID-19. Some cases will be impacted substantively with a change in law, some will be impacted by the new procedures, and some cases will be impacted strategically. The commercial litigation attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson are carefully monitoring the Courts’ guidelines in order to advise our clients in this unprecedented time. If you need advice on understanding or protecting your rights during COVID-19, the commercial litigation attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson are here to assist you.