While the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic to the civil justice system remain unknown, the immediate effects are evident. Since March 16, 2020 all New York State Courts have postponed all non-essential functions. This means that no criminal or civil trials have started since March 16. It means that no eviction proceedings have been heard. It means that some criminal matters are subject to delay. On March 19, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued an administrative order strongly discouraging the prosecution of pending civil matters in a manner requiring in-person appearances, travel or action inconsistent with prevailing health and safety directives. On March 20, Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a 100% workforce reduction, except for essential services. Chief Administrative Judge Marks issued another order on March 22 directing that no papers shall be accepted for filing by a county clerk or a court in any manner of a type not included on the list of essential matters. A copy of the essential matters can be seen here. These directives have caused virtually all civil cases to come to a standstill. Further, no new civil cases can be commenced.
Steps have been taken to minimize the harmful impacts that may arise from postponing all non-essential functions of the civil justice system:
On March 20, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.8, temporarily suspending statutes of limitations, service and other legal time periods through April 19, 2020. Unless changed by future executive or legislative action, this means that a litigant will benefit from a tolling of the time limit within which a party must commence a civil action. This means that that the clock essentially comes to a stop. For example, if you are in a car accident in New York, you generally have 3 years from the date of the accident to commence an action against the other driver. Under the new law, if you had 10 days left on this time limit on March 20th when the law went into effect, you will have ten days from April 20 to start the action.
Some courts are making an effort to embrace technology and conduct functions remotely. For example, in New York City they have begun to conduct Mental Hygiene Law hearings and Criminal Part arraignments by video. Many are optimistic that a move to embrace technology at this time will create new and more efficient ways for the civil and criminal justice systems to functions after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
A coronavirus hotline (833-503-0447) has been created so the public can obtain information about court operations.
If you think you have a possible claim, Lacy Katzen attorneys are available to assist you by phone. Although we may not be able to begin legal proceedings at this time, it is always wise to consult with an attorney as soon as possible about your claim. There are things that should be done immediately to preserve evidence and to best protect your interests.