Florida’s court system still struggling due to pandemic

Backlog affecting child support cases, criminal cases, insurance claims

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The ongoing struggles for Florida’s court system are taking a toll in major ways.

They’re affecting everything from how much insurance companies are paying out to child support cases -- and those are just the beginning of the legal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of thousands of cases have been handled via Zoom, but there are still hundreds of thousands of cases that need to be heard from 2020. That’s affecting things like child support cases, criminal cases and insurance claims.

News4Jax spoke with numerous attorneys about the issue of backlogs. That issue was also discussed in the newly released annual report by the Florida Supreme Court for 2019-20.

“On July 1, 2021, an estimated one million cases beyond what would otherwise be anticipated will be pending,” reads one excerpt about the current backlog and where it’s expected to be this summer.

One area where trial lawyers say this is hitting people hard is in personal injury law. News4Jax spoke with Steve Watrel, with Coker Law. He said this is making it easy for insurance companies to drag their feet knowing trials are delayed and people don’t have the resources to have lengthy court cases that stretch out years. He said one area of personal injury law being hit especially hard is nursing home abuse cases. Watrel said he’s representing clients that are simply too old to wait years on trial dates.

“They’re in their 80s, some in their 90s, and we just can’t get their cases to trial. The concern is if they get sick and pass away, the case may be completely lost,” said Watrel.

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Another area where there’s a backlog is criminal law. News4Jax spoke with Shannon Schott, who’s the president of the Northeast Florida Chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“It’s emotionally draining. You’re in jail. You’re accused of a crime. Your ability to go and have your day in court is not guaranteed. It’s normally 180 days but simply not guaranteed right now,” said Schott.

Schott said defense lawyers are having to work with clients to explain the reasons why there are delays. But she did say judges in the Duval County circuit court are making great strides in restarting trials.

News4Jax has also heard from some viewers who say this has hit them hard in their child support cases. One commenter on the News4Jax Facebook page wrote that her ex-husband was let out of jail and now their legal proceedings have to start again -- which will take a long time. During that time, she wrote, she’s not getting her payments.

“Child support enforcement has no idea why the state would do that other than not wanting people in jail for Covid. So now the process has to be start all over again,” she commented.


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