Judicial Changes in Minnesota Due to COVID-19

As America watches the Minnesota criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, we have all noticed changes in the courtroom due to the COVID-19 pandemic–such as the large amount of plexiglass. In a recent Law360 interview, the District of Minnesota’s Chief Judge John Tunheim discussed the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the judicial process and how those changes may continue beyond the pandemic. 

Chief Judge Tunheim explained during the interview that the District of Minnesota will continue holding Zoom trials for civil court cases even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted due to the multitude of benefits the court has seen. Those benefits include relieving the backlog of criminal trials, allowing trials to proceed despite the unpredictable Minnesota weather, and ensuring that jury pools more accurately reflect a diverse cross-section of the community. 

Minnesota’s Virtual Civil Courts

Chief Judge Tunheim explained that in the District of Minnesota jury trials and in-person hearings will resume on May 3, 2021 after jurors return on May 1. However, Chief Judge Tunheim said that he, along with many other judges, will still do as many hearings and bench trials as possible via Zoom — partly in order to decrease the amount of people coming to the courthouse. 

However, Chief Judge Tunheim noted that Minnesota will likely not get to its plethora of civil cases right away due to the substantial backlog of criminal trials. Currently, only two courtrooms are being used for in-person court proceedings–one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul. This obviously makes it difficult to expedite the judicial process. Chief Judge Tunheim hopes to clear out the backlog of criminal trials by using Zoom for civil trials. 

The master trial calendar from May 3 until the end of December 2021 states that there will only be two cases tried at a time and priority will be given to criminal cases since criminal cases cannot be tried virtually. However, Chief Judge Tunheim is hopeful that later in the summer access to the courts will have expanded, allowing more courtrooms to open. This is largely dependent on how comfortable jurors feel about sitting next to each other. 

For all civil trials, the court is offering the option for a virtual civil jury using Zoom. It is only an option–not an obligation. However, judges are strongly encouraging lawyers to agree to a virtual jury trial.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Civil Trials

Chief Judge Tunheim emphasized the convenience and decreased costs of virtual trials. For instance, attorneys and witnesses do not have to fly across the country and pay for transportation and lodging to participate in the trial. This can result in trials occurring faster. However, there is extra work involved in virtual trials such as making sure that all jurors have access to the necessary technology, making sure that they have a stable Internet connection, making sure that they are comfortable using the technology, and having a courtroom deputy serve as a jury minder during the trial to assist the virtual civil jury. 

It is important to note that authority has not been given to conduct criminal trials virtually, and so virtual trials only apply to civil cases. Currently, there is a criminal case backlog of 20 to 25 criminal cases pending in the District of Minnesota and 30% of criminal defendants have not authorized videoconferencing for their hearings (pretrial hearings, change of pleas and sentencing hearings). An estimated half of those 20 to 25 cases will go to trial. Chief Judge Tunheim explained that there is a larger number of civil cases in the backlog because a firm trial date is a very important part of the settlement process, and it is currently unclear when most trials will occur.

Virtual Civil Trials After the Pandemic?

Chief Judge Tunheim cited the non-pandemic related benefits of virtual civil trials such as being able to try cases during the unpredictable Minnesota winters, less expensive lodging and transportation costs for jurors, lawyers, and witnesses, a better cross-section of the community being represented in jury pools, and allowing a broader public audience to see the judicial system in action. 

Zoom trials allow juries to encompass a broader portion of the community because the virtual alternative eliminates a lot of the reasons jurors may have been unable to participate before such as having children at home, running a small business, having farm duties, living multiple hours away, or using a wheelchair. 

Chief Judge Tunheim emphasized that the state of Minnesota has purchased technology equipment to make sure that all jurors have access to the necessary technology, know how to use it, and have a stable Internet connection.

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What Is a Lien and How Does It Impact My Settlement?

Liens are commonly the most confusing and frustrating aspect of a personal injury or product liability settlement. If a third party such as a health insurance company paid for medical treatment related to a client’s injury, the health insurance contract or the law typically allows a lien on the personal injury settlement.

How Can Liens Impact My Personal Injury Settlement?

In regard to personal injury or product liability settlements, a lien is a debt owed from the settlement. The most common lien deducted from a personal injury settlement is to the client’s health insurance provider. Most health insurance contracts stipulate that the insurer has a right to reimbursement if a client receives compensation for an injury that the insurer paid for treatment on. Lawyers must honor these liens but can take action to reduce them for you.

For example, if a client is injured in an auto accident and had their health insurance company pay for the treatment of any related injuries, then the insurance company has a legal right to recover the money paid for that treatment from any personal injury settlement related to the auto accident.

But I Paid My Premium and Deductible for My Health Insurance. Why Is There a Lien?

This is a common question asked when a lien is asserted by a health insurance company. A premium is the monthly cost of health insurance coverage. It is the cost of the product and cannot be used to reduce any lien amount. The deductible is the amount you must pay out of pocket before your health insurance provider will cover most eligible expenses. A health insurance company cannot assert a lien for any amount a patient paid out of pocket prior to satisfying a deductible.

Once you satisfy your deductible, your health insurance provider will begin to cover a percentage of expenses as defined under your plan. A lien will arise when an insurance company begins to cover expenses after a patient satisfies their deductible or pays for any treatment or prescriptions covered under a plan prior to the satisfaction of a deductible.

A lien can only be asserted on expenses directly paid by a health insurance provider to cover treatment for injuries that a client is compensated for in a personal injury settlement. If your personal injury case is not successful, you owe nothing to your insurance company beyond your regular premium and deductible expenses.

Other Common Liens Deducted from Settlements

Liens can also be asserted by government-based benefit providers such as the VA, Medicare, and Medicaid. Government liens can be the most time-consuming liens to resolve at settlement. It is very important to inform your attorney of any government-based health insurance used to cover the treatment of your injuries.

If a client does not have health insurance, a healthcare provider will often require a lien agreement prior to providing treatment to guarantee payment for their services. When this occurs, the healthcare provider will often assert a lien on a personal injury case to ensure reimbursement once the case is resolved.

Another common lien deducted from personal injury settlements is to a workers’ compensation insurance company. If a client is not able to work due to injuries related to a personal injury case, any benefits paid to the client under a workers’ compensation plan are subject to reimbursement from a personal injury settlement.

What If I Don’t Want My Attorney to Withhold Any Liens?

Unfortunately, your attorney does not have a choice. The law requires your attorney to honor these liens. If they are not paid, both you and your attorney could ultimately be held financially responsible. A failure to pay Medicare liens could result in penalties and interest on top of the amount owed. For a health care lien, your insurance company could refuse to pay future bills for you if it is not satisfied.

Why Does It Take So Long to Negotiate These Liens?

 The insurance companies and the government most often refuse to negotiate until a case is settled. They want to know the amount of the settlement to understand their position. Sadly, there is no time schedule or penalties for an insurance company to respond to a lien. Many do not make it a priority and sometimes the bills paid must be retrieved from years past. Governmental liens such as Medicare and VA benefits are notoriously slow at responding. COVID-19 has made this process even slower. It can take many months and sometimes up to a year to negotiate a lien because of the lack of response. Unfortunately, there is often nothing an attorney can do to speed up this process except to be persistent. And even that does not always work.

Can Lien Deductions Be Reduced?

There is never a guarantee that a lien asserted on an injury settlement can be reduced. However, the Minnesota Personal and Product Liability Injury Attorneys at GoldenbergLaw have over 35 years of experience successfully negotiating the most complicated of settlement liens. We are guided by our experience and expertise and will fight for you to receive as much of your personal injury settlement as possible. We understand the complexities of lien negotiations and will do everything possible to reduce them.

How GoldenbergLaw Can Help

Lien negotiation can be a difficult, frustrating and time-consuming process. The team of Minneapolis Personal Injury and Product Liability Lawyers at GoldenbergLaw practice nationwide to help our clients. We have the experience necessary not just to obtain a just result in your settlement but also to negotiate complex liens and we will fight to obtain the best outcome possible. Let us provide the Gold Standard Advocacy you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation and leave the sleepless nights to us.

Three Reasons Cancer Patients May Need an Attorney

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, hiring legal counsel may be the last thing on your mind. However, there are a number of issues that can arise that may necessitate legal assistance. If you Partners Noah and Stuart meet to discuss casehave been diagnosed with cancer in Minneapolis or St. Paul, please call 612-436-5026 to speak with an experienced attorney from GoldenbergLaw and learn how we can help protect you and your family during this difficult period.

Why Hire a Cancer Attorney

Three of the biggest reasons you may wish to have an attorney on your side following a cancer diagnosis are:

  1. Gain a legal perspective on your healthcare decisions
  2. Legal assistance with financial arrangements
  3. Full understanding of legal recourse in cases of misdiagnosis

There are a number of issues that can arise before and after a cancer diagnosis that may entitle a patient to compensation. Many instances of medical malpractice can surround cancer diagnosis and treatment, and having an attorney on your side helps ensure you are protected in these cases. While not all cancer patients will need legal assistance, it is always a good idea to speak with an attorney before making final legal decisions. Our Minneapolis medical malpractice attorneys welcome the opportunity to meet with you, free of both cost and obligation, to help you determine if legal counsel could be of benefit to you and your family.

The attorneys at GoldenbergLaw have been assisting cancer patients in making smart legal decisions for nearly three decades. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are looking for sound and practical legal advice, please contact us today to schedule a free consultation at our Minneapolis office. We proudly serve families living in Minnesota and throughout the nation.