Life in Lockdown: how changes in our movements will impact the injury liability claims landscape
COVID-19 has had wide-reaching consequences on our lives. For the last 2 months or so, we have been working from home (where possible) and practising social distancing. With social distancing restrictions now starting to ease, people are slowly starting to head back to restaurants / cafés, parks, offices, shopping centres and schools. Although the restrictions are now starting to ease, the impact of COVID-19 is far from over and it will continue to have an impact in the months to come. The impact of these changes to our societal movements and activities will undoubtedly have an impact on future trends in injury liability claims.
We know that our societal movements and activities have dramatically changed since COVID-19, but how can we track that? Thankfully, Google has done just that. They have recently published a “COVID-19 Community Mobility Report”1 which looks at the percentage change in visits to places such as grocery stores, parks and transit stations between mid-February and mid-May 2020. It uses data from location-tracking on our mobile phones. Google has calculated what an average day looked like prior to COVID-19 and has used that as a baseline to show how the number of people visiting particular areas has changed. Unsurprisingly, given the recent easing of restrictions the percentage change is slowly starting to get back to normal.
The latest mobility trends for Australia show that people have been moving in mid-May 2020 as follows:
- Retail and recreation (such as restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and movie theatres) has decreased by 31% (with a decrease of 76% in mid-April).
- Groceries and pharmacies has decreased by 5% (with a decrease of 55% in mid-April).
- Parks (such as local parks, national parks, public beaches, dog parks and public gardens) has decreased by 28% (with a decrease of 52% in mid-April).
- Workplaces (i.e. heading in to work) has decreased by 27% (with a decrease of 82% in mid-April).
- Transit stations (such as bus and train stations) has decreased by 52% (with a decrease of 77% in mid-April).
- Residential has increased by 15% (with an increase of 33% in mid-April).
Apple has also recently published a mobility report2 using data from the number and type of requests for directions in Apple Maps. This report shows that as at 19 May 2020 requests for driving directions had reduced by 24%, requests for walking by 45% and requests for public transport by 66%.
Based on the above trends in our recent mobility, we expect that there will be a reduction in the number of claims brought against owners and occupiers for slip / trip and falls at restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and footpaths. Although we have not seen a reduction in these types of claims yet, it is likely that the industry will feel the impact of this reduction in the next 6 to 12 months. In turn, there may be an increase in claims against landlords / real estate agents for personal injuries because people are spending more time at home than ever before.
Data released by the District and Supreme Courts in Queensland reveals that there were 4,452 lodgements in the civil division of the District Court and 2,956 lodgements in the civil division of the Supreme Court in 2018 – 2019.3 It will be interesting to see whether there is a reduction in the number of civil claims filed in the 2019 – 2020 year as a result of the changes to our societal movements and activities. We will monitor this data.
There may also be an increase in claims against entities such as hospitals, shopping centres, commercial occupiers and local authorities for personal injury claims arising out of negligent handling of the spread of COVID-19 at their premises. It will be critical for these types of entities to develop a pandemic plan and be able to demonstrate that reasonable precautions were taken to respond to the risk of COVID-19 (and complied with). We have already seen this type of claim posited in relation to the Ruby Princess. A plaintiff law firm has recently announced an investigation for a class action on behalf of passengers affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. The investigation will explore whether the owners and operators of the cruise ship failed to safeguard and protect its passengers from the impact of COVID-19 despite allegedly having existing knowledge of the contamination. This announcement is the beginning of potentially a wave of these types of claims.
It will be interesting to see the actual impact of COVID-19 on injury liability claims. For now, we can position ourselves to anticipate future trends in claims and adapt and respond to the demand.
 See https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/data_documentation.html?hl=en
 See https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility
 See https://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/636195/DC-AR-2018-2019.pdf and https://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/636194/sc-ar-2018-2019.pdf