A Middlesex County Superior Court judge has ordered the plaintiff in a slip-and-fall lawsuit to appear for deposition remotely via Zoom or other teleconference system, despite her claimed lack of basic technological knowledge and resources. In the matter of Thomas v. BJ’s Wholesale, Docket No. MID-L-5518-19, the plaintiff objected to proceeding with a virtual deposition during the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to her lack of internet access, her lack of technological understanding and assistance, and her counsel’s claimed inability to effectively prepare her for a virtual deposition. In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Hon. Bruce J. Kaplan accepted plaintiff’s counsel’s representations but held that the “significant hardships” plaintiff would face from conducting a virtual deposition were outweighed by the court’s need to move the case forward and complete necessary discovery.
The New Jersey Judiciary has embraced technological solutions to keep matters on track despite the closures and limitations caused by the pandemic. For months now, courts have utilized virtual platforms to manage cases and continue essential operations. Remote options such as “Zoom Virtual Courtroom,” “Teams Meeting,” and “Scopia Virtual Courtroom” have been deployed to facilitate hearings, conferences and settlements, thus demonstrating the judiciary’s commitment to using technology to sustain short-term operations during this unprecedented time.
Judge Kaplan’s ruling further signals the judiciary’s growing initiative to ensure cases continue to move forward while navigating restrictions during the phased reopening. Notwithstanding most attorneys’ understandable preference for conducting depositions in person, courts will likely be unreceptive to attempts to freeze discovery indefinitely until COVID-19 restrictions are permanently lifted. Rather, the ongoing uncertainty as to when and how in-person business may safely resume will require parties to avail themselves of the virtual solutions on offer, for the duration. We may even see that as courts and practitioners grow more accustomed to conducting essential tasks through virtual platforms, and savings of time and money are realized, such remote business will become the new normal after COVID-19.
At a minimum, Judge Kaplan’s ruling sends a clear message: Discovery must continue, and if the court can use Zoom, so can you.
Ansa Assuncao’s legal team is experienced in conducting virtual depositions and other virtual proceedings. For assistance, contact James Coons, [email protected], or David Gonzalez, [email protected], or call (732) 993 -9850.