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A Big Trial, a Global Pandemic, and a Solution in Miami

February 19, 2021
Colson Hicks Eidson

When the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic started to come into focus in early 2020, courtrooms across the country began to shut down. Both criminal and civil court proceedings experienced significant delays. Over the last year, courtrooms in Florida and across the US have adapted, with many turning towards virtual options. However, a major trial surrounding leaky fire sprinklers in a high-rise building will begin soon in Miami-Dade County, but the case will not take place in a courthouse.

Where can a high-profile case be held during a pandemic?

Patrick Montoya, Partner at Colson Hicks Eidson, is an attorney for homeowners at the 452-condo Latitude on the River in the Brickell area. This case has been ongoing, but the trial stopped on March 12, 2020, as a result of COVID-19-related precautions.

With this case set to resume, Montoya has said that he is closing in on a deal with one of two places that meet or exceed his threshold for safety – having enough space to host 50 to 55 people, including 30 lawyers.

Some of the venues they have been discussed for this case include a hotel ballroom, a stage meant for plays, ballets, or concerts, and even a church auditorium. Amongst the places scouted so far include a Coral Gables church, the Knight Concert Hall, and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Attorney Patrick Montoya admits that he has been operating outside of his wheelhouse with this case lately.

“I don’t plan events, that’s not what I do,” said Montoya. His co-counsel for this case is Jason Rodgers-da Cruz of Siegfried Rivera. “We want to get our case to trial as soon as possible, so it was incumbent on me to do it.”

The litigation for this case began in 2016, and the total damages that could be awarded to the plaintiffs may top $50 million.

The Latitude trial is expected to last up to a month, and Montoya says that he expects businesses will jump at the chance to rent out their venue, especially because the tourism and entertainment industries in Miami have been so depressed since the pandemic began.

We’re all adjusting to a new normal

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the country, the legal system is continuing to adapt. Even though vaccines are beginning to roll out, the reality is that we are some time away from returning to full in-person trials with no regard to social distancing measures. In fact, that kind of reality may be years away. In the meantime, we strongly suspect that alternative venues may be used to handle major civil cases like the one mentioned above. While Zoom conferences and other video conferencing technology may be useful for some situations, that type of tech is simply not feasible for a major case like the Latitude trial being handled by attorney Montoya and Colson Hicks Eidson.

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