Effective July 1, 2021, a new law increased the jurisdiction of Virginia general district court in personal injury and wrongful death cases to include claims not exceeding $50,000. If you have either type of claim in the jurisdictional amount, you can start a lawsuit in either general district court or circuit court. Legal strategy plays an important role in making the decision. Talking with an experienced personal injury lawyer before initiating a legal action helps you make the right choice in your case.
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Cases in Virginia
Statutory changes that took effect on July 1, 2021, give Virginia general district courts and circuit courts concurrent jurisdiction over personal injury and wrongful death cases with damage claims of $50,000 or less. (The previous limit for general district courts was $25,000.) A claim that meets the requirement can be filed in either court. This is a very important development for litigating cases in general district court.
If a personal injury or wrongful death claim is over $50,000, only circuit courts have jurisdiction. Additional requirements also apply for a court to have jurisdiction over the defendant in an action. The statutory revisions did not change jurisdictional amounts for other cases within the authority of Virginia general district courts.
Important considerations factor into deciding where to file a lawsuit, including the fact that the process and procedures in general district court and circuit court are substantially different. In addition, any party who loses in general district court has the right to appeal to circuit court. So even if you file in general district court, you may end up in circuit court before the case concludes.
If you have a choice of courts for filing your claim, a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can help you make the right decision. Our Richmond injury lawyers at Renfro & Renfro do not charge for your initial consultation and case evaluation, so there’s no reason to hesitate to contact us to discuss your case.
General District Court Process
An action in general district court begins with filing a complaint or a form called a warrant in debt. The sheriff’s office serves the document on the defendant. In addition, the judge usually asks the parties to file pleadings. A bill of particulars lays out the plaintiff’s facts supporting the claim. The defendant responds with grounds of defense, which either admit or deny the plaintiff’s allegations. Failure to file required documents may result in judgment being entered against a party.
Discovery in general district court is limited to issuance of subpoenas for documents, which are issued by the clerk of the court. There are no depositions or interrogatories, which are part of discovery in a circuit court case.
Proceedings in general district court are less formal than in circuit court. A judge conducts the trial. Jury trials are only available in circuit court.
The trial begins with the plaintiff or their lawyer making an opening statement to the court, which summarizes the claims. Then, the plaintiff introduces documentary evidence, such as medical bills and affidavits from treating healthcare providers. The plaintiff may testify about their injuries and call other witnesses to testify in support of their claims. Non-treating expert medical witnesses and other experts are not permitted to testify or provide affidavits.
The defendant also has an opportunity to present evidence. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge typically rules from the bench, although the decision can be delayed by the judge if necessary. Both parties have the right to appeal to circuit court from a general district court decision, but an appeal must be filed within ten (10) days of the date of the judge’s decision. An appealing party is required to post a bond.
Representation by a lawyer is not required in general district court or circuit court. However, if you proceed with a legal action without the benefit of legal counsel, you may adversely affect the outcome of the action or the amount of compensation you receive. Information about retaining legal counsel for injury claims is provided in our article, Do I Need an Injury Lawyer?
Deciding Where to File
If you have a personal injury or wrongful death claim in an amount that doesn’t exceed $50,000, filing in general district court may be attractive. The fees are less, and the process is more simplified than filing in circuit court. Getting a decision also takes less time in general district court. However, you could still end up in circuit court afterwards, which will cost more and prolong the process.
Before you file anywhere, you should talk with an experienced personal injury lawyer, who can explain the considerations that you should take into account. One mistake people often make when they decide to represent themselves is underestimating the amount of their damage claim, especially the pain and suffering component. Calculating the amount of damages for a personal injury or wrongful death claim is a complex task that requires specialized skill. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you determine how much your claim is worth.
An attorney also helps you take into account other considerations that could affect the outcome of your case and the amount of financial reimbursement you receive. Then you will have all the information you need to make the decision about how to proceed with your claim.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Virginia Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorneys
If you have a personal injury or wrongful death claim that may be within the jurisdiction of the Virginia general district courts, our experienced injury attorneys at Renfro & Renfro welcome you to contact us for a free consultation. We will discuss your case and help you make the right decision about how to proceed with your claim.