Personal injury cases in Virginia are tried in three different types of courts – federal court, circuit court and General District court. While some cases involve substantial medical expenses, permanent and debilitating injuries, and lost income when people are too injured to work, many plaintiffs have suffered temporary or limited injuries that heal quickly without extensive treatment, or do not cause long-term expenses or loss. These cases are well-suited to be tried in Virginia’s General District court system.
Civil actions (such as personal injury claims) in General District court are governed by Chapter 6 of Title 16.1 of the Code of Virginia. General District court cases are tried in front of a judge without a jury. This means that the judge determines all legal and factual issues in a case, including how much money an injured person recovers. The most a plaintiff can recover in a personal injury case in General District court is $50,000, plus costs and interest.
There are also many advantages to trying cases in General District court. The first is that General District court cases are much less expensive than those filed in circuit or federal court. Unlike in those courts, General District court doesn’t require live or video testimony from a doctor or other health care provider regarding the injuries a person suffered. Medical records alone are admissible for this purpose in General District court, provided that the plaintiff’s attorney utilizes affidavits from the plaintiff’s treating health care providers. This is a substantial cost saving for a plaintiff. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to have doctors supply opinions in a disclosure, then have them testify at trial or deposition, a plaintiff may only spend a few hundred dollars, at most, to have all their medical records admitted into evidence by affidavit. Because the costs are much lower in general a district court, an injured person may get more net recovery from the money awarded at trial.
The second major advantage is the amount of time saved by proceeding in General District court. Federal and circuit court cases have more formal procedures and schedules, which can take years to resolve. Trial dates are not set until long after the lawsuit is filed and discovery proceeds. In cases with more than one defendant or a busy court calendar, getting a trial date can be difficult. General District court cases, on the other hand, are usually tried within three to six months of suit being filed. Further, the resulting trials rarely take more than an hour or two. General District court judges make all of the factual findings instead of a jury, so they typically let the parties put on their case with less formality. They endeavor to “promote substantial justice to all parties.” Clients often leave the courtroom satisfied that they have been “heard,” that the evidence was straightforward, and a judge has truly evaluated what happened to them.
The final advantage of General District court is the quickness with which an injured party gets compensated. Instead of juries deliberating for days, Judges customarily decide the amount of money an injured person receives the day of the trial, and often enters judgment that same day. Defendants have a shorter amount of time to note an appeal and post any required appellate bond. This often forces a defendant’s insurance carrier to come to a quick decision about whether to pay the verdict or pursue an appeal. As a result, injured persons typically get compensated more quickly than those who filed cases in circuit or federal court.
There are, of course disadvantages to General District court cases. Major examples include the $50,000 being a hard limit on what an injured party can recover, exclusive of attorney’s fees and interest, and the fact that the defense has an appeal of right to circuit court (in which it can start the trial over from scratch). Despite those limitations, filing in General District court remains a better option for claims in such a damage range, because doing so results in a prompt and cost-effective resolution of their claims, which both sides of the dispute typically appreciate.
If you suffered injuries in a car wreck, trucking accident or other injury due to someone’s negligence, the attorneys at Munro Byrd P.C. are happy to discuss your goals and legal options. Our attorneys have litigated cases in all levels of Virginia courts – General District, circuit and federal court. Contact us to learn more about Virginia’s court system and which court may be the right one for your case.