Will a Judge or Jury Decide the Outcome of My Virginia Personal Injury Case?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, just under 95 percent of personal injury lawsuits settle before they go to trial. These settlements are usually reached after negotiations between the injured party’s Virginia Beach personal injury lawyer and the at-fault party’s insurance company. Sometimes, the negotiation process is resolved quickly and efficiently, while other times, the negotiations can be drawn out if the insurance company drags its feet in an attempt to withhold paying the victim the amount of financial compensation they are entitled to.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, then the claim is litigated in court, and a judge or jury will decide the outcome. In Virginia, personal injury lawsuits are filed in either the General District Court or the Circuit Court. The following is a brief overview of the differences between the two. For more detailed information about your particular situation, call our office for details.

General District Court

If the total amount of damages that the injured party (plaintiff) has sustained is under $50,000, they can choose to file their lawsuit in the General District Court and obtain a quicker trial date than filing in Circuit Court. All personal injury lawsuit trials in the GDC are bench trials, meaning the judge overseeing the case will decide the case. When the plaintiff files their lawsuit in the GDC, they waive their right to a jury trial. The judge will always make determinations on what the law is, but he or she is also the arbiter of the facts – that is, what the facts demonstrate happened.

Some of the advantages of filing your case in GDC include:


Litigating a case in the GDC is generally less expensive compared to the Circuit Court. This can be beneficial for plaintiffs, especially if they’re seeking compensation for smaller amounts of damages.

Faster Resolution

Cases in the GDC often proceed more quickly than those in the Circuit Court. This means plaintiffs may receive a resolution to their case and obtain compensation in a shorter amount of time.

Informal Discovery

Discovery procedures in the GDC are typically less formal and less burdensome compared to the Circuit Court. This can save time and resources during the pretrial phase of the case.

Flexibility for Settlement

The GDC encourages parties to settle their disputes outside of trial. The less formal atmosphere and lower stakes can facilitate negotiations and lead to earlier settlement agreements.

Circuit Courts

If a plaintiff’s damages total more than $50,000, then they are required to file their lawsuit with the Circuit Court. Unlike the quicker trial date in the GDC, it can take one to two years before the case is scheduled for trial.

Plaintiffs have the option of having either a judge or jury decide their case. However, it is important to understand the differences in how a judge or a jury will make their decisions.

In the Circuit Court, the judge can make those same determinations as they do at the GDC.  If the plaintiff requests a jury trial, that jury is able to make determinations as to factual findings whereas the judge makes decisions as to what the law says or does not say.  In some instances, the judge may make a ruling that certain factual issues are so clear that they are deemed true “as a matter of law” and instruct the jury to deem them to be true.

Some of the advantages of filing your case in the Circuit Court include:

Higher Jurisdictional Limits

The Circuit Court has higher jurisdictional limits compared to the GDC. This means it can handle cases involving larger amounts of damages, allowing plaintiffs to seek higher compensation if their injuries warrant it.

Jury Trials

In Circuit Court, plaintiffs have the option to have their case heard by a jury. This can be advantageous in personal injury cases where the plaintiff believes a jury would be more sympathetic or likely to award higher damages.

Formal Discovery Procedures

Circuit Courts typically have more formal discovery procedures compared to GDC. This allows plaintiffs to gather more evidence and information to support their case, which can be crucial in complex personal injury claims.

Call Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp for a Free Case Evaluation

If you have been injured in any type of accident that involved the negligence of another party, contact our personal injury law firm for a free and confidential consultation to learn what your legal options may be. Our Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers are dedicated to getting injured clients the compensation they deserve, like the $1.6 million jury verdict we obtained for one client in a missed diagnosis case. That verdict was later upheld in appeal.

For your convenience, we have offices in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake.