As Virginia personal injury lawyers we are often asked by clients how we decide which Virginia (VA) courts to file their lawsuits for personal injuries in. Here are some basics.
If you are in a car accident, and suffer personal injuries, the claim is generally against the negligent or careless driver of the other vehicle. Many of our clients think the lawsuit is against the car insurance company, but actually it is not. It is against the other careless driver. What happens is that the suit is filed against the careless driver in the careless driver’s name and the car insurance contract requires that the insurer, such as State Farm, Allstate, Geico, etc., hires a private defense lawyer who works on behalf of the negligent driver. Even though the car insurance company is hiring the lawyer, the lawsuit would be in the name of the client versus the careless driver.
Virginia (VA) allows personal injury lawsuits and claims to be filed in one of two courts:
1. General District Court (like “small claims court”)
2. Circuit Court
As of 2011, the General District Court has a maximum jurisdictional damages threshold of $25,000.00 and do not have jury trials. On the other hand, Circuit Court does not have a maximum jurisdictional damages threshold and these courts provide for jury trials. In Circuit Court, the case can be heard by a judge or by a jury. The jury must be requested by the plaintiff (the injured person) or the defendant (the careless driver for example).
General District Court has some special rules which makes it easier to present evidence. There are provisions that allow Affidavits from medical doctors to avoid doctors having to come into court. There are also provisions about Affidavits for basis property damage to vehicles so that the body shop worker need not necessarily appear. The General District Court is a much more informal environment and the trials for personal injury cases are always less than a day and the costs and expenses to the client are less, but there are some disadvantages. One, is obviously the maximum $25,000.00 damages threshold. Also, there are no jury trials available.
Cases that clearly have damages in excess of $25,000.00 are filed by our law firm in the Circuit Court. A jury trial is often requested, but not always requested depending on the circumstances.
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