Virginia General District Courts Jurisdictional Limit Increase

Virginia General District Courts Jurisdictional Limit Increase

Dealing with a personal injury can be stressful and time-consuming. You may have missed work, have medical bills piling up, and still be in pain. You may even still be out of work, or facing a permanent disability. At this point, many people who have suffered injuries start to wonder about filing a peronal injury lawsuit, how they would do that, and where they should file.

Often people considering personal injury claims have questions about jurisdictional limits. In particular, some may have heard that Virginia recently increased jurisdictional limits for certain cases. This is true, but only in specific circumstances. Your Virginia personal injury lawyer can help you figure out an approximate figure to request in your lawsuit, as well as which court is the best place to file. However, here is some general information about jurisdictional limits in the state and how the recent changes may affect you and anyone with a potential personal injury lawsuit in Virginia.

What Are Jurisdictional Limits in Personal Injury Cases?

Jurisdictional amount” is a term meaning the dollar amount of a lawsuit that a particular court has the authority to hear. This provides a range between the minimum and maximum amount of money or value at issue in a lawsuit. In turn, the jurisdictional amount will determine which court has jurisdiction to try the case. This usually depends on the amount the plaintiff is asking for in their lawsuit. So depending on where you file your lawsuit, there may be only so much money you can ask for. Conversely, the amount of money you’re seeking will affect where you can file your suit. However, you can’t file your suit just anywhere because you want to sue for a larger amount. You and your attorney have to consider jurisdiction.

What Is Jurisdiction?

In legal terms, jurisdiction refers to the authority to make decisions or judgments. In criminal investigations, it often means which local authorities have the ability to arrest someone for a crime. In civil cases like personal injury lawsuits, it’s a matter of which court can hear the case. This is affected by a wide variety of factors, including where the injury took place, the location of the plaintiff, and the location of the defendant.

What is the Jurisdiction of Circuit Courts?

There are two kinds of jurisdiction that apply in personal injury cases, subject and personal. Subject jurisdiction refers to courts that are intended to handle specific kinds of cases, like bankruptcy court. Subject jurisdiction is not typically an issue in personal injury cases.

Personal jurisdiction may sometimes come up when deciding where a lawsuit should be filed. In the city and state where the accident happened? Where the plaintiff lives? Where the defendant lives or has headquarters (if the defendant is an entity like a corporation)? Sometimes this can get tricky. In one Montana case, two different plaintiffs wanted to sue a railroad called BDNF for injuries they believed were the railroad’s fault. Both parties opted to file the lawsuit in Montana, which has a law on the books applying “personal jurisdiction” over anyone found in the state of Montana. However, BDNF’s headquarters were in Delaware and its primary place of business in Texas. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided that the company doing business in Montana didn’t meet the constitutional test for personal jurisdiction.

How Does This Affect My Lawsuit?

It’s important to file your suit in the correct court. If you’re unsure about where you should file, talk with an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney right away. Filing in the wrong court and having your case dismissed for jurisdictional reasons will only cost you time and money, and wasting time could lead to the statute of limitations running out before you’ve filed in the correct court. 

In Virginia, the statute of limitations on personal injury cases is typically two years from the date of the injury, although your attorney may be able to find ways to extend this time limit if you are still seeking treatment for your injuries. The statute of limitations for injured minors is typically two years after the minor’s eighteenth birthday, unless the minor has been emancipated. In that case it is two years from the emancipation date. If you have questions or concerns because you believe the time to file a personal injury suit is runnin out, don’t hesitate to consult an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney.

Virginia General District Courts Jurisdictional Limits

As of July 2021, there is new legislation affecting jurisdictional limits in Virginia general district courts. Each city and county in the state has its own general district court, which hears cases of traffic violation, misdemeanors, and handles some preliminary hearings for felonies. When it comes to civil cases, the general district court has exclusive authority for claims of less than $4,500. It also shares authority with circuit courts for claims between $4,500 and $25,000, and personal injury claims up to $50,000.

Previously the general district court limit on personal injury cases was $25,000, but as of July of 2021, the special session bill Sb 1108 General District Courts became law. It increased to $50,000 for lawsuits that don’t include “any claim to specific personal property or to any debt, fine or other money, or to damages for breach of contract or for injury done to property, real or personal.” Cases with these excepted claims are still subject to the $25,000 limit.

If you and your attorney agree that your case is not likely to settle for more than $50,000, this new law can be benficial. Going through the general district court can save you time and money, allowing you to resolve your claim quickly and with a minimum of court costs. 

Under the old jurisdiction, anyone who wanted to sue for more than $25,000 had to file in Virginia circuits courts. Although there is no jurisdictional limit in circuit court, these trials are often costlier and take more time. It can be months before your case makes it to the docket for a trial date. Your case may drag on due to a requirement for the discovery process, where both sides exchange evidence with each other. It may also be difficult to guage which way the jury will go in a trial.

One reason general district court cases are typically less expensive is because you are not required to hire a medical expert to testify in a personal injury case. Under Virginia Code § 16.1-88.2, plaintiffs can submit medical records to the presiding judge instead with the appropriate affidavit. In circuit court, you may need one or more medical experts to tell the court that your injuries were caused by the subject incident, and that all your treatment was medically necessary. For some complicated injuries, this may require more than one expert, driving up costs.

General district court also offers limited discovery. Discovery is a formal process where both sides exchange information about evidence and witnesses to be presented in the trial.  Unlike in circuit court, it isn’t necessary to serve interrogatories on the other party, or to depose them, with limited discovery. Depositions are lengthy interviews that may take place over several days, can get very personal, and almost always include the plaintiff. In this way, a typical discovery can be stressful and exhausting for the plaintiff, as they will need to sit and answer questions while the insurance company’s attorney looks for any way to paint the plaintiff as being at fault for their own injury.

With limited discovery, the plaintiff also isn’t required to have a “defense medical examination.” This can save you time, money, and the stress of going through another medical exam when you’ve already been dealing with your injuries for some time.

There are also other benefits of limited discovery for plaintiffs. It severely restricts the insurance company’s ability to delve into your medical history, looking for any excuse not to pay the claim. Again, the insurance company’s lawyer will cast about looking for any reason why your injuries miht be your fault. Usually they will claim something related to “preexisting conditions,” no matter how tenuous the connection.

Another benefit is that it typically only takes 4-6 months to get a trial in general district court, versus about a year in circuit court. If you’re dealing with the challenge of medical bills, or other debt that occurred because you were hurt and couldn’t work, you probably want to resolve your case as soon as possible.

Additionally, in a general district court, there is no jury to worry about. In circuit court, personal injury cases are decided by a seven-person jury. Jury trials can be tough because many jurors have biases, even unconscious ones, and it can be tough to predict how things will go. Sometimes despite the best efforts of the plaintiff’s attorney, one or more jurors can be unsympathetic to the plaintiff. This may lead to losing the case or getting a much smaller settlement than the plaintiff deserves for their trouble. 

Meanwhile, a “bench” trial is presided over by a judge, who makes the decision on the case. Judges are used to setting aside their own biases and striving to make the most impartial decision they can. So if you can file the lawsuit in general district court, you will get a decision from a judge which is less likely to be biased in favor of the insurance company.

Yet another benefit of general district court is that insurance carriers are less likely to file an appeal if you win under the new jurisdiction. Why is that? In general, defendants in civil cases are asked to post a bond in the amount they have been found liable for in order to file an appeal. Under the old laws, insurance companies only needed to provide an affidavit essentially saying that they were good for the amount. In some casess, if they lost the appeal, they delayed paying out the judgment for up to a year, to the plaintiff’s detriment. With the new legislation, they will still have to post a bond like anyone else in order to file an appeal, and this often discourages them from filing. It also ensures the plaintiff doesn’t have to wait to receive payment if there is an appeal and the insurance company loses.

Is General District Court in Virginia Right For Every Lawsuit?

No, definitely not. Many claims could easily be worth much more than $50,000. If you’re struggling with medical debt from your injuries, you may already be close to this amount in hospital bills alone! And that’s not counting future medical care, lost wages from time off work, or your pain and suffering. Most laypeople have no idea how to calculate what their case should be worth. Fortunately, your Virginia personal injury lawyer can go over the details of your injuries and costs with you, and help you determine how much of a judgment you should be seeking. If it’s more than $50,000, your case will need to be heard in the circuit courts.

What Should You Do Next If You Have Concerns About a Personal Injury Claim in Virginia?

It’s hard to figure out on your own where to file a lawsuit, as well as deal with the many other aspects of a personal injury suit, especially while dealing with an injury. Additionally, most people can’t accurately determine how much their case is worth. This is where an experienced personal injury attorney in Virginia becomes essential. 

Don’t wait to find out more about your situation and the legal options available to you. First, you should collect any evidence that you believe relates to your injury, including things like accident reports, pictures of the scene, lists of witnesses, etc. Then piece together all your medical bills and/or cost estimates for treatment. Next, you should contact Lugar Law for a free consultation, so you can learn more about the options moving forward.