Beginning July 1, 2021, Virginia’s General District Court limits will increase from $25,000 to $50,000 for cases that do not involve “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.” Those exceptions are still limited to the $25,000 jurisdictional amount in General District Court.
Benefits of Virginia’s General District Court Jurisdictional Increase
This increase in General District Court’s jurisdictional limit is excellent news for anyone looking to recover no more than $50,000 for personal injuries suffered and wants to do it quickly and affordably. Previously, if an injured party wanted to recover more than $25,000 for personal injuries suffered, he or she would have to file a lawsuit in Circuit Court. Circuit Court has no jurisdictional limit, but it does have some downsides as well. Circuit Court cases cost more money, takes significantly longer to get a trial date because of discovery, and there is always an uncertainty when it comes to juries.
General District Court cases are significantly cheaper than Circuit Court cases. In General District Court, a party can present their medical records to the presiding judge pursuant to Virginia Code § 16.1-88.2 with the appropriate affidavit. These medical records are crucial in proving your injuries in a personal injury case. This code section does not apply in cases filed in Circuit Court. In Circuit Court, you typically need a medical expert to testify that the subject incident caused the injuries claimed by the injured party and that all treatment rendered was medically necessary. Depending on the seriousness of the injury and how many experts you need to call to testify, this could cost tens of thousands of dollars. This increase in Virginia’s General District Court limit is a great way to save expenses on medical experts that would be needed in Circuit Court.
General District Court is also a Court of limited discovery. There is no right to serve a party with interrogatories, to take their depositions, or to require the injured party to undergo a defense medical examination. Limited discovery has two significant benefits for plaintiffs in personal injury cases.
First, it limits the ability of the insurance company defending the personal injury case to pry and poke into a party’s prior medical history in hopes of getting lucky and finding something they can use against the injured person at trial.
Second, it makes for a significantly quicker trial date. Circuit Court usually takes approximately a year from the filing of a lawsuit until the actual trial date. In General District Court, it takes around 4-6 months.
Another benefit of trying a case in General District Court instead of Circuit Court is that there is no jury. Judges hear all Virginia General District Court cases. Juries are unpredictable, and each juror brings their own unique experience and biases. With a seven-person jury in civil cases, there is a significant chance that at least one juror will be biased, and a compromised verdict will result. Conversely, Judges are significantly more likely to put their personal biases aside and render a verdict based on the facts that are presented and apply the law accordingly.
Insurance Carriers are Less Likely to Appeal
Every party has an absolute right to appeal a matter from General District Court to Circuit Court. An insurance company that loses a case in General District Court can appeal the case to the Circuit Court, further dragging the matter out and then subjecting the injured party to discovery.
Judges usually require defendants to post a bond in the amount of the verdict to allow an appeal. However, there is an exception for insurance companies, who only need to provide a letter when filing an appeal stating that there is enough coverage to satisfy the judgment amount. However, this changes on July 1, 2021.
Beginning July 1, 2021, insurance companies are no longer able to appeal a case by just providing a letter stating they have enough coverage. They are now also required to post a bond that does not exceed their coverage limits. Insurance companies are not in the business of spending money, and a big motivator for them to not settle and force a trial is that they get to keep their money longer. Before July 1, 2021, if an insurance company loses a case in General District Court and files an appeal to Circuit Court, this could delay payment for over a year. However, starting July 1, 2021, an insurance company must post a bond to appeal a General District Court Case. This change in the law will discourage insurance companies from appealing General District Court Cases because they now have to post a bond in the amount the verdict awarded by the General District Court judge and incur further expenses if they wish to appeal a case.
These changes to the law will appear as amendments to Virginia Code § 8.01-195.4, 16.1-77, and 16.1-107. These recent changes in General District Court’s jurisdictional limits and procedures for appealing cases are significant changes in for plaintiffs in personal injury cases.
If you, or a loved one, is injured due to another’s negligence, you will be well served by contacting the lawyers at Curcio Law as we are very experienced in trying cases in both the General District and Circuit Courts throughout Virginia. We can be reached by calling or texting us at text 703-836-3366 for a free and informative consultation.
Justin Curcio joined Curcio Law in January 2020. Justin received his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 2015. After passing the Virginia Bar in 2015, Justin was in-house counsel for an insurance defense firm (Allstate/Esurance/Encompass) for over four years before joining Curcio Law. During law school, he worked for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the law firm of Bartlett, McDonough & Monaghan, LLP. Contact Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org.