Jurisdictional Limit of the Virginia General District Courts Increased from $25,000 to $50,000
October 15, 2021
As of July 1, 2021, under §16.1-77 of the Virginia Code, the jurisdictional limit of the general district courts increased from $25,000 to $50,000. This increase, along with a continuing backlog of jury trials in circuit courts caused by the COVID pandemic, has led plaintiffs’ lawyers to file more cases in general district court from the outset and to remove many cases from circuit court to general district court, creating new challenges for defense counsel and insurance companies.
The primary challenges arise from differences in procedure and in timeline between general district court and circuit court. In circuit court, counsel has a wide array of discovery devices available to investigate a case, including interrogatories, document requests, subpoenas, depositions, and medical examinations of plaintiff; and enough time to make use of these devices as trials typically do not take place sooner than 8-12 months after the initial service of process. In general district court, however, there is no real “discovery”, no interrogatories, document requests, depositions or medical examinations. The only real tool available to counsel is the subpoena, and the time to make use of that tool is limited, as trials are often set to take place within 3-6 months of service. Another important difference is that juries decide the outcome in circuit court trials and judges make the decision in general district court, a difference that can have a real impact on the outcome.
Here are some things that the defense can do to adapt to this change:
- Conduct thorough background checks of claimants using sources and platforms (internet, social media, court, and other public databases, etc).
- Elicit demand packages and identify medical providers as early as possible. To allow enough time to obtain records from those providers before trial.
- Obtain records reviews from experts who can testify at trial. Without an expert contesting the medicals, the court may decide injuries and damages based on the medical records and bills submitted by affidavit.
- Subpoena records from medical providers and employers if they can be identified and send a subpoena to the plaintiff seeking all medical records, bills, wage loss documents, photos, and other tangible evidence plaintiff may seek to introduce at trial.
- Push back against early trials. Try to push them out 3-6 months, as this will allow more time to investigate.
- Consider appealing verdicts to circuit court in cases with sufficient coverage.