Most people do not realize that there are different types of courts in which you can file personal injury cases. Each of these courts has different rules and procedures, and each has advantages and disadvantages for personal injury cases. In this entry, I’ll explain these differences and help you understand which court is best for your case.
I’ll start from the bottom and work my way up:
General District Courts:
In general district court, the plaintiff cannot recover more than $25,000 against the defendant. There are no juries in general district court, so the judge decides which party wins. The Rules of Evidence apply, which means that judges are bound by certain rules governing what they are permitted to consider when deciding a case.
In general district court, there is a procedure through which either party may introduce medical evidence through the records or a report of a treating health care provider, provided certain requirements are met. As a practical matter, this procedure makes general district court economical for plaintiffs since they can often avoid having to incur the expense of paying a doctor to testify about their injuries live at trial.
There is very little that happens pre-trial in general district court. This means that cases can often go to trial within months of being filed.
Either party may appeal the result of the trial to the circuit court. Once in circuit court, the case is re-tried in its entirety without any regard to what happened in the general district court. Either party may ask for a jury for the circuit court trial.
The courts that you often see on television often resemble circuit court, which is the standard county-level court. In circuit court, there is no maximum amount of money the plaintiff can recover against the defendant. Either party may request a trial by jury, and the Rules of Evidence apply, so the judge is bound by certain rules governing what the jury may consider when deciding the case.
In circuit court, a lot happens before the case goes to trial. The parties complete discovery (exchange of information, including depositions), designate expert witnesses, and file various types of motions. As a result, cases filed in circuit court usually do not go to trial until about a year after being filed. Also, in personal injury cases, plaintiffs are generally required to have medical doctors testify live to connect their injuries to the negligence.
Either party may appeal the result of the trial to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Supreme Court of Virginia:
Parties may appeal the final result of a personal injury case from circuit court to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Although any party may file a petition the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Supreme Court is not required to hear all cases but, rather, decides which cases it will hear. If the Supreme Court decides to hear a case, it is not re-tried at the Supreme Court. Instead, the Supreme Court decides whether the circuit court committed error at some point during the trial. If so, then the case is sent back to the circuit court for retrial.
At Sickels, Frei & Mims, most of the cases we handle are filed in circuit court because they exceed the $25,000 limit of general district court. We have extensive experience handling cases in the various circuit courts throughout Virginia, especially the Northern Virginia area. With that said, our firm does not limit itself to circuit court cases. Our attorneys, myself included, have experience in both general district court and circuit court.
If you think you have a case, visit our website to find out more about our firm and how to contact us.
Until next time,
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