Virginia Legislature Should Increase General District Court Jurisdiction

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For many years, the limit on how much you could sue for in the Virginia General District Court was $25,000.00. General District Courts are faster and less expensive than the Circuit Courts, where an injured victim can get a jury trial and there are no limits on how much you can sue for or recover. Since a jury was not needed, the filing fees were less expensive, and doctors could submit Affidavits rather than charging thousand of dollars for their time in preparation and testimony. Therefore, General District Court cases were a very good option for people injured in car crashes where the damages were less than $25,000.

Proposed legislation changing Virginia’s minimum limits on automobile insurance would help protect innocent victims who are injured by unsafe drivers. Likewise, proposed legislation increasing the jurisdictional limits of Virginia’s general district courts would reduce the delays in the Circuit Courts caused by the pandemic and enable citizens of the Commonwealth to get justice faster, cheaper and more efficiently. This would be good news for Virginians of all ages.

At the Virginia legislature, proposed legislation is expected to double the Virginia General District Court jurisdictional limit to $50,000 and increase the minimum auto liability policies from $25,000 to $50,000. This would significantly change the nature of personal injury litigation in the Virginia General District Courts. These proposed changes may increase the cost of insurance in Virginia, which has one of the least plaintiff-friendly places in the United States, but may also have consequences for General District Court trials.

The General District Courts (GDC) are for cases too big for Small Claims Courts, and are a good venue for cases not large enough to warrant the thousands of dollars usually needed to properly present a case to a jury in the Circuit Court. Virginia General District Courts have some unique features that are advantageous for both plaintiffs in small, uncomplicated cases. The cases can proceed quickly, there are no Depositions, no Insurance Company doctor medical examinations, Interrogatories, Requests for Production or jury selection. Other than document Subpoenas and Affidavits, there is not a lot of time taken up with “Pre-Trial Discovery.” The injured victims can get their medical bills admitted into evidence before the trial judge by using an Affidavit. This is a much less expensive process than taking a treating doctor’s Deposition or bringing them to court. Cases filed in GDC before the COVID pandemic could go to trial within a few months of filing. Additionally, the statutory cap on damages makes outcomes predictable and reduces the risk for insurance companies to go to trial.

Increasing the minimum automobile liability insurance limits would likewise be a good move for Virginians. The minimum limits have not been modified in many years. Furthermore, medical bills have gotten more expensive, so reimbursement after a crash needs to keep apace with inflation and reality. Enabling injured Virginians to get full compensation, without having to spend a lot of time, effort and money in the Circuit Courts, which have fallen behind during the COVID pandemic, would promote judicial economy, help reduce the Circuit court docket when those courts re-open, and enable the victims of unsafe drivers and other negligence Defendants, to get their bills paid more quickly and efficiently.

While these bills have not yet become law (they are subject to revision as they pass through committees in both chambers of the legislature), the Abrams Landau injury law team anticipates passage. While Virginia is usually ranked at the top of Forbes list for business friendly states, and the Commonwealth is infamous for being a harsh place for injured plaintiffs, these two pieces of proposed legislation would help bring “the Old Dominion” into the modern era and help innocent victims.

If you or someone you know was injured due to no fault of your own, please give us a call (703-796-9555) and email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd.