Authored by Nathan Veldhuis
personal injury lawsuit in circuit court in Virginia begins with the filing of a Complaint.
Circuit courts have concurrent jurisdiction with general district courts
(read more about Virginia General District Court on a
previous blog) for cases seeking $4,500 to $25,000 and exclusive jurisdiction for cases
seeking $25,000.01 and up. There is no limit to the amount a plaintiff
may seek in circuit court, although there are various caps on damages
in Virginia (e.g., punitive damages are capped at $350,000.00).
A defendant is served with the Complaint by the sheriff or other process
server and then has 21 days to file an Answer admitting or denying the
numbered allegations in the Complaint. Usually, near the beginning of
the life of the case, the parties exchange interrogatories (written questions
each party must answer under oath) and requests for production of documents
(requiring each party to produce to the other documents relevant to the
allegations and defenses).
The period of each party's investigating the other's evidence is
called discovery, and usually lasts until 30 days before trial. During
discovery the parties may take depositions of each other and of other
witnesses, like eye witnesses, friends, family, co-workers, healthcare
professionals, and experts. Usually, near the beginning of the case the
parties will also appear in court for "docket call" to set the
case for trial. In many jurisdictions around Virginia, trials are set
for a year or more out from the date of the filing of the Complaint. As
mentioned to above, the parties must identify any expert witnesses they
intend to call to testify at the trial of the case. Once the experts are
identified, the parties each have an opportunity to depose them to discover
what they will say, and/or to later read or play for the jury at trial
in lieu of the expert's live testimony.
Prior to trial, the parties must also identify all witnesses they may call
at trial and all exhibits they intend to introduce into evidence or to
show the jury for demonstrative purposes. The parties also exchange statements
of law they believe should be given to the jury to help them reach a decision.
In civil cases in Virginia the jury is comprised of seven citizens of
that jurisdiction who are eligible to serve—they are picked from
a larger pool by the Judge and the attorneys in the case.
Both sides then have the opportunity to present opening statements. The
plaintiff always goes first, because the plaintiff has the burden of proving
they were injured as a result of the negligence of the defendant to the
extent they claim by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance
of the evidence is the lowest burden of proof in Virginia and means "more
likely than not" or "51%."
After opening statements, the plaintiff then calls all of their witnesses
and introduces all of their exhibits before they rests. Then the defendant
does the same. The plaintiff then has the opportunity to present any rebuttal
evidence. At the close of evidence the parties then give closing argument
where they take the facts the jury just heard and apply them to legal
conclusions in attempts to convince the jury why their view is the one
the jury should accept. The jury is then instructed on the law as decided
appropriate by the Judge and it retires to deliberate. The jury's
verdict must be unanimous. The jury's verdict will not be disturbed
by the Judge unless it is contrary to the evidence, or without any evidence
to support it. The court will then enter judgment on the jury's verdict.
How a Northern Virginia Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Trying cases in circuit court is a complicated and lengthy process that
requires the assistance of experienced counsel. The preceding has only
been a very general description of a simple personal injury action and
is no substitute for acquiring experienced representation for your case.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Northern Virginia
personal injury lawyers make it a point to work closely with clients throughout
each stage of a case and to explain any information they do not fully
understand. To learn more about filing your claim,
contact a Northern Virginia injury attorney from our firm today.