How Does a Lawsuit Work in Northern Virginia?

Authored by Nathan Veldhuis

A typical 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).

Early Stages

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.