The Pros & Cons of Filing in Virginia General District Court

Authored by Nathan Veldhuis

In civil cases not involving family law or workers' compensation claims, three levels of courts exist in Virginia; the General District Court, Circuit Court and the Supreme Court. What follows is a brief overview of the life of a personal injury action in General District Court. In the coming weeks we will talk about Circuit Court and the Supreme Court.

General District Court is an excellent option for cases with a value of $25,000 or less. General District Court lawsuits are limited by the law to $25,000 — exclusive of interest, attorneys' fees and costs. General District Court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear claims for $4500 or under and shares jurisdiction with Circuit Court up to $25,000. In General District Court an action is begun either by filing a Complaint or simply a form, filled out by the plaintiff or their lawyer, called a Warrant in Debt. The Warrant in Debt does not lay out the facts supporting the lawsuit; it simply is a demand for money damages. Rarely are Complaints filed in General District Court because of the convenience of Warrants in Debt.

After the Warrant in Debt is filed, it is served upon the defendant by the sheriff's office in the City or County where the action is filed. Plaintiffs are also required to mail a copy of the Warrant in Debt to defendants. Before filing the Warrant in Debt, the plaintiff should pick a return day, consistent with the Court's schedule, and note that date on the Warrant, advising the defendant to appear to set the case for trial. At return day, the parties pick a mutually agreeable date with the Court to have a trial. If the defendant fails to appear, the plaintiff may ask that default judgment be entered in her favor, and the Court may grant it. If the plaintiff or both parties fail to appear, the Court may dismiss the case without prejudice.

At return day, the parties may also ask the Court to order that each party must file pleadings. The plaintiff may be required to file a Bill of Particulars, which must lay out the facts supporting the claim. The defendant then will be required to file a Grounds of Defense, admitting or denying the allegations in the plaintiff's Bill of Particulars. The Court will schedule when each pleading must be filed. Failure of the defendant to file the required pleading may result in entry of judgment in favor of the plaintiff if they have properly foiled their Bill of Particulars.

There is very limited discovery in General District Court, which is restricted to the issuance of subpoenas for documents and things. At the trial of the case, the plaintiff may enter into evidence affidavits from healthcare providers and attached medical bills. There is usually no need to bring healthcare providers live to testify. The plaintiff may also testify about their injuries. This is a unique option available only in General District Court, usually obviating the need to call an expert witness. It is worth noting only affidavits from treating healthcare providers may be introduced in evidence. No affidavits of defense experts who did not treat the plaintiff will be admitted.

After the close of evidence the Judge usually just rules from the bench. I have only had Judges delay making rulings on two occasions. Both parties have an appeal of right to Circuit Court. If the defendant appeals a decision to Circuit Court the affidavits that were admitted into evidence shall be permitted to be introduced by the plaintiff at the trial on appeal. The appeal must be noted within 10 days. General District Court is an inexpensive and efficient way to resolve personal injury actions valued at under $25,000. If you would like more information about filing a claim in Virginia District Court, contact a Northern Virginia personal injury attorney from Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.