ASKED AND ANSWERED
By: Henry Moore
This is where we answer legal questions commonly posed to us by our insurance and corporate clients. If you have any burning questions that need quick answers, or if you have any suggestions for questions in future newsletters, please e-mail Janeen at [email protected]
Q: Why do things move so quickly in General District Court?
A: General District Court – or “GDC” – is a court “not of record” in Virginia, usually involving smaller claims. The jurisdictional cap is $50,000 for personal injury claims and $25,000 for all others. There is no formal discovery permitted in GDC other than issuing subpoenas to obtain documents. Cases are also not heard by a jury, but rather, the fact-finder is the judge. Formal discovery and the timeframe required for setting jury trials are the two primary reasons why trials in Circuit Court typically won’t be scheduled for years from the initiation of a lawsuit. Without these factors, trials in GDC can be set much more quickly, usually within 4-6 months of filing the Warrant in Debt (the “Complaint” in GDC). This expedited procedure has advantages, (primarily lower costs), and disadvantages (plaintiffs generally benefit most from this truncated timeline, as it allows some degree of “trial by ambush” without discovery).
Q: Can you appeal a verdict from GDC? What does that require?
A: Yes, the losing party in any case where more than $50 is in controversy has an automatic right of appeal from GDC to Circuit Court, and the Circuit Court will hear the case de novo. This means that the losing party gets a complete do-over and the Circuit Court does not consider the rulings or verdict of the General District Court. This also means that the case can be tried before a jury if either party requests one. One interesting wrinkle is that if the defendant appeals a GDC verdict, the plaintiff may then increase the amount sued for to an amount greater than the jurisdictional limit of the General District Court. However, if it is the plaintiff who is appealing, no amendment to the amount sued for is permitted.
All that is required to appeal is that the appealing party must notice their appeal with the GDC clerk’s office within 10 days of judgment and post an appeal bond within 30 days.