A personal injury lawsuit can be filed in court when someone has a legal “cause of action” for “personal injury.” Personal injury is an injury inflicted to a person’s body, as opposed to damage to property or reputation. Personal injury law is a type of tort law. A tort is a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability.
The person pursuing the personal injury lawsuit is called the plaintiff and the person or entity defending against the lawsuit is called the defendant. The plaintiff must have a cause of action to successfully sue the defendant. The most common cause of action in Virginia personal injury law is negligence – most personal injury lawsuits involving motor vehicle accidents are negligence lawsuits. The plaintiff in a negligence case has the burden to prove four elements by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) causation, and (4) damages. The defendant must have owed the plaintiff a legal duty – for example, to drive safely. The defendant must have breached, or violated, that duty – for example, by driving recklessly. Then the defendant’s breach must have caused the plaintiff damages – for example, being taken to the emergency room to treat a broken bone immediately following the car crash and causing the plaintiff to incur medical expenses for the treatment of the injury.
In Virginia, personal injury plaintiffs can file their lawsuit in one of two courts: Circuit Court or General District Court. In General District Court, jurisdiction is currently limited to $50,000. That means the most the court can award in damages is $50,000. Procedure in General District court is simplified, so many plaintiffs with damages under $50,000 will file in General District Court. However, there is no jury in General District Court – the cases are decided by the Judge. Cases in General District Court can be appealed to Circuit Court.
The Circuit Court shares jurisdiction with the General District Court in cases with damages between $4,500 and $50,000, and it has exclusive jurisdiction in cases with damages over $50,000. Personal injury plaintiffs who file in Circuit Court will face more complicated procedures, including an extensive discovery phase. Discovery is the phase of a lawsuit where both sides get to obtain information about their respective cases. Attorneys will use written questions, called interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and requests for admission to gather more information. Attorneys can also ask witnesses oral questions under oath, called depositions, to build the case. Trials in Circuit Court are most often decided by a jury of seven people.
You need an experienced attorney to represent you during a personal injury trial. Your attorney should call witnesses and present evidence. Your attorney should conduct examinations on witnesses and present the facts to the judge or jury in a compelling and persuasive way. Frogale Law has experience in personal injury lawsuits and can help you win.