Effective July 1, 2021, the jurisdictional amounts for personal injury cases went from $25,000 to $50,000. The new law is reflected in several places in the Virginia Code, including § 16.1-77.
This means that cases now in circuit court can be transferred to general district court so long as the amount claimed by the plaintiff will be $50,000 or less. The downside may be that you cannot have a jury trial and that the general district court decision is subject to a possible appeal to circuit court. Additionally, your discovery is essentially limited to subpoena power and not the full panoply of tools such as depositions, interrogatories, requests for documents, and admissions.
Considering General District Court
In spite of the above, there are benefits to litigating a case in general district court. Generally, you can schedule a trial date sooner than in circuit court. Since the discovery process is much more limited, the time and expenses required for depositions and answering requests can be reduced. For cases involving medical treatment for personal injuries, the plaintiff can present their medical records with a proper self-attesting affidavit to the judge without having to subpoena and pay treating physicians for their testimony (Code of Virginia § 16.1-88.2). This is a cost and time-saving measure only available in the lower court, where the plaintiff can avoid potentially thousands of dollars in fees to get a treating physician into the courtroom.
Transferring a case, as opposed to voluntarily non-suiting the case, also has some advantages. The plaintiff does not have to waste his or her non-suit which may, for various tactical reasons, be better used at a later date. Additionally, the language of Code of Virginia § 8.01-195.4 specifically states that because this is a transfer, “the tolling of the applicable statutes of limitations governing the pending matter shall be unaffected by the transfer.” In other words, if your personal injury incident is more than two years old, your claim will not be disallowed by the statute of limitations (Code of Virginia § 8.01-243) and can be heard in general district court.
Transfer a Case to General District Court
For a personal injury case now pending in circuit court that the plaintiff wants to transfer to general district court, there is a fairly straightforward process. However, conforming to the statute is key to avoid any procedural pitfalls. The plaintiff files in circuit court a motion to 1) amend the amount in controversy to $50,000 or less; and 2) transfer the case to general district court. The motion should include a copy of the general district court filing fee payment. Plaintiff also needs to prepare and submit the order amending the amount and transferring the claim. The motion needs to be made at least 10 days before the scheduled circuit court trial, unless the plaintiff can show good cause for why it was not done sooner.
The plaintiff then has an obligation, created by the statute, to file a certified copy of the transfer order with the general district court, and also to pay a new filing fee with the general district court clerk’s office.
This change to the jurisdictional limits and the ability to transfer personal injury cases creates a potentially faster and less expensive route to recovery for the defendant’s negligence.
Note that the jurisdictional limit affects personal injury cases. However, the jurisdictional amount for general district court will still be $25,000 for most cases involving property or contract disputes.
Reach out to us any time you would like to discuss your particular case.