Anatomy of a Case: Taking My Case To Trial
People injured in car accidents are faced with a daunting and complicated legal system, and often have a lot of questions about what is going on, and why. The Alexandria Injury Attorney thus brings you this series of articles we are calling the Anatomy of a Case! We will cover the various courts in which we practice, and discuss how they are different, why we might choose one or the other, and why cases are filed in certain jurisdictions.
Why File a Lawsuit?
Blaszkow Legal works very hard to maximize our clients’ recoveries, which means we try to get them as much compensation as possible. However, this can sometimes necessitate filing a lawsuit, and going to Court. On average, 85% of car accident and slip and fall cases that we handle settle, meaning that a resolution is reached without having to go to Court. But that is not always possible.
Typically, our lawyers will recommend filing a lawsuit for one of two main reasons: 1) the insurance companies are denying liability, or 2) they are minimizing damages. Denying liability means that they argue their insured did nothing wrong. It also means that they may argue that the Plaintiff (person bringing the lawsuit) did something that contributed to the happening of the car crash. This is important because, in contributory negligence jurisdictions such as Virginia, Maryland, and DC, this acts as a bar to a client’s recovery. Alternately, they will concede that the accident happened, but argue over damages: for example, State Farm often “reduces” the value of medical services: for example, if your hospital bill was $5,000, they will argue it “should” only have been $2,000.
If the insurance company is not accepting liability, and/or is not offering a fair value for our client’s damages, we will often recommend filing a lawsuit. This includes Diminished Value claims, where the insurance company under-values what you car was/is worth, post repair.
Where Do We File the Lawsuit?
When filing a lawsuit, we have to determine where best to do so. A Plaintiff has two options to file:
1) the jurisdiction (county/state) where the accident happened, or
2) the jurisdiction where the Defendant resides
Which Court Do We File In?
Once the jurisdictions are identified (and at Blaszkow Legal, these are among the first things we confirm!), one has to determine which is best. Some jurisdictions are more conservative than others. Others have jurisdictional limits which may change our recommendation.
In Virginia, a lawsuit can be filed in the General District Courts, or GDC. Every county (and some cities, such as Alexandria) has its own GDC. This Court has a jurisdictional limit of $50,000, meaning that it will hear cases where damages are claimed up to that amount. The General District Court case is heard “from the bench,” or before a judge. This process usually takes about 6-8 months, from the time a lawsuit is filed until trial.
In Virginia, lawsuits can also be filed in the Circuit Court. Circuit Courts can facilitate bench trials, and also jury trials. There is no jurisdictional limit to the Circuit Court. However, the Circuit Court permits discovery (whereas GDC does not), and the time line is much longer. It is not unheard of for a Circuit Court case to be heard 2 years after filing the lawsuit, and sometimes longer.
In Maryland, the lower level court is the District Court. The District Court hears cases up to $30,000. There is limited discovery in the District Court. District Courts, like GDC, are all bench trials. Depending on which County the case is filed in, these cases can be heard within a year of filing.
Maryland, like Virginia, also has a Circuit Court for every county (and Baltimore City). The Maryland Circuit Courts are very similar to Virginia Circuit Courts, with differences in the rules of discovery, motions, etc. Maryland Circuit Court cases are usually heard approximately 18 months from filing, but this varies widely between counties.
DC has only one court, the Superior Court. Any cases that is not classified as “small claims,” or under $10,000, is heard in the regular Superior Court Civil Division. Due to backlog, these cases are rarely heard before 2 years have passed since filing.
There are a lot of considerations to be reviewed when determining where to file a lawsuit. Lawsuits can drag on (as shown above), and many insurance companies are banking on this! Remember, their job is not to give you as much money as possible - it’s the opposite. However, here at Blaszkow Legal, we are dedicated to maximizing your recovery. Our attorneys have decades of experience to put to work for you, to ensure that you get the compensation that you deserve.
If you have any questions on the Court system, or need help, call or email Blaszkow Legal - 703-879-5910