If you suffered injuries in a car accident in Virginia that was someone else’s fault, you can obtain compensation for your injuries from those responsible. In most cases, you will first have your attorney file an injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, but in some cases, you will have to go to court and sue to get the money you need.
The most common reasons you may have to go to court include:
- The insurance company denied your claim and refused to settle.
- Settlement negotiations broke down and you could not agree on a settlement.
- The insurance company acted in bad faith by not paying your settlement or violating the terms of the agreement.
- The other driver did not have car insurance. Incidentally, Virginia allows drivers to pay a $500 no-insurance fee to operate their vehicles without insurance, so you stand a good chance of getting into an accident with someone who doesn’t have auto insurance.
Whatever the reason you must take your case to trial, you need to understand the process so you know what to expect. You should also get an experienced personal injury attorney in Virginia to help you throughout the process. A lawyer can explain your rights and options and fight hard for you in court to increase your chances of getting the best outcome possible.
Virginia’s Car Accident Lawsuit Process
Although your attorney will first file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, you also want your attorney to start preparing your case for trial from the moment you first meet with them.
Virginia allows you only two years from the accident to file a lawsuit in civil court. The two-year statute of limitations also applies to wrongful death lawsuits arising from car accidents. Therefore, you do not have any time to waste in filing your lawsuit in court.
Also, filing your lawsuit early may expedite the settlement negotiations process because it shows the insurance company you have a strong case, and they may be less likely to refute your claim and pay you the compensation you ask for.
After your attorney files your lawsuit, the defendant will receive notice from the court through certified mail or by being served a copy of the lawsuit in person by a sheriff’s deputy or officer of the court. The defendant will then have an opportunity to respond to the notice, and they may claim your suit has no merit or is false and unwarranted.
Before the trial starts, your attorney and the defendant’s attorney will go through a discovery process. During discovery, both parties can request information from the other side that is important to the case. Each party must provide any information requested within a certain time, and both sides will use the information to support their claim or refute the other party’s claim.
Documentation can be physical or electronic documents, and neither side may object to providing information based on whether the information is publicly available. Attorneys may also use interrogatories to get information from both the defendant and the plaintiff. Interrogatories are lists of detailed, often multi-layered, questions that establish certain facts about the accident and your injuries. Related to this, attorneys can use admissions of fact to cover items that are not up for dispute, such as you were driving your car at the time of the accident.
Unlike some other states, Virginia’s civil courts do not require parties in a civil lawsuit to attend pre-trial mediation. Either side may voluntarily request mediation, but both parties would have to agree to attend. Where appropriate, a judge may refer parties to a dispute resolution orientation session, but parties may opt out at any time.
Mediation is an informal proceeding led by a neutral third-party mediator who has received training and certification in dispute resolution. Mediation can resolve a claim more economically than going to court.
If parties forego mediation or the process proves futile, the next step is trial.
All jury trials have six stages:
- Jury selection. Both parties’ attorneys and the judge assigned to the case will select a jury by questioning potential jurors and deciding whether they can be objective and impartial. A judge may excuse a juror based on these determinations.
- Opening statements. At the beginning of the trial, each side will present opening statements about their cases. Your attorney will present facts that show how the defendant was responsible for your injuries, and the defendant’s attorney will present their interpretation of the facts to refute your claim.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination. Each side will then call witnesses to testify, and witnesses must swear, under oath, to tell the truth. Your attorney will likely call you to the stand and verify your claims through direct examination, and the defendant’s attorney will cross-examine you to try and expose holes in your story or discrepancies in your testimony.
- Closing arguments. Each side will summarize their case and recap vital evidence to support their argument.
- Jury instructions. The judge will then provide jurors with specific legal principles they must consider as they deliberate on the verdict.
- Jury deliberation and verdict. Jurors will then go into a separate room to deliberate and analyze all the evidence and testimony to reach a verdict.
In Virginia, civil cases have juries of only five to seven people, depending on the maximum jurisdictional limits of the case. In either event, jurors must reach a unanimous verdict. Also, some cases may warrant a “special jury,” which consists of 12 members.
If the jury returns a verdict against you, you may have the option to appeal. Your attorney can file a request for appeals with the appropriate appeals court, but courts usually only grant appeals in cases of judicial misconduct or procedural errors that affected the verdict. You may also file for an appeal if new evidence came to light during or after the trial that would have affected the outcome.
Get a Car Accident Attorney
Whether or not your case ever goes to court, you need an experienced Virginia car accident attorney to help you as soon as possible. A lawyer can file your injury claim with the insurance company and file your lawsuit in court, and they can gather the evidence and documentation you need to support your claim. A personal injury attorney can also fight for you during each step of the process to help you get the favorable outcomes you expect and deserve.