The Legal Process: Stages of a Virginia Personal Injury Case

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The Legal Process Article

Plaintiff personal injury clients are different than other types of clients because their Virginia personal injury case is generally their first interaction with the civil legal system. Clients sometimes have an expectation that the process moves fast. Television shows, like Suits and Law & Order, may be to blame for such an expectation. Unfortunately, this expectation is mistaken—the legal process is quite slow. It can take anywhere from weeks to several years to resolve a Virginia personal injury case. This can be especially difficult for a plaintiff who is the victim of a trucking collision, motor vehicle collision, slip-and-fall accident, defective product, or medical malpractice. These accidents can be life-altering, and plaintiffs not only feel the physical effects but also the emotional and financial effects. Virginia lawyers who understand and care about these effects on their clients tend to move cases to resolution more quickly.

This article is intended to walk you through the basic legal process of a Virginia personal injury case. Generally, a Virginia personal injury case consists of the following steps: (1) hiring counsel, (2) investigation, (3) pleading, (4) discovery, (5) motions, (6) trial, and (7) appeals. Settlement may occur during any of these stages.

Hiring Counsel

If you believe that you have a Virginia personal injury case, and you have not already done so, it is imperative that you immediately contact a Virginia personal injury attorney. At-fault parties and companies often act rapidly in response to an accident. For example, some trucking companies have “rapid response teams” that may arrive at the scene of a crash while first responders are still there. The sooner you contact a Virginia personal injury attorney, the sooner your attorney will be able to help you preserve all potentially relevant evidence to obtain the most amount of compensation possible. A skilled Virginia personal injury lawyer will begin working on your case as fast as possible by proceeding with the investigation phase.


Once you have hired a Virginia personal injury lawyer, he or she will begin investigating and collecting the facts and circumstances of the trucking collision, motor vehicle collision, slip-and-fall accident, medical malpractice, product defect, etc. Gentry Locke personal injury lawyers will utilize their team, which consists of an in-house investigator, in-house nurses, paralegals, and legal assistants. The investigation phase often includes determining the potential at-fault parties, researching potential legal claims and the statute of limitations for your lawsuit, sending a preservation letter to the at-fault parties, sending Freedom of Information Act requests to governmental entities, and interviewing potential witnesses. If you have been involved in a motor vehicle or trucking collision, this phase also generally includes inspecting and photographing the scene of the crash and the vehicles involved in the crash. During the investigation phase, your Virginia personal injury lawyer should request, obtain, and review all of your relevant medical records and bills to determine the nature and severity of your accident-related injuries. Your lawyer should also request, obtain, and review all of your relevant employment records if you have missed work or lost wages due to the accident.


After the investigation phase is complete, which may be only weeks after hiring counsel, but could take a year or more depending on the specific circumstances of your case, your lawyer will likely file a lawsuit on your behalf. Lawyers use the fancy legal term “pleading” to describe the stage when each side files their initial documents in the lawsuit. The first document filed in a case is called a “complaint,” which is filed by the plaintiff, and it details the facts and legal claims against the defendant. After filing the complaint, the plaintiff’s lawyer will have a time period to serve the complaint on the defendant, which may be up to a year in state court. After service, the defendant will then have 21 days to file a responsive pleading. Responsive pleadings can take many forms, but most often the defendant files what is called an “answer,” which admits or denies the allegations in the complaint and asserts any affirmative defenses. The pleading stage may consist of hearings if the defendant files a responsive pleading asking the case to be dismissed or asking for additional information.


“Discovery” denotes the process in which the parties exchange information that may be related to the lawsuit. Discovery occurs during and after the pleading stage. Like responsive pleadings, discovery can take many forms: depositions, interrogatories, requests for the production of documents, requests for admission, inspections, mental or physical examinations, etc.

A deposition is where a potential witness answers questions under oath before a court reporter, who produces a transcript that can be used for certain purposes at trial. Your lawyer will meet with you and prepare you for your deposition, and your lawyer may take depositions of eyewitnesses, law enforcement officers, the defendant, your health care providers, and any experts designated by the defendant. Interrogatories are specific written questions asking the other side to answer such questions in writing and under oath. Requests for the production of documents ask the other side to produce documents that may be potentially relevant to the lawsuit, while requests for admission ask the other side to admit to certain propositions.

Injured Hand

The discovery process is aptly named because it is a process whereby parties “discover” much more about the case. Discovery can reveal additional misconduct by the defendant or reveal additional parties that may be at fault. If done correctly, discovery shows the parties the strengths and weaknesses of their positions. 


“Motion” is a broad term that describes a request by a party’s lawyer that the court take some specific action. Motions may be an oral request, but they are often in writing and filed with the court. Motions are filed throughout the litigation process, and they may be filed during the pleading and discovery stages. Motions ask the court to take actions such as: dismiss the case, exclude certain evidence from trial, strike expert testimony, give a party additional time to do something, continue the trial, etc. Contested motions generally result in briefing and a hearing. “Briefing” is a process where both sides research the facts and law and file detailed documents (briefs) with the court that describe why they should win the motion. The court may hold a virtual or in-person hearing to hear oral arguments from the attorneys before making its decision. Once the court reaches its decision on the motion, the court will issue an order that announces the decision.


Trial is the process that you likely know the most. This is the part of a Virginia personal injury case that you have likely seen on television. This is where the parties, lawyers, and witnesses appear in court so that a judge or jury can decide the case. In Virginia circuit court and in federal court, the parties generally request a jury to decide the case. In Virginia general district court, which is a court for smaller personal injury claims, a judge will decide the case.

A Virginia jury trial generally consists of the following steps: (1) a pre-trial motions hearing, (2) jury selection, (3) opening statements, (4) the plaintiff presents his or her witnesses and evidence, (5) the defendant presents his or her witnesses and evidence, (6) closing arguments, and (7) jury deliberation. During the presentation of evidence, each side will have an opportunity to cross-examine or ask questions of the other side’s witnesses. The trial will end by the judge announcing the verdict and entering an order for the prevailing party. After the trial, the losing party may make post-trial motions to reduce or set aside the jury’s verdict.


Appeals commonly occur after a trial has taken place, but generally speaking, they may occur at any point where the court enters a final order disposing of the case. This means that if the court sustains (grants) a motion to dismiss in its entirety, then there may be an appeal before trial. In narrow circumstances, an appeal may occur before the court enters a final order. Either party may appeal a court’s final decision. Sometimes there is an automatic right to appeal to the higher court, and sometimes the higher court has discretion to accept or deny the appeal. It is important to note that except for an appeal from the Virginia General District Court to the Virginia Circuit Court, an appeal does not consist of repeating the initial trial. Appeals are limited to very specific legal issues, such as whether the trial judge incorrectly admitted or excluded certain evidence at trial.

The Virginia appellate process is complicated and it requires specific expertise. If you have a case that you think should be appealed or has been appealed by the other side, contact our Virginia appellate attorneys today.

Court Building


Although Gentry Locke lawyers prepare for trial from day one, the reality of today’s world is that many cases settle before trial. Settlement can occur during any one of the steps outlined above. A case may settle through negotiations between counsel or it may settle through a process called mediation. Settlement negotiations are usually initiated by the plaintiff’s attorney, who will send a demand package containing supporting evidence to the defendant or insurance company. Mediation is where a third-party neutral (a mediator), usually a judge or retired judge, facilitates settlement discussions between the parties. During mediation, the mediator advises both sides of the risks of their positions and assists the parties in reaching a voluntary resolution. 

Cases settle for three main reasons: (1) risk, (2) cost, and (3) delay. A jury trial can be risky to both sides, especially given that a random selection of citizens has the power to decide the merits of the case. A jury may award a verdict far in excess of what the defendant expects, but a jury may also find that defendant was not liable (responsible), which leaves the injured plaintiff with nothing. Additionally, jury trials are expensive. In personal injury cases, expert medical testimony is generally required, and doctors can costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars per hour to prepare their reports and give their testimony. Finally, Virginia courts have busy dockets, meaning a jury trial may be scheduled for a year or more after the lawsuit is filed. Defendants frequently try to avoid or delay trial by filing a motion to continue, hoping to wear down the plaintiff to settle. These factors, and others, lead clients to settlement. This is another reason why hiring the right attorney is a crucial decision—our Virginia personal injury attorneys are trial lawyers who can advise you as to the specific risks associated with your case and assess whether negotiation, mediation, or trial is appropriate for your case.

Please note that every case is different and the specific steps of your case may differ depending on the status of your health, and the approach adopted by your Virginia personal injury lawyer. Some cases demand speedy resolution, while other cases may call for a wait-and-see approach, especially if the plaintiff is still treating for their accident-related injuries. Contact Us today so one of our Virginia personal injury attorneys can advise you as to the approach that is suitable for your case. 

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These articles are provided for general informational purposes only and are marketing publications of Gentry Locke. They do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. You are urged to consult your own lawyer concerning your situation and specific legal questions you may have.