Six Facts about Virginia Law

1. Virginia is not the best state for personal injury lawyers. It is a contributory negligence state. If a plaintiff is found to be even 1% contributorily negligent (the percentage with which their own negligence contributed to the harm), their claim is barred.  (In practice however, this does not always happen and judges do still award plaintiffs who may have been contributorily negligent.) In many other states, the percentage that a plaintiff is at fault merely results in a reduction of the award, rather than an absolute bar to recovery. This is known as comparative negligence and has varying forms. For example, if a plaintiff wins a 3 million dollar lawsuit, but is found to be 20% at fault, his award will be reduced by 20% in a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction. Therefore, his reward would be $3,000,000 – $600,000 = $2,400,000. In Virginia, the recovery would be zero. Many lawyers also feel that judges and juries tend to be on the conservative side when awarding damages in cases as compared to other states. Furthermore, medical malpractice claims are capped at roughly 2 million dollars.

2. Virginia is not the most defense friendly in criminal cases. While the courts of the Commonwealth do their best to ensure fairness and justice in adjudicating criminal cases, the rules of court can be frustrating at times for defense lawyers. Discovery in criminal cases is limited…very limited. There is no right to discovery in the General District Court where misdemeanors are tried. In the circuit court, the court of record, the discovery rules are more favorable but still do not require prosecutors to disclose some information and reports that defense attorneys consider critical for trial preparation. In addition, court appointed attorneys who represent indigent clients in misdemeanors at the district court level are capped at $120 per charge as compensation for their representation.   In the circuit court, the statutory cap for a misdemeanor is still at $159, and in felony cases in circuit court, the cap is $445 for felonies punishable by less than 20 years in prison. These are some of the lowest rates of compensation for court appointed counsel in the nation.

3. Virginia is very landlord friendly. That is, if you are a landlord, the laws and courts of Virginia are generally favorable to you. The courts are efficient and strict in prosecuting cases of eviction on behalf of landlords. Although not encouraged, Virginia still also allows for self-help in commercial leases, allowing a landlord to take possession and change the locks of a property without going to court when the tenant breaches the lease. As a landlord in Virginia, your eviction rights are accelerated, especially compared to neighboring jurisdictions like the District of Columbia where eviction suits can stretch for months or even years.

4. Virginia is still really tough on marijuana. Virginia has not followed the national trend of relaxing the marijuana laws or decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. And the courts know where to hit defendants where it hurts. A person convicted of simple possession is required by statute to have his/her license suspended for six months. While most convicted of simple possession of marijuana don’t go to jail, defendants with more than one conviction are at a high risk to receive actual jail time. Even the first offender program for first time marijuana possession charges (a.k.a. 251 Disposition), which results in a dismissal of charges after certain conditions are fulfilled, requires a six month driver’s license suspension if the defendant chooses to participate in it.

5. Civil cases move fairly fast compared to other states. Most claims involving $25,000 or less are resolved within less than a year. Service of process is very easy and simple, and many attorneys laud the sheriff’s deputies for their assistance in serving parties to a suit.

6. Bigamy is a crime in Virginia. Bigamy means getting married to someone while still being married to someone else. In Virginia, this can be punished as a felony or misdemeanor. Before a person marries another individual, they should make sure that they are not currently married to someone else or they could be prosecuted under Va. Code § 18.2-362 which reads, “If any person, being married, shall, during the life of the husband or wife, marry another person in this Commonwealth, or if the marriage with such other person take place out of the Commonwealth, shall thereafter cohabit with such other person in this Commonwealth, he or she shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.”