Guide to Auto Accident Property Damage - Small Claims Court - Part 1
The History and Overview of Small Claims Court in Virginia
In 1988, Virginia was one of the last states to establish a small claims court division; however, very few localities established one. So, in 1998 the General Assembly ordered all General District Courts to establish one by July 1, 1999.
Overview of Small Claims Court for Property Damage cases:
1. The Court can hear lawsuits for money damages up to $5000.00.
2. At the trial:
a. the parties represent themselves and the witnesses are sworn.
b. The judge conducts the trial in an informal manner so as to do substantial justice between the parties.
c. The judge has discretion to admit all evidence which may be of probative value although not in accordance with the formal rules of evidence (but privileged communications shall not be admissible).
3. If the Plaintiff wins, the judgment is usually for a sum of money; however, no guarantee the defendant will pay it. There are no criminal sanctions for failing to pay a money judgment.
4. The defendant can ask the Court to remove the case to the regular General District Court at anytime before the Judge gives judgment.
Getting Started in Small Claims Court for Property Damage
Filing The Warrant in Debt†
1. You need to know the defendant’s correct name and address.
2. If it’s a corporation or business, you need to know their correct name and registered agent . Call the State Corporation Commission Clerk’s office at (804) 371-9967 for the name and address of the company’s registered agent.
3. Fill out a warrant in debt form (meaning you are seeking a money judgment).
4. A Warrant in Debt Form can be found online at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/dc402.pdf
5. Or you can visit the clerk’s office to fill out the Warrant in Debt. You will need to bring the following to the clerk’s office:
(A) the name of the defendant,
(B) the current street address of the defendant,
(C) the amount of your claim,
(D) the basis of the claim, and
(E) sufficient funds to pay the filing fee and any sheriff’s fee for serving the warrant. The amount required varies, depending upon the court, so you may want to call the court about the cost. The fees must be paid in cash, certified check, or by money order.
6. Once the Warrant is filed in the Clerk’s office, you should send a copy of the civil warrant by first-class mail to the defendant at least ten (10) days before the “Return Date.” Be sure to fill out a Certificate of Mailing, which is either delivered to the judge at the trial or delivered to the clerk’s office before the date of the trial. Otherwise, the plaintiff cannot get judgment on the trial date if the defendant fails to come to court (which happens frequently), and the case will be continued until the ten-day notice requirements have been met.
7. Certificate of Mailing Form: http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/dc413.pdf
Service of Process
After the clerk completes the clerk’s portion of the civil warrant prepared by the plaintiff, the papers are sent to the sheriff of the county or city where the defendant is located (or the plaintiff may utilize a private process server to serve the papers on the defendant). A deputy of the sheriff’s department or a private process server will deliver the civil warrant to the defendant, thus providing notification of the suit. This notification is called “service of process.”
See Part 2 of Guide to Auto Accident Property Damage - Small Claims Court
We will discuss getting ready for the trial, including the issuing of subpoenas, the admission of evidence and the trial particulars of a small claims case on the Return Date.
†Note: There are many variations on how you file and serve warrants-in-debt, including, but not limited to when the defendant is a corporation, limited liability company, or the defendant is a non-resident. These examples are outside of this discussion and you may need to consult an attorney to assist in those circumstances.
About Rhett B. Franklin, Esq.
Rhett is celebrating his 25th year in the practice of law. He has worked as a personal injury, auto accident and workers’ compensation trial attorney, an adjunct professor and law lecturer. He enjoys working on interesting theories of liability and is dedicated to working to achieve the best results for his clients against insurance companies.