Clients often wonder how lawyers determine the correct court to hear their case when we file a lawsuit to recover damages for injuries. Assuming that both the plaintiff and defendant are from Virginia, the case must be filed in state rather than federal court. In Virginia, however, every county and independent city has its own separate set of courts. With so many potential forums, how does one know which city or county to choose in any given case?
The answer lies in “venue” statutes that have been passed by the Virginia General Assembly. In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff may choose the venue for his or her case from certain categories set forth by the legislature. The most common categories of “permissible venues” are set forth below.
First, the plaintiff may file in the city or county where the defendant resides or is employed. Under this provision, if the defendant is a corporate entity rather than a natural person, the proper venue is where the entity’s principal office or principal place of business is located.[i]
Second, the plaintiff may file in the city or county where the defendant has appointed what is commonly referred to as a “registered agent.” In order for an out-of-state corporation to conduct business in Virginia, it must appoint a registered agent located in Virginia to accept legal process on its behalf, and suit may be filed in the forum where that agent is located.[ii]
Third, the plaintiff may file in a city or county where the defendant conducts “substantial business activity.” In order for the plaintiff to select this option, however, there must be a “practical nexus” between the forum and the case being filed. For example, witnesses or other evidence relevant to the case must be located within that city or county.[iii]
Fourth, the plaintiff may file in the city or county where the cause of action arose. For example, in a case for damages arising from of a motor vehicle collision that occurred in Albemarle County, the Albemarle County court will always be a permissible forum.[iv]
Interestingly, the city or county in which the plaintiff resides is a permissible venue only in very limited circumstances. For the plaintiff to file their lawsuit in the forum in which they live, assuming there is no other connection between that forum and the case, all the defendants must be unknown or non-residents of Virginia, or there must be no other available forum under the venue statutes.[v]
It is also important to note that while the plaintiff has the ability to choose the venue in which he or she files, that right is not absolute. If the defendant believes that the plaintiff has selected a venue which is not permitted under the law, the defendant may file an objection and ask the court to transfer the case to a different forum.[vi] Moreover, even if all the parties agree that the plaintiff’s choice of venue is permissible, the defendant still may ask the court to transfer the case to a different forum if a good cause is presented, such as one that avoids substantial inconvenience to the parties or witnesses.[vii]
The facts of your case mean that complicated legal questions can arise in selecting the appropriate venue. As a client of Allen & Allen, you won’t have to deal with the critical details of where your case is filed. Our attorneys are experienced with the rules of Virginia courts, and we will file your case where you will have the maximum advantage to be awarded full and fair compensation for your injuries.
About the Author: David M. Irvine is an experienced trial attorney focusing his practice on personal injury law working in the Allen & Allen office in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has handled cases involving car accidents, catastrophic injuries and wrongful death and has litigated cases across the Commonwealth on behalf of deserving clients. David has published on topics related to litigation in wrongful death cases and trial procedure and regularly speaks on litigation topics.