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Jim Lang, Waterfront Law Team

To Sue or Be Sued - Waterfront Law Team Webinar Recap

October 6, 2023 | Webinars

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What We Covered in Our Webinar

In our latest webinar, Jim Lang of the Waterfront Law Team explains civil lawsuits, the stages involved, how to determine if an attorney is necessary, costs and what happens after a court issues a judgment order.

You can download the slides from this webinar here.

What is a Civil Lawsuit?

To kick off the webinar, Jim laid the groundwork and helped to define a civil lawsuit. Simply put, a civil lawsuit is not a criminal case (a criminal case is a legal action where the government is prosecuting a person and, if the government wins the person will be convicted and potentially incarcerated). A civil lawsuit is a legal action where a private person sues another private person seeking a judgment order for money or conduct.

This webinar focuses on the “garden variety” civil lawsuit and does not address the civil lawsuit that results in a court review of an administrative agency’s decision to grant or deny a permit. This latter type of civil litigation was covered in my August 2023 webinar.

Courts Where Suits of this Type May be Heard (Trial Level)

There are two courts a civil lawsuit might be here, either federal or state. On the federal level, there are several U.S. District Court’s for the Eastern District of Virginia, they can be found in Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, and Alexandria.

On the state level, each city and each county in Virginia has a General District Court. The General District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction if the claim is $4,500 or less or if the civil case is up to $25,000. Additionally, if a personal injury or wrongful death, up to $50,000. Lastly, each City and each County in Virginia has a Circuit Court. The Circuit Courts are Courts of general jurisdiction, meaning that any type of civil lawsuit can be brought in the Circuit Court.

Examples of “Garden Variety” Civil Lawsuits Litigated by Our Waterfront Property Law Team

  • Force removal of “floating junkyard” clogging waterway (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia)
  • Establish riparian area (various Circuit Courts)
  • Settle rights at piers (various Circuit Courts)
  • Eliminate neighbor’s obstruction of dredging project (Circuit Court)
  • Force tug company to pay cost to repair bridge damaged by allision (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia)
  • Force U.S.C.G. to pay cost to repair barge damaged by wake from passing cutter (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia)
  • Force neighbor to honor easement permitting vehicular access to waterfront property (Circuit Court)

What are the Stages in a “Garden Variety” Civil Lawsuit?

  • Plaintiff serves Complaint & Summons to defendant.
  • Defendant files pleadings in response.
  • Discovery commences once the parties are “at issue”:
    • Interrogatories
    • Requests for production of documents
    • Subpoena documents from non-parties
    • Depositions
    • Motions
  • Trial
  • Post-trial

Do I Need an Attorney?

When considering the need for an attorney, it is Jim’s opinion that it’s a foolish mistake for a layman to represent him/herself in court just as it’s a foolish mistake for an attorney to represent him/herself in court.

How Much Should I Budget to Cover Litigation Fees and Costs?

A “garden variety” litigation normally is not a money-making proposition for the plaintiff or defendant. The losing side normally does not reimburse the winning side for its legal fees (although the loser usually pays the winner’s costs). Typically, attorneys do not take cases of this type on a contingency fee arrangement. Attorney fees can vary, depending on where within the state you live. For instance, in Hampton Roads, an attorney can cost $250 to $650/hour but in Northern Virginia, an attorney can cost $450 to $950/hour.

Other costs (photocopies, expert witnesses, court reporters, etc.) can include:

  • Litigation is like a journey on a train -- the rider must purchase another ticket to continue each successive leg of the trip.
  • Mounting fees and costs, together with information gained re: strengths and weaknesses of case, are the reasons that as many as 97% of civil cases are resolved other than by a trial.
  • Disputes like these can be settled even before a suit is filed.
  • Once a suit is filed, it can be settled before the trial begins, during the trial, while the jury is deliberating, or even after a verdict is rendered (source American Bar Association).

Other ballpark estimated fees and costs include:

  • $3,500 to $7,500 to initiate the litigation.
  • If Defendant files Demurrer (state court) or Motion to Dismiss (federal court) then Plaintiff spends $5,000 to $10,000 to respond.
  • $2,500 to $7,500 for written discovery (cost is higher if there is motions practice)
  • $5,000 to $30,000 for depositions
  • $7,500 to $30,000 for trial preparation
  • $25,000 for 3-day trial

What Happens After the Court Enters the Judgment Order?

If the judgment orders the defendant to pay money to the plaintiff, then the defendant can appeal but, to do so, they must pay the judgment amount into court, so funds are available to plaintiff if the appeal fails. If the defendant does not appeal and pays the judgment the case is over. Lastly, if the defendant does not appeal and does not pay the judgment, the plaintiff can use legal tools to collect the judgment.

If the judgment orders the defendant to do something, then the defendant can appeal. If the defendant does not appeal and complies the case is over. Lastly, if the defendant does not appeal and does not comply, the plaintiff can use legal tools to force the defendant to comply.

Additional Resources


About The Author

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Jim uses waterfront (riparian) property rights law, maritime & admiralty law, and environmental law to protect Virginians who live, work and play on the water. Contact Jim at (757) 502-7326 or jlang@pendercoward.com.