The regional planners and chambers of commerce have been trying for a decade to come up with a unified name for Southeastern Virginia having settled on Hampton Roads. When I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia in the 1960’s, this area was commonly called Tidewater. Whatever the name, the region containing a million and a half people really is a collection of smaller jurisdictions. A personal injury lawyer handling cases in this region needs to be careful to recognize each of the different cities and counties and the characteristics of their courts and juries.
Norfolk, which is the commercial hub having a true downtown, is a traditional urban center. Norfolk is 40 percent African American. Many of the people who work in Norfolk live in the other area cities. Portsmouth, like Norfolk, is considered to have very favorable juries and has a similar urban feeling. Although the analysis involves a lot of generalities and any given jury pool may be different, Norfolk and Portsmouth are considered the most favorable for plaintiffs in the region. This advantage for the injured person in trials has been born out by decades of results in those cities.
The Peninsula contains two cities, which like Norfolk and Portsmouth, are likely to produce jury pools who will help the injured parties when appropriate, specifically Newport News and Hampton. These cities have lots of working class persons who may be able to relate to the challenges of a person who was injured in an automobile wreck and is seeking compensation for their medical expenses, their lost wages, and their pain and mental anguish.
The City of Virginia Beach is the most populous of the local cities. Although it was historically a wealthier area with lots of military retirees, some population shift has occurred, as well as the aging of its housing stock. Nonetheless, it is typically considered by plaintiff’s counsel to be a less friendly venue for the typical car crash case than Norfolk or Portsmouth. Similarly, the fast growing communities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, where rural areas are changing into suburban areas, are considered more likely to provide mixed results for the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer. A recent survey showed that Suffolk and Chesapeake’s populations earn slightly more money than Virginia Beach’s on average. These three cities have median income well above Norfolk and Portsmouth. In a perfect case with clear liability, a wrongful death and a reckless target defendant, the jurisdiction may not matter as much. However, there is still the question of the amount of money that a jury would be willing to award the family of the person who was wrongfully killed, or injured. The problem is more in the close call cases where there is some difficult issue of liability or the damages are characterized as questionable by the defendant insurance company because of something like low property damage auto wrecks or gaps in medical treatment. Although each juror is an individual, richer business owners or managers may be more favorable to the insurer.
The court system is set up to allow a jury of one’s peers for a personal injury case. However, finding a group of people who can truly be fair and would be sufficiently generous may sometimes be difficult. A lot depends upon the group of citizens from which the jury is selected. Accordingly, it is extremely important to recognize that Hampton Roads is made up of these various cities and counties, each with a different character and mix of people. Our firm is often called in by attorneys from out of the area to assist them in trying cases to our local juries. Recently, my law partner, Jim Lewis, was asked to assist with a medical malpractice case by an attorney from Maryland. The case was in Virginia Beach, but Jim and the out of state lawyer were able to convince a jury that an injured child deserved the medical malpractice limits of $1,800,000.00. Thus, knowing some of the areas history and demographics can be a valuable leg up in a personal injury case. It is not enough to simply know the law and develop the facts. Rather, some specific intelligence to allow you to choose the correct venue and to pick a jury to give you the best fair chance is critical.