Tort Law


Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Statutes-Interpretation Cases

Brien Roche

This page within Virginia Tort Case Law is a compilation of cases reported by the Virginia Supreme Court and summarized by Brien Roche dealing with the topic of Statutes-Interpretation.   

 2003 Herndon v. St. Mary’s Hosp., Inc., 266 Va. 472, 587 S.E.2d 567.

Medical malpractice action involving minor where mother brought suit in her name as mother and next friend of minor was improperly styled and therefore, subject to dismissal. Suit should have been brought in name of minor by his next friend. Court found Va. Code § 8.01-8 to be ambiguous and in interpreting that section, stated that statutes will be interpreted so as to not change the common law unless the legislative intent to do so is plainly manifested. In this case, the action was properly dismissed without prejudice.

2000 HCA Health Servs. of Va., Inc. v. Levin, 260 Va. 215, 530 S.E.2d 417.

When legislature’s intent is unambiguously expressed in statute, then recourse to devices of statutory construction such as comparing it with other statutes within that same code section is not permitted. The fact that this statute dealing with peer review records was in the code section dealing with medical malpractice did not mean that the peer review privilege only applied to medical malpractice actions.

1999 Pulliam v. Coastal Emergency Servs., Inc., 257 Va. 1, 509 S.E.2d 307.

Actions of general assembly are presumed to be constitutional. Reasonable doubt regarding statutes’ constitutionality is to be resolved in favor of its validity. In this case, medical malpractice cap is upheld.

1995 White v. Morano, 249 Va. 27, 452 S.E.2d 856.

Use of word “shall” in this instance is merely directory and not mandatory.

1993 Bohle v. Henrico County Sch. Bd., 246 Va. 30, 431 S.E.2d 36.

Construction accorded statute by public officials charged with its administration is entitled to be given great weight by court.

1992 Harris v. T.I., Inc., 243 Va. 63, 413 S.E.2d 605.

Statute in derogation of common law is to be strictly construed, even if remedial in nature.

1990 Barr v. Town & Country Props., 240 Va. 292, 396 S.E.2d 672.

Intention of General Assembly must be gathered from the words used unless literal construction would involve manifest absurdity. Where language is clear, courts cannot construe them to mean something other than what is actually expressed.

1990 State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Major, 239 Va. 375, 389 S.E.2d 307.

Revised or recodified statutes are not substantially changed unless contrary intent appears in revised statute.

1990 University of Virginia v. Harris, 239 Va. 119, 387 S.E.2d 772.

Mischief rule of statutory construction: every statute should be read so as to promote ability of statute to remedy the mischief at which it is directed. All other rules of construction are subservient.

1988 Grice v. Hungerford Mech. Corp., 236 Va. 305, 374 S.E.2d 17.

General words such as “or any other articles” add no new or further categories to those excluded from the operation of Va. Code § 8.01-250.

1988 Fox v. Custis, 236 Va. 69, 372 S.E.2d 373.

Courts frequently interpret “shall” to be permissive rather than mandatory.

1987 Klarfeld v. Salsbury, 233 Va. 277, 355 S.E.2d 319.

When legislature uses two different terms in same Act, it is presumed to mean two different things. Court in this case also reaffirms principle that it will not rule on constitutionality of statute unless such determination is absolutely necessary to decision of case on merits.

1985 Cape Henry Towers, Inc. v. National Gypsum Co., 229 Va. 596, 331 S.E.2d 476.

When particular class of persons or things is enumerated in statute and general words follow, the general words are to be restricted in their meaning to sense analogous to particular words. When general and specific words are grouped, general words are limited by specific.

1982 VEPCO v. Savoy Constr. Co., 224 Va. 36, 294 S.E.2d 811.

Penal statutes must be strictly construed.

1982 Smith v. Givens, 223 Va. 455, 290 S.E.2d 844.

Supreme Court refused to extend evidentiary standards to areas not covered by statute in question.

1982 Wisniewski v. Johnson, 223 Va. 141, 286 S.E.2d 223.

Presumption normally arises that change in law was intended when new provisions are added to prior legislation.

1981 Godlewski v. Gray, 221 Va. 1092, 277 S.E.2d 213.

When statute is revised and part omitted, missing part will be considered revoked.

1980 Armstrong v. Erasmo, 220 Va. 883, 263 S.E.2d 655.

Where statute is ambiguous court must construe it to ascertain and give effect to intention of legislature.

1979 Henry v. R.K. Chevrolet, Inc., 219 Va. 1011, 254 S.E.2d 66.

Penal statutes must be strictly construed.

1976 VEPCO v. Hampton Redev. & Hous. Auth., 217 Va. 30, 225 S.E.2d 364.

While statutory language providing for housing authorities might constitute legislative declaration, declaration is not conclusive and courts are not precluded from looking behind declaration to ascertain true nature of functions as well as intent of legislature.

1973 FBC Stores v. Duncan, 214 Va. 246, 198 S.E.2d 595.

In construing statute, courts presume legislature never intends application of statute to work irrational consequences.

1969 Lawrence v. Craven Tire Co., 210 Va. 138, 169 S.E.2d 440.

Words of statute should receive their ordinary acceptation and significance where such construction is consonant and not at variance with purpose of statute.

1969 Paige v. Edgar, 210 Va. 54, 168 S.E.2d 103.

There is presumption in favor of validity of statute or ordinance.

1967 General Acc. v. Aetna, 208 Va. 467, 158 S.E.2d 750.

Where statute is clear and unambiguous there is no reason to consider intent of legislature or wisdom of law.

1963 Carter v. Nelms, 204 Va. 338, 131 S.E.2d 401.

Virginia Code § 46.1-268 [now § 46.2-1030] requires use of headlights when persons in vehicles on highway are not clearly discernible at distance of 500 feet. Defendant argues that this was intended to be persons or vehicles. It is elementary that function of courts is to interpret and apply laws as written and not to rewrite or correct them. (Note: statute since amended.)

1955 Gough v. Shaner, 197 Va. 572, 90 S.E.2d 171.

Purpose of statute is of primary importance in its interpretation. If ordinance sets forth criminal penalty then it must be strictly construed.

1953 Seymour & Burford Corp. v. Richardson, 194 Va. 709, 75 S.E.2d 77.

Where inconsistent provisions are found in statutes they must be construed so as to give effect to latest expression of legislative intent.

1952 Norfolk S. Ry. v. Lassiter, 193 Va. 360, 68 S.E.2d 641.

Purpose for which statute is enacted is of primary importance in its construction. Letter of statute should not be allowed to thwart its purpose.

1949 Masters v. Hart, 189 Va. 969, 55 S.E.2d 205.

Supreme Court has on several occasions construed word “may” to be mandatory when necessary to accomplish manifest purpose of legislation.

1949 Rountree Corp. v. City of Richmond, 188 Va. 701, 51 S.E.2d 256.

Statutory words should receive their ordinary meaning.

1947 Lumbermen’s Mut. Cas. v. Indemnity Ins. Co., 186 Va. 204, 42 S.E.2d 298.

When legislature of one state adopts statute of another state such legislature is presumed to have adopted construction placed upon it by courts of that state.

1946 Chesapeake & O. Ry. v. Pulliam, 185 Va. 908, 41 S.E.2d 54.

Word “may” is usually permissive but courts construe it to be mandatory when necessary to accomplish manifest purpose of legislature.

1944 Porter v. VEPCO, 183 Va. 108, 31 S.E.2d 337.

Supreme Court is not permitted to write into plain statute new words. It only interprets ambiguous statutes.

1942 Noblin v. Randolph Corp., 180 Va. 345, 23 S.E.2d 209.

Legislative purpose must be read into construction of every statute.

For more information on statutes see the pages on Wikipedia.

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