The VA Supreme Court recently heard an interesting case involving facts that should be cautionary to litigants. In that case, VDOT made an initial offer to the property owners of $246,292 based on an appraisal. When the condemnees rejected the offer, VDOT obtained another appraisal estimating the damages at $92,127. VDOT told the condemnees that they could either accept the offer or VDOT would only present the lower appraisal at trial.
The condemnees would not agree to the initial offer and at trial the jurors were only allowed to hear the lower value. The condemnees ultimately appealed to the VA Supreme Court alleging, in essence, that the VDOT engaged in an improper use of its power and the jurors should be permitted to hear the story of the negotiations. The Court agreed and held that allowing the jury to hear the whole story – the initial appraisal and the state’s explanation for why subsequent appraisals were less – provides a “limited and wholly appropriate check on the broad powers of the state in condemnation proceedings.” The justices ordered a new trial for the condemnees.