An Analysis of Highway Condemnation Cases Under the Provisions of Senate Bill 724: Comparisons of Jury and Commission Awards

Report No: 97-R14

Published in 1997

About the report:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) may legally condemn land for road improvements if all purchase negotiations with the landowner fail. If all further negotiations fail, just compensation for the landowner is decided in court by a five member panel, called a commission. Until 1991, litigants nominated the individuals selected for the panel. Awards unfavorable to the Commonwealth have often occurred when panels had a majority of landowner-nominated commissioners. In 1991, the Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation that required the use of ordinary jurors as panel members in selected areas of the state. Average (award / certificate of take) values were compared for samples of jury and commission cases held since 1988. The state's total payout (as a percentage of certificate values) for all commission cases was also compared to its total payout for all jury cases completed in a geographic area. There were no statistically significant differences in the average (award / certificate) values of jury and commission cases heard in VDOT's Northern Virginia District since 1988. The state's total payout for 64 commission cases heard there was 162% of the certificate values, compared to a total payout of 113% for 28 jury cases. Statistical tests revealed that the average (award / certificate) value for 60 commission cases heard in Chesterfield and Henrico counties was significantly higher than the average for 19 jury cases. The state's total payout for all 60 commission cases was 150% of the corresponding certificate values, while the total payout for all 19 jury cases was 118% of the certificate values. The authors conclude that the payout comparisons for jury and commission cases, in particular, suggest that the state's costs have been substantially lower when juries have been used. The number of jury cases completed to date is small, however. For that reason, the authors recommend a three-year extension of the legislation, so that the outcomes of the two different panel selection procedures might be more validly compared.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • Amy A. O'Leary, Ph.D., Michael A. Perfater

Last updated: December 16, 2023

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