In both federal and state court, the rules give the court discretion to order a case to be divided into two or more parts, each to be tried separately. See Va. Code 8.01-272 (“The court, in its discretion, may order a separate trial for any claim”); Fed. R. Civ. P. 42 (“the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims”). The term “bifurcation” normally refers to the separation of certain issues in the case, while “severance” normally refers to the removal of claims or parties. When issues are bifurcated, the issues typically remain part of the same case; they are just tried separately. For example, when a party has a claim that allows for the recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees, the decision might be made to bifurcate the attorneys’ fees issue so that the main issues in the case don’t get muddied by lengthy arguments about the reasonableness of attorneys’ fees. If the court orders the fee issue to be tried separately, the issue would still be decided as part of the same case, resulting in a single judgment. Severance, on the other hand, normally involves severing a claim from the lawsuit such that any separate trial on the severed action would be independent of the original action.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 42 permits a court to order severance “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize” trial. Relevant considerations include (1) whether the issues are significantly different from one another in the two cases; (2) whether the severable issues require different witnesses and documentary proof; (3) any prejudice to the non-moving party if the motion is granted; and (4) any prejudice to the moving party if the motion is denied. (See Chmura Economics & Analytics, LLC v. Lombardo, Civ. Action 3:19cv813 (E.D. Va. Dec. 18, 2020)). Similarly, bifurcation of issues in state court “is a matter for the trial court’s discretion and requires consideration of whether any party would be prejudiced by granting or not granting such request, as well as the impact on judicial resources, expense, and unnecessary delay.” (Allstate Ins. Co. v. Wade, 265 Va. 383, 393 (2003)).