If you are reading this post, then you have probably fallen victim (like so many others before you – and certainly after you) to an offer of settlement from an auto insurance adjuster that does not fully and completely compensate you for your injuries and the human losses (aka pain and suffering) associated with those injuries. Rest assured, you are not alone. Many others have traveled this exact same path and emerged victorious. However, the path is not always easy and–like most things that are worth the wait–this path does take time.
You see, auto insurance companies like to play the odds. The insurers know that a good percentage of folks will take whatever sum of money the insurance companies offer them to settle their personal injury claim. The trick for the insurer is to increase this percentage every year. The “treat” is that this sum is typically below what I like to call fair settlement value (“FSV”) of the bodily injury claim. FSV is the value (typically a range) that an injured person would likely receive from the insurer after calling the insurer’s bluff, filing a suit and settling that suit after a period of discovery (to be explained later in this post)–either by voluntary mediation (mutual get together of insurance representative, your attorney, mediator and you) or other informal communication. Insurance companies save money by dangling low ball settlement offers to the hungry.
Ok. So you didn’t bite at the proverbial apple on the short tree and you are about to file suit. Now what?
Step One – Finding the Defendant and Getting Defendant Served With Summons and Complaint
In Georgia, the individual defendant must be sued in his/her county of residence. If a corporation, then such corporation is generally served in the county where its registered agent (agent appointed by corporation to accept service of complaint and summons) is located. Depending on the specific Georgia County, either the sheriff or the marshal (and sometimes a specially appointed process server) will serve a copy of the summons (notice of suit) and the complaint (the actual law suit) personally upon the defendant. The fee for this service is generally included in the filing fee that you pay to the clerk of court in the county where you file the suit.
Step Two – Answer of the Defendant
Under Georgia law, generally the defendant has 30 days from the date of service of the summons and complaint to file an answer to your complaint. This answer must be filed in the court where you filed the complaint, and a copy should be forwarded to you by the defendant. In most cases, the defendant typically denies that he/she is indebted, obligated or responsible to you for any harm in the answer.
Step Three – Discovery Period of Six Months
Under court rule and Georgia law, the plaintiff and the defendant have six months from the date the answer of the defendant was filed to conduct discovery. What is discovery you ask? Discovery is the formal process where the parties can discover information about each other that is relevant to the case. For example, a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit would like to find out the plaintiff’s work history, injury history, injury treatment history, version of the incident that caused harm and personal background.
Most plaintiffs fear discovery. But in reality, it is very simple and if conducted appropriately, fairly painless. It usually consists of one party sending multiple written questions (interrogatories) to your attorney that encompasses one of the categories listed above. After the interrogatories are completed, one party will typically schedule the deposition (oral questions) directed to the other party which is recorded by a court reporter at a mutually convenient time in your lawyer’s office. Depositions can last less than an hour to several hours. Further, the parties usually file requests for documents to employer and treating physicians among others.
Step Four – Stipulating the Case to Trial
After discovery has been completed, then typically the plaintiff’s lawyer will send a letter to the clerk of the court advising him/her that discovery is complete and that the party wishes to “stipulate” the case to trial. In a nutshell, you are notifying the court that you are ready to have your case placed on the next available trial calendar for your case to be heard by an impartial jury. Depending upon the county, the court and its staff, this may take anywhere from one month to several months to actually have your day in court.
Step Five – Settlement Mediation and/or Jury Trial
Before or after the stipulation, your injury lawyer will typically contact the defendant’s attorney to see whether or not the insurance company and the defendant are interested in scheduling settlement mediation. In mediation, the parties typically meet at a mediator’s office where they present a short description of their contentions, including a demand (amount of money which plaintiff will accept to settle his/her case) and an offer (amount of money which defendant will pay to settle a case). The mediator takes competing offers and demands back and forth to the parties who are situated in different rooms in a collective effort to find agreement and settle the case. If the case is not settled, then the mediator informs the court and a date is scheduled for trial.
Hopefully, this post has provided an easily digestible, general explanatory outline of what to expect when filing a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia. For further information, it is strongly advisable to seek advice from an experienced personal injury attorney.
The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting personal injury cases throughout Georgia. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of the negligence of another, then please contact an experienced injury attorney for a free consultation.