Not every personal injury case goes to trial. In Georgia, most auto accident claims are settled before a lawsuit is even filed. However, if the interested parties can’t agree on a settlement amount, or if they can’t agree on who’s at fault, then it’s likely that the plaintiff’s lawyer will file a lawsuit and let a jury decide the outcome of the case.
Just like not all doctors are brain surgeons, not all lawyers are trial lawyers, and some might want to avoid taking a case to trial. Or they may not want to pay the extra costs involved with filing a lawsuit, or they may not have any trial experience. Before hiring an attorney, it’s important to ask how many cases he or she has tried. You can even go a step further and ask how many they have tried to verdict. Knowing this is helpful because you don’t want to settle your case for less than it’s worth just because your lawyer would prefer to avoid the complexities of handling a case all the way to trial.
Once it’s determined that your case is not going to settle, your lawyer can begin the process of filing a lawsuit. Below is what you can expect to happen in Georgia during the lawsuit process.
Pre-Trial Lawsuit Process
Georgia law generally requires several documents to be filed with the court in a personal injury case:
1) The Plaintiff, or person filing the lawsuit, must file a complaint. The complaint typically states the facts of the case, the legal reason for bringing the lawsuit, and the type of damages that should be awarded as a result of the injury.
2) The plaintiff must file a Summons to be served to each of the defendants in the case. The Summons, which is typically served in person by a Sheriff or a private process server, notifies the defendants that a lawsuit has been filed against them.
3) The defendants are given time to answer the complaint, either admitting to or denying the assertions made by the plaintiff.
Once all the official documents have been filed with the court then the discovery phase begins. This phase begins the procedure of gathering evidence to support your case. This can be done by such means as requesting answers to interrogatories (written questions that are answered by the recipient), requesting the production of certain documents that are not in your possession, and taking depositions of witnesses, experts, and interested parties. A deposition is a sworn testimony taken out of court. It usually involves lawyers from both sides asking questions to the person being deposed. Depending on the type and difficulty of the case, the discovery phase can last weeks, months or longer. Once the discovery phase is completed, the court will set a date for the trial to begin.
The actual trial will consist of the following events:
- Jury Selection – Also called Voir Dire. This is when each side’s lawyer questions potential jurors and narrows it down to a panel of 12 jurors and 2 alternates to serve on the jury.
- Opening Statement –Each side’s lawyer is given time to talk to the jury and present the facts of their case. The plaintiff’s lawyer typically goes first, and the defendant’s lawyer goes second.
- Plaintiff presents evidence to support his side of the case or to refute the defendant’s position.
- Defendant presents evidence.
- Closing Arguments – A concluding statement given by each side’s lawyer that sums up their argument. Each side will try to convince the jury of why they should side with their client. The Plaintiff’s lawyer usually goes first, and because they have the burden of proof, they get to go again after the defendant’s closing argument.
- Deliberation – The jury goes to the jury room to discuss the case and decide on a verdict
- Verdict – The jury will find for the plaintiff or the defendant. If the jury finds for the plaintiff, they will also usually decide on an amount the defendant should pay the plaintiff for damages. Or sometimes the jury can’t agree and will not be able to reach a unanimous verdict.
If the losing side is not satisfied with the results, then they may usually appeal the verdict to a higher court.
At any time during the pre-trial process, or even during the actual trial, the parties can continue to negotiate, and a settlement agreement may be reached.
This summary is general, and each case is different. But even this short summary of how lawsuits usually work should show that it helps to have an experienced lawyer help you with your case. You probably wouldn’t ask your Gastroenterologist to perform brain surgery, and you may want to make sure you have a lawyer experienced with handling actual trials on your side in the tension-filled environment of a courtroom and trial. If you’ve been injured let the experienced personal injury firm of Gautreaux Law help. We will take our cases as far as necessary to get our clients what is rightfully theirs.