A lawsuit means bringing a case in a court of law. It involves a legal claim or complaint against another party. A judge or jury will make a decision to end a disagreement between the parties involved.
A lawsuit is a way to get money damages after someone harms you, often in a car accident, slip and fall, or other accident. Lawsuits can also involve contracts, insurance policies, service agreements, and more.
What Does the Lawsuit Process in Georgia Look Like?
- File a complaint.
A lawsuit begins by the plaintiff (the party who was harmed) filing a complaint or petition. That document will set out the facts of your situation and why you believe you are entitled to money damages. It will also specifically state who took the actions alleged and what you would like the court to do. What you are asking the court to do is commonly referred to as the “prayer” or “request” for relief.
- Serve the defendant.
The person(s) or company that you are suing is called a defendant. You must go through a very specific process to let someone know that you are suing them. This is called “service of process.” Service often involves having some third party physically give the other person the complaint and directions on what they should do next to deal with the complaint. Often, then this third-party is the sheriff in the county where the person lives, but it doesn’t have to be.
Another document that will be served with the complaint is called a “summons.” This document has the court’s signature on it, and it explains the responsibilities that the defendant has regarding the complaint.
- The defendant files an answer.
To respond to the complaint, the defendant will file an “answer.” The answer should respond to each and every point that you make in your complaint. The summons will explain how much time the defendant has to answer the complaint.
Filing an answer is the first step in defending a lawsuit. If the defendant doesn’t answer within the specified amount of time allowed, then you may be able to get a default judgment. That means that the defendant declined to defend themselves and you win your case “by default.”
- The discovery process begins.
Once the defendant has answered, the discovery process will start. This process includes getting more information about your claims and about any defenses that the defendant is claiming. Georgia has very specific rules on how discovery is conducted.
Discovery will usually involve written questions (interrogatories), request for documents, and depositions. A deposition is a formal question and answer session that is transcribed by a court reporter. The person being deposed is placed under oath and asked questions about the incident, their background, and other related information.
- The trial begins.
The last step in the process is the trial. At trial, the plaintiff will present their evidence and testimony first. Then, the defendant will counter that evidence by submitting their own witnesses. The plaintiff then has one last opportunity to “rebut” any information that the defendant provided.
Once all of the evidence is admitted, the obligation to make a decision will go to a judge or jury. Many personal injury cases are presented to a jury instead of just to a judge, but not always.
Getting to this final step takes considerable time and effort. In some situations, it can take more than a year to schedule a case for trial before a jury. The most time-consuming part of this process is discovery. In some situations, you may not even know how much damage is associated with something like a car accident until you have fully recovered from your injuries as well—all of that takes time.
What Happens After the Trial?
What happens after trial will, of course, depend on the outcome of the trial. If you win your case, then you get a legal judgment against the other person. In some situations, an insurance company may simply write you a check. In other cases, you may need to take steps to collect your judgment against the defendant.
If you win, the defendant may also appeal the decision to a higher court. That process involves transferring the record to the higher court and explaining to that court why they think that the lower court got it wrong. If you lost your case, you’d also have the opportunity to appeal. You may also want to appeal if the amount that you were awarded is lower than what you were asking for. Whether you should or shouldn’t is a decision you’ll have to make with the help of your lawyer.