All civil lawsuits follow a process set by law. This includes cases such as car accident claims, slip and fall claims, and faulty medical device claims. Although the types of cases heard by civil courts are very different, the legal process they must go through is the same and follows identical steps.
Before the Lawsuit
Often, before filing any lawsuit at all, your lawyer will attempt to win your case without going to court. This may involve negotiating directly with the insurance company and showing them the evidence that supports your claim. In some cases you may also go to arbitration rather than the courts.
Otherwise, your lawyer will initiate the lawsuit process.
Steps of the Civil Lawsuit Process in Georgia
Unless otherwise noted, assume that your lawyer will handle each step for you.
- Complaint. Your lawyer will file a formal document with the courts called a complaint. The complaint explains the damages done and what you expect in return.
- Summons & Answer. The court notifies the other party (the defendant) of your complaint with a document known as a summons. The defendant or their lawyers then files a response to the complaint known as their “answer.” The answer explains their version of events and which facts they disagree with.
- Motions. Both sides of the case then have the opportunity to file some early motions. Motions are requests asking the judge to issue an order. The defendant can ask the judge to dismiss the case as baseless, while the plaintiff (you and your lawyer) can ask the judge to issue a summary judgment. A summary judgment is a ruling that your case is obviously correct without needing a trial, and is essentially a win. Both of these outcomes are rare.
- Discovery. Discovery is a phase of the process that happens before the trial. It is a period during which both sides have a right to discover evidence that may be relevant to the case. Some of this evidence is shared automatically during disclosure, while other evidence must specifically be sought out, such as requesting certain documents or taking a deposition from a witness. The judge assists in the disclosure process. Often, settlements are reached during this time.
- Jury Selection. If no settlement is reached before the scheduled court date, the trial process begins. Georgia’s civil cases are heard by trial by jury, and the jurors must be chosen from a random pool of citizens. Lawyers on both sides have a right to object to potential jurors in a process known as voir dire.
- Trials. At trial, both sides will have a chance to present their evidence and call witnesses. You may be asked to give testimony at the trial. If so, you will be coached by your lawyer on how to proceed.
- Judgment. The jury decides which party is right. If you win, the judge assists the jury in choosing an amount that they feel is the correct amount to compensate you for your injuries.
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