Many plaintiffs injured in car accidents know right away that they want to file a lawsuit. However, they also may not know where to start. Sure, you know that you need a lawyer, but you also know that lawsuits can be very complicated, time-consuming, and stressful. There is a lot of work that goes into a lawsuit before it goes to trial, and more work still to get a lawsuit off the ground.
Lawsuits start when a plaintiff files a complaint with the appropriate court of law. The defendant is then informed that they are being sued and gets a chance to answer the plaintiff’s complaint. The defendant can admit to what they are alleged to have done, or they can deny it and fight the plaintiff’s claims in court.
To start the process of your car accident lawsuit, call our Georgia car accident lawyers with Howe Law to get a free analysis of your case when you call (844) 876-4357.
Filing a Complaint for a Car Accident Lawsuit in Georgia
The first step to filing a car accident lawsuit in Georgia, or any state, is to file what is called a “complaint” with the court. A complaint is how a plaintiff formally notifies a court that they have been wronged by the defendant and wishes to sue them for damages. Complaints will contain all of the important details about your car accident, such as the date it happened, how you were injured, what medical procedures you had to undergo, and much, much more.
A complaint will contain something called a “prayer for relief.” This is just legal language for what exactly you are asking the court to do because the defendant injured you. Generally, this will contain the amount you are asking for in damages as well as any other relief sought by the plaintiff.
There are important deadlines for filing a complaint. This deadline is called a “statute of limitations.” Each state will have its own time limit to file a complaint. In Georgia, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is, with few exceptions, two years from the date of your injury per O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. If you do not file your case within that time, you forfeit your ability to recover damages in court, so it is important that you talk to our Athens, GA car accident lawyers about your situation as soon as possible so as to not miss the filing deadline.
Service of Process
After you file your case, the next step in filing a car accident lawsuit is called “service of process.” This is how the court lets defendants know that they are being sued. Usually, service of process happens through a certified third-party and must follow the rules laid out in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4.
There are certain rules about who can and cannot be served with process, and also where a defendant is allowed to be served process. For example, if someone is sent to the defendant’s house and their young child is given the papers saying their parent/the defendant is being sued, that would not qualify as service of process. However, if the defendant’s spouse was given the papers at their abode, that would qualify as service of process.
Defendant’s “Answer” in Georgia Car Accidents
After the defendant has been notified that they are being sued, they file something called an “answer” with the court. The defendant can respond in one of two ways. First, they can admit fault. This means that the defendant is saying that they are responsible for your injuries in an official capacity. The next step would probably be to move to some sort of settlement or mediation proceedings. Second, the defendant can refute, or deny, one or more of the allegations you made against them in your complaint. If the defendant denies that they are responsible for your injuries, the lawsuit proceeds to the next phase.
Discovery in a Georgia Car Accident Case
The next step in a car accident lawsuit is called “discovery,” and it is a very important part of the lawsuit process. Discovery frequently takes significantly longer than any other portion of a lawsuit and can eclipse the length of a trial several times over. Lengthy trials can take weeks, but discovery frequently takes about a year or more to complete.
The first step in discovery is the discovery hearing. In this hearing, the defendant explains to the judge why they are contesting your allegations. The judge then sets an initial timetable for discovery as well as any other ground rules for the pre-trial process.
The bulk of discovery happens through discovery requests. Essentially, attorneys for both sides will exchange information so that the case is proceeding on the same set of facts. Exchanging information in this way also helps to ensure that there are few surprises at a trial, should one take place.
However, attorneys cannot ask for anything they want in a discovery request. Certain information is privileged and off-limits, and lawyers can deny a request if they feel what is being asked for is irrelevant to the case.
Another important part of discovery is depositions. Depositions are when lawyers interview people who are expected to speak at trial while they are under oath. Ideally, the recorded testimony in a deposition should match exactly what the witness, plaintiff, defendant, or other person taking the stand will say at trial.
Settlement in a Georgia Car Accident Case
At any point before trial, either side can offer to settle the case or resolve it outside of court. Settlement offers generally appear at some point during discovery when one side feels that the case is not in their favor or as a genuine offer in the spirit of goodwill.
Do not assume that a settlement offer is an admission that a case is weak. Many defendants with strong arguments for their side will still offer settlement offers to plaintiffs. Instead, consider whether the settlement offer will meet your needs better than a lawsuit.
If no settlement between the parties can be reached, the case goes to trial.
Talk to Our Georgia Car Accident Lawyers Today
If you have questions about your situation, our Columbus, GA car accident lawyers can give free case analyses when you call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.