No two personal injury cases are alike. What’s more, even cases with similar fact patterns can reach wildly different conclusions. Between two similarly situated plaintiffs, one could obtain a quick settlement while another could face years of litigation.
Despite these differences, there is a general timeline that applies to every personal injury lawsuit. Unless a case reaches a settlement, this timeline typically results in a trial by jury. The following steps outline the course most lawsuits will take in Georgia.
The Demand Letter
There are steps you must take before you can ever file a personal injury lawsuit. According to O.C.G.A. Section 9-11-67.1, a plaintiff may send a written demand to the at-fault driver or their insurance company prior to filing suit. The law requires the plaintiff to give the other side 30 days to consider the offer in the demand letter.
After the insurance company receives the demand letter, a plaintiff can initiate the lawsuit by filing a document known as the complaint. The complaint lays out your allegations in broad terms. It identifies each defendant and the damage claims you have against them.
Filing the complaint on its own is not enough to move a personal injury lawsuit forward. You must also perfect service against each of the defendants in the case. Once the defendants are formally notified of the claim, they have a set amount of time to file a formal response. This response must address each aspect of your claim and either admit or deny its accuracy. If the defendant fails to answer, the court may enter a default judgment against them.
Often, a defendant will file a series of motions before entering their answer. If there is a fatal error or other problem with the complaint, a court could dismiss the case based on these motions.
The discovery phase allows both sides to sift through and evaluate the evidence in the case. Through the use of written questions and depositions, both parties can identify the evidence the other side intends to use at trial. This prevents any unfair surprises at trial.
The truth about personal injury cases is that they rarely go to trial. An analysis by the Justice Department of tort cases in federal court found that approximately 2% of all lawsuits ultimately went to trial.
That said, taking a case to trial is often your best chance of obtaining the compensation you deserve. In some cases, the other side will simply not be willing to make a fair settlement offer. In other cases, the defense might not have the assets necessary to settle your claim.
During the trial, both sides will have a say in picking the jury. Each side will also put on evidence, including any witnesses who can help establish liability or prove the amount of damages. In the end, the judge or jury will make the determination on whether or not you will obtain a judgment.