Personal injury cases award compensation when you or your property are harmed or injured as a result of someone's actions or failure to act. Personal injury cases can be confusing because each state has its own rules for these civil court proceedings.
Personal injury lawsuits usually fall under the authority of state courts in the county where the injury occurred, or where those involved in the incident reside. Injury cases that do not exceed $15,000 can be filed in Georgia’s small claims court or magistrate court.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is the time in which you must file your personal injury claim. In Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years.
When you file a personal injury complaint, you are the plaintiff. The person who injured you is the defendant. Preliminary motions or requests of the court may be made in the early stages of the suit. An expert witness may be hired. The identity of this person must be disclosed and the opposing party can depose the witness. Many cases are settled at this point. A small percentage of personal injury cases end up in a full trial.
If you win your case, the judge or jury will award damages or money for your injuries. Damages compensate you for medical expenses, past and future lost wages, physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, and even loss of consortium—sexual intercourse between spouses.
Georgia’s comparative negligence law may affect your settlement. If you are found to be at fault, your damages will be reduced by the percentage or degree of your fault. If you are 50 percent or more responsible the accident, you will be barred from compensation for damages.
Facts about the incident are gathered by both sides in a process called discovery. This occurs before trial. Discovery may involve interrogatories, which are written questions, or depositions, which is verbal testimony of witnesses under oath. A request for a physical or mental exam may also be made.
Trials begin with voir dire, or jury selection. Your attorney, then the defendant’s attorney, make opening statements. The defendant answers questions and requests, and may make counterclaims. As the plaintiff, you will reply to any counterclaims. The jury or judge then considers the information and reaches a verdict. The verdict will be read in court and damages may be awarded.
Most personal injury lawyers will not take money unless you win the case. In some cases you will be responsible for a portion of the cost and expenses of preparing the case. These can include deposition costs and expert witness fees.
Most trials don’t end when the verdict is reached. Litigants often try to win post-trial victories by filing motions.
- A motion for judgment argues that the verdict was unreasonable and should be reversed. It is rarely granted.
- A motion to amend judgment attempts to modify the ruling of the court.
- A motion for a new trial is a “Hail Mary” motion that cites a flaw in the case that caused a miscarriage of justice.
It is uncommon for a case to be dismissed completely, but amendments to the judgment can occur.
The appeal process involves a litigant requesting relief from a judgment that us harsh or unfair. Appeals either seek a reversal, a new ruling, or a new trial. A written Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days of the trial court's decision. If appeal deadlines are not met, the right to appeal may be lost.
How an Attorney Can Help
Statutes and laws regarding personal injury claims are complicated and are unique to each state. Speak with a personal injury attorney for help establishing your claim and recommending appropriate damages.