At Georgia Trial Attorneys, we want our clients to be informed. This is your case! You deserve to know what is happening in your case as it moves into the litigation phase. One of our co-founding partners, Jimmy Grant, has answered some of the frequently asked questions we hear from our clients after they meet their litigation attorney before a lawsuit is filed.
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Q: How long will my case take?
A: Clients ask me this question all the time. Unfortunately, I have to give them the attorney answer a lot of the time, which is: “it depends.” Now, if your case started with my firm, our first and main concern is to get you better. That is the ultimate objective—to get you into treatment and get you back to the place you were before the wreck happened. Once you are better and out of treatment, we can get your records, your bills, all the documents that we need to determine where your case stands and start negotiating with the insurance company.
If your case came to Georgia Trial Attorneys from another law firm, that means you've already gone through a large part of the negotiation process and your case will enter the litigation phase. Litigation, unfortunately, is an even bigger animal because there are so many unknowns: what county we are going to file the lawsuit in, what court are we going to file in, will the at-fault driver avoid service of the lawsuit, and so many other factors. We are going to have to make the choice up-front whether we are going to file your case state court or magistrate court. Depending on that choice, the options and timelines vary wildly. So as much as I would love to give a firm answer, the timeline of a case truly depends. But make no mistake, we will do everything we can to move your case forward as fast as possible – all while trying to negotiate the best settlement possible from that greedy insurance company.
Q: What questions should you ask your personal injury attorney?
A: Once you hire a personal injury lawyer, they will ask a lot of questions so that they can begin building your case against the insurance company. But before you sign a contract to hire a personal injury attorney you should ask them several qualifying questions. You want to make sure the lawyer and the law firm you hire have the right experience in handling claims like yours. And those questions should not stop once you sign the dotted-line. It is important to continue asking questions as your case moves through different stages, so that you stay fully informed.
- What are the attorneys’ fees?
- Do you handle cases outside of personal injuries?
- Has your personal injury law firm handled similar cases before?
- What is your success rate? Do you have reviews or testimonials?
- What issues or difficulties do you see with my case?
- How will you keep me updated? Who will I be communicating with?
- What is your current case load? Can you handle my case?
- What is your most recent trial experience?
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Q: Why do we have to go through all this? The other person was clearly at fault.
A: As much as I would love for my client’s cases to be simple, there are not many simple cases. That’s because we are dealing with multi-million and billion-dollar insurance companies. So let’s take a step back and look at car accident cases from the insurance company’s perspective (not that we agree with their perspective). The insurance company is a business and its BIG BUSINESS. They are all about the money, not about taking care of YOU – the injured victim of a car accident. They will do anything and everything to make it more about saving money for them and their shareholders. These insurance companies do that by delaying the case so that they invest those premiums they've collected over months and years. Then if they delay the case for two, three, or four years, they're going to win every day of the week.
For example, let's say your case is set in the worst county, on the worst day, with the worst jury, and the worst set of circumstances for an insurance company. And let's say that insurance company values your case at $100,000. Now, from a business perspective, what's the smart thing to do? Give you $100,000 today, or to take that money invest it in the stock market, continue to draw those premiums on a monthly basis, and then at the end of two, three or four years, pay you $25,000? And maybe pay their attorney another $10,000? Obviously, from a business perspective, the second option is the “smart” decision. From your perspective, that's not a good deal. But that's why we litigate so many cases against these cutthroat insurance companies – because they're in it for the money. We have to do everything we can to pry that money out of their hands and put it in your pocket. We do that by filing lawsuits and taking them to court.
Q: Why do I have to switch lawyers?
A: In the beginning, you were in a wreck. Your prior attorney got you into treatment. Once you were done with treatment, that law firm got your records, bills, police report, photographs, all the stuff that they could get their hands on. Then they sent it off to the insurance company and the insurance company evaluated your case. Now they are going to do one of three things:
Option 1: They are going to pay the claim exactly as your prior attorney asked. That's great, because your attorney takes the settlement check and divvies it out. You ride off into the sunset and your attorney moves on to the next case. That's a really good day. Well, obviously, that didn't happen.
Option 2: The insurance company could review that demand and they could deny liability. In other words, they are saying: “it's your fault, it's somebody else's fault, it's not our fault. Either way, we're not going to pay anybody anything.”
Option 3: The insurance company make a low settlement offer. They say, “Well, you may think the case is worth X number of dollars, but we think it's worth significantly less.” Once the insurance company makes that decision, there's not a lot we can do to change their opinion. We obviously want to go up the food-chain to a higher-level adjuster or a higher-level manager. But it's not like I can just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, insurance company, send me to an adjuster that's going to pay more money. One that's going to take more money out of your pocket, your employees’ pockets, your shareholders’ pockets." In order to get to that higher level, we need to file a lawsuit.
If your case falls into Option 2 or 3, your case needs to be litigated – meaning a lawsuit need to be filed. There are a lot of law firms across the state of Georgia that are pretty good at that first part of a case, what we call pre-litigation. But when it comes to that next phase of litigation, there's a lot more work for the client. There's a lot more work for your attorney and the law firm. Not every attorney and law firm are skilled as us when it comes to litigation.
Your prior attorney uses my firm, Georgia Trial Attorneys, to handle the litigation of the personal injury cases they can’t settle in “pre-litigation.” We are litigation experts. It's what we do all day, every day. We litigate cases and word's gotten out with the insurance companies and with other firms across the state. So, what these firms do is they bring us in. They don't just kick the case to me. Rather, they “associate” our law firm onto your case. So now instead of just one law firm handling your case, you have two firms working hard for you against those greedy insurance companies. But my firm is going to be the one that's going to finish your case out. And until we get to the end, you're going to be stuck with me. But it's going to be a good thing.
Q: What happens after my introductory meeting with my litigation attorney?
A: After you've met with your attorney and we've made sure that we have everything that we need, we need to file your lawsuit. The way a lawsuit works is you as the plaintiff are going to sue the defendant. The defendant is the person that caused the car wreck, not the insurance company. As we file a lawsuit, we have to make sure that the lawsuit is filed against the at-fault driver in the correct county. We have to file your lawsuit in the county in which the defendant, the at-fault driver, is currently living.
Once we know in what county the defendant lives, we file a lawsuit and the sheriff's office goes out and serves the at-fault driver with those documents. That works one of three ways:
Number 1: The sheriff is able to serve the defendant pretty quickly.
Number 2: It may take the sheriff a little while, maybe one, two, or even three months to serve the defendant with your lawsuit.
Number 3: If the sheriff isn’t about to serve the defendant, for whatever reason, we will need to hire a private investigator. The investigator will stake out the defendant’s house, they stake out their job… they figure out some way to do it, and ultimately get them served.
Once the at-fault driver has been served, the insurance company hires an attorney to represent them. And if we have filed your case in magistrate court, which is small claims court, we simply wait for a trial in front of the judge. But if your case has been filed in state court, we enter a six to ten month period called “Discovery.” That’s just a fancy legal word for asking a whole bunch of questions and requesting a whole bunch of documents and information about your case and your past.
Towards the end of that discovery period, there will be a deposition. It's an opportunity for the insurance defense attorney to ask you questions under oath. We'll bring you in. We'll prep you. We'll give you homework. We'll make sure that you are fully prepared and ready for that deposition.
The next step is mediation. If your case hasn't settled by that point already, we'll bring in a third party to try to help us resolve your case with a settlement. But not every case settles. A lot of cases do require a trial, whether it's in magistrate court or state court. Either way, whether it's a judge or a jury making the decision, they listen to the case. They decide whether we win, whether we lose, and if we win, how much money we get. Now, there's a lot of little things that happen along the way, but those are the major milestones to expect along the course of litigation.
Q: What are the six general stages of (civil) litigation?
Litigation involves the actions of at least two opposing parties using the court system to either enforce or defend certain legal rights. This process begins with the filing of a lawsuit. But before you file a lawsuit, you should always consult with or hire a trusted and experienced attorney that will guide you through the litigation process, from beginning to end. Your attorney will prepare your case, gather all necessary documents, lay out all possible options, and file your lawsuit, known as a complaint, with the specific court that best fits your case. In your complaint, your attorney will lay out your basic augment and the kind of damages you are asking for.
There are six significant stages of litigation or civil litigation. Depending on the case, some stages can be skipped; however, this doesn’t mean that one stage is more important than another. Here are the six general stages of litigation.
- Filing & Service
What is investigation?
A case that is going into litigation should be support by a strong investigation into all of the available and potential evidence. This is a significant part of your case. You and your attorney are jointly responsible for this part. In order to complete your investigation, you will need to obtain the following information and documentation, at a minimum:
- Police report (including open records requests)
- Witness Statements
- Medical Records & Bills
- Lost Wage Documentation
- Pain & Suffering Narratives
- Insurance Cards & Policies
What is pleading?
A pleading is a formal written statement that is formally filed with the court. The first pleading you will file to initiate a lawsuit is known as a complaint. However, pleadings take the form of summons, answers, motions, certificates, notices, orders, and much more.
What is discovery?
Discovery is a lengthy period during the litigation process where the parties engage in the formal exchange of information, whether written or oral. This exchange of evidence allows both parties to see the strengths and weaknesses of either side – there are few surprises in court. Generally, this process is limited to a minimum of six (6) months, absent an agreement by all parties. The main components of discovery include interrogatories, requests for production of documents and depositions of the parties and witnesses.
What is a mediation?
A mediation is a formal method of alternative dispute resolution. At a mediation, the parties hire an unbiased third-party, known as a mediator, to assist the parties in facilitating a good-faith discussion and negotiation. The intent is for the parties to “lay their cards on the table” in an effort to agree on a satisfactory solution to the parties’ legal dispute. This is an opportunity for the parties to see if a settlement can be reached or the case will have to go to trial.
What is a Trial?
A trial can occurs when the parties are unable to resolve their legal dispute amongst themselves. A trial before a judge is called a bench trial. A trial before a jury of six (6) or twelve (12) peers in the community is called a jury trial. Whether the case is a civil or a criminal trial, there are six (6) major phases:
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statements
- Testimony, Questioning, and Evidence
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instructions
- Deliberation and Verdict
What is a settlement?
A settlement occurs when the parties agree upon the final outcome of the case. This generally takes the form of one party paying the other party to dismiss their claim. However, there is no settlement is a case goes to trial, as the parties do not have control of what the final order of the judge will be or the verdict of the jury. Yet, even after a trial has occurred, there still may be the opportunity for an appeal.
What is an appeal?
If you want to file an appeal after the judge made a ruling or the jury returned a verdict, you must have legal grounds for your appeal. You cannot file an appeal because you are unhappy with the outcome. If an appeal is necessary in your case, it must be filed within thirty (30) days of the order or verdict. Your appeal states that you wish for a higher court (the appellate court) to review the case. The appellate court will generally only look at a few things:
- Did the judge make an error of law;
- Did the facts of the case or evidence introduced not support the court’s decision; or
- Did the judge abused their discretion.
Q: What is the statute of limitations?
The statute of limitation is the maximum amount of time for a party to initiate a legal proceeding or file a lawsuit against the opposing party or parties. There are different statute of limitations for civil and criminal cases. And those statutes of limitations vary among the different causes of action. Further, each state can set different timelines and tolling periods for all the varied causes of action.
In general, for personal injuries that occur in Georgia, you have up to 2 years, from the date of the incident, to take legal action against the other party. This “clock” can sometimes be tolled, or paused, until the injury is discovered. Additionally, a statute of limitations may be tolled if the injured party was a minor (under the age of 18) or mentally incompetent at the time of the injury.
In addition to the statute of limitations timelines, there are additional requirements for claims for injuries caused by a State, County or municipality. These additional requirements are commonly referred to as an “ante-litem notice.” The governmental entity in question must be notified of the potential claim – well before the statute of limitations. Failure to comply with the specific provision of the ante-litem notice provisions of the Official Code of Georgia may likely result in the dismissal of your claim. The different timelines for the different governmental entities are:
- State Claims: notice must be received within twelve (12) months after your injury. O.C.G.A. § 50-21-26.
- County Claims: notice must be received within twelve (12) months after your injury. O.C.G.A. § 36-11-1.
- Municipality Claims: notice must be received within six (6) months after your injury. O.C.G.A. § 36-33-5.
Whatever type of accident claim in Atlanta you have, you do not want to wait. Instead, call our Atlanta car accident attorneys right after you have been involved in a car accident.
Want to know more? Check out our recent article on How Long After an Atlanta Car Accident Can You File an Injury Claim?
Q: How often will I hear from you?
A: Attorneys and law firms generally have a bad reputation when it comes to client contact. Most attorneys are not known for being great communicators. Most clients are sitting there saying, "Is my attorney going to call? I haven't heard from them in weeks. I called the other day and they still haven't called back."
At Georgia Trial Attorneys, we strive to be and are different. Every client is assigned a Case Manager from day one. You will hear from us on a regular basis. If your case is in pre-litigation, we have found that the sweet spot is about every 14-days. In litigation, if your case has gotten that far, we found that that sweet spot is about every 21-days. Now, we could update you every week, but a lot of times that can discourage a client because you hear the same thing week after week, without much change. Our clients then come to expect those updates on a rolling two or three-week basis.
Now, that does not prohibit you from reaching out to us as much as you want, whether it's phone, email, text, carrier-pigeon, however you want to get in contact with us, that is totally fine. And we will get back with you.
Ultimately, I hope this has been helpful. My job as the co-founding partner of this law firm is ensure that you are taken care of because you are important to me. You are important to this firm. So, if you have questions, if you have comments, if you have concerns, I want to hear them. We want to hear them because I want to make sure we all are on the same page. If you need anything, do not hesitate to reach out and give us a call.