Let’s us assume that you have decided that your Atlanta injury case is small enough that it would not make sense for a lawyer to handle it. This assumes you have already read the article on should you hire an accident lawyer or not. We will also assume that you are either in a situation where the insurance company is making a low offer or they are fighting you on the issue of whose fault the crash is. Assuming you have the backbone for the fight…what is next?
First understand that you will be suing the other driver, not their insurance company. You will need to locate the other driver by looking at the crash report. Know that sometimes the address is wrong or the person has moved away so never ever wait until just before the statute of limitations (two years for Georgia injury cases and four years for property damage cases) because you may file the suit and then get a notice back from the sheriff saying that they were unable to serve the defendant ( a “non est”)
In Georgia, you must sue the defendant in their home county unless you are dealing with a non-resident of the state or you have a trucking company as a defendant. You can do this by mail, but I suggest going to the clerk’s office and picking up the summons and the return of service and sending your complaint. Click on this Georgia injury lawsuit that I recently filed. You will have to pay around $125.00 to file the suit.
If the case is small enough not to require a lawyer, then you will be filing suit in small claims court, which in Georgia is called the Magistrate’s Court. It has a maximum jurisdiction of $15,000.00 (that is the most that can be awarded in this Court) When you go to the clerk’s office for the County where the Defendant lives, you will receive a form to fill out that will become the “Complaint.” In this document you will lay out what you are complaining about. For example:
“Mr. Smith crashed into me damaging my car in the amount of xxx dollars and I sustained injuries. I have medical bills totaling $xxxxxx. I am also seeking human damages.” In Magistrate Court, it really does not need to be any more complicated than that. The hard part is proving the case at trial but that comes later.
The clerk will give the lawsuit to the Sheriff and then then the Sheriff will make two tries to serve the defendant with the lawsuit. There are some exceptions but generally a person must have the documents handed to them for service to be valid. You can also serve an adult that lives with the defendant.
You will get a copy of the “return of service” which is the sheet the sheriff writes the results of his service attempts on. Keep an eye out for this document when around 30 days have elapsed since you gave it to the clerk. You may need to call the clerk of court to follow up. If the document says service was perfected, then you wait.
Then the Defendant has 30 days from that day to file their answer with the Court. In car accident cases, the defendant will normally send the lawsuit to their insurance company and the insurance company will hire a lawyer or assign one of their in-house attorney’s to defend the suit. It is very very difficult to outlawyer a lawyer so understand that if you cannot get your case resolved with the adjuster for the insurance company now that it is “in litigation” you need to decide if you can make it on your own or whether your need to hire a lawyer. Even if a Lawyer will not take the case on a contingency fee, some may agree to handle the case on an hourly basis. Assume that you will pay between $175.00 and $200.00 per hour for their services at trial and the time would include some prep time. That said, if you are fighting over repairing or replacing your car and you don’t have collision coverage or if you have significant medical care, then it may be worth it.