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Basics of civil lawsuits in Georgia

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In Georgia, civil lawsuits follow a structured but relatively simple process designed to resolve disputes between two or more parties. Here are the basic steps involved:

 

1. How do I start a lawsuit?

A lawsuit begins when the plaintiff (the party initiating the lawsuit) files a Statement of Claim/Complaint with the appropriate court. Determining the appropriate court will depend on the location of the person you are trying to sue. The statement of claim/complaint outlines the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant (the party being sued) and the relief sought. Reminder: in small claims court, the highest amount that you can sue for is $15,000.

 

2. What happens after I file my lawsuit?

Once the Statement of Claim/Complaint is filed, the plaintiff must ensure that the defendant is properly served with a copy and a summons. This step is crucial as it notifies the defendant of the lawsuit and their right to respond, ensuring a fair process.

After being served, the defendant must respond to the Statement of Claim/Complaint within a specified time frame (typically 30 days in Georgia) by filing an answer admitting or denying the claims being made against them. The defendant may also file a motion to dismiss if they believe the claims against them lack legal merit.

What happens if the defendant does not file an answer? If the defendant does not file an answer within the specified time frame, the plaintiff can file a Motion for Default Judgment and skip to having a hearing in front of the judge on the amount of damages (i.e., money) they should be awarded.

 

Basics of civil lawsuits in Georgia

 

3. The Defendant filed an answer. What happens next?

Both parties engage in “discovery,” a process of exchanging relevant information and evidence related to the case. This may include documents, witness statements, and expert reports. This process ONLY applies to the State Court and Superior Court. Magistrate Court does not have a discovery process.

 

4. What happens when my case goes to trial?

If the case proceeds to trial, both parties present their arguments, evidence, and witnesses before a judge and/or jury. The judge or jury then decides the outcome based on the facts and applicable law. In small claims court, you will ONLY present your case to the judge.

After hearing the evidence and arguments, the court issues a judgment determining whether the defendant is liable and, if so, the appropriate remedy or damages.

It’s important to note that civil litigation in Georgia, as in most jurisdictions, can be complex. However, you can always seek the representation of an experienced attorney to navigate effectively. Laws and procedures can also vary based on the specific type of case (e.g., personal injury, contract disputes, etc.), so consulting with a qualified civil attorney familiar with Georgia law is advisable and can provide you with the necessary support.