Small Claims Personal Injury Lawsuits Within Georgia
In the state of Georgia, the injured individual involved in an accident has the ability to file or begin a lawsuit in State, Superior or Magistrate Court. Our talented personal injury attorneys have put together this blog to explain the nature and inner workings of the Magistrate Court, also known as small claims court when dealing with personal injury cases. Magistrate Court is a court of a specific, limited jurisdiction in Georgia. This means that a small claims court can only hear or entertain certain court cases. The Magistrate Court’s amount in controversy is capped at $15,000 in Georgia. Other states may have different controversy caps for their Magistrate Courts. There has even been movements in the past to push for an increase in this jurisdictional cap as a means to help backlogged cases. Lawsuits within these specific courts go through a few key steps.
The filing of your petition or complaint is the first step to a lawsuit in Georgia. Most of the clerks in bigger counties throughout Georgia have petitions already preprinted that the petitioner can fill out and file with the Clerk of Magistrate Court. There will be a filing fee to pay as well when you file. Usually the petitioner will allege that the defendant has breached a duty by not following the rule of the road. In turn, damages were caused due to this negligence and the damages are in $X amount of medical bills, pain and suffering etc. In some instances, if the property damage of your vehicle has not been resolved previously, then this would be factored into the damage claim total. Be mindful of the jurisdictional limit of the Magistrate Court is only $15,000. If you believe that your injuries, or both your injuries and property damages are more than this $15,000 limit, then a small claims court is not the route to take. Speaking with a skilled personal injury lawyer at this junction would be wise. Our attorneys at Ted A. Greve and Associates will be able to help you determine your total estimated damage and let you know which legal avenue to pursue.
The next step in the lawsuit legal process is the service of the petition upon the at fault party or defendant. When you pay the filing fee, there is a fee included that is used to pay for the service of the sheriff or local marshall who will personally serve the petition to the defendant. Generally, an individual would file the lawsuit against the defendant in the same county where the defendant resides. In some instances, the sheriff or marshal is unable to serve the petition to the address you provided (in initial accident report). If this is the case, it is important that you hire a process server to find the defendant or you give the court the whereabouts of the defendant yourself. If you have any questions in reference to where to file or about the service of a petition, please feel free to contact our office and speak to a member of our legal team.
The Magistrate Court is not built for extensive discovery. This is unlike Superior or State Court where the plaintiff is allowed to use the discovery procedures. The plaintiff in small claims court usually cannot field questions or document requests to the defendant unless consent is given from the defendant to engage in discovery. Sometimes the court can order these to be allowed, however it is extremely rare. Typically, the insurance carrier attorney will not want to engage in legal discovery with you or for you. However, the insurance company’s lawyer may ask you to show copies of your medical bills and records. They may also ask for you to produce photos of the property damages and injuries before the hearing.
Just like all types of courts, Magistrate Court has rules of evidence. The judges of Magistrate Court are quite used to petitioners who are not attorneys representing themselves within the court. This means that many of these judges are lenient when it comes to the admission of testimony and documents. Remember to bring the original documentation and a couple copies of all your medical records and medical bills. Follow the same rule when it comes to the photographs of injuries and damages. One of the copies will be for the court, one copy will go to the defendant, and lastly one (the originals) should be kept for your own needs. You are awarded the power to subpoena the investigating law enforcement officer to the hearing. This can prove to be helpful if there are questions or issues with liability amongst motorists. It is best to give ample amount of notice if you are deciding to subpoena the officer, so that it is not a surprise.
Since you are the petitioner, you will get to speak first. This is your time to tell the judge how the accident occurred, what injuries you sustained, and the medical bills, lost wages and damages you have suffered. Explaining how the wreck has affected you physically, emotionally, and how your day to day life has changed is important. This is your chance to explain that compensation is not only needed for medical bills, but that you are requesting an amount to help compensate for your future medical, mental and emotional needs.
You have filed suit, the defendant has been served, the hearing processed has ended, and you have testified and received your monetary judgement from the Court. The process is finally over, right? Well, that may not be case. Sometimes the insurance carrier (or defendant) may feel that the judgement or award was too high for the facts displayed within the lawsuit. The defendant or their attorney then has an automatic right to appeal the judgement or award and take you back to court. The defendant can now choose to have the case heard in Superior or State Court. Therefore, this appeal now starts the whole entire case over again. You will once more have to prove your side of the story to backup your case.
While the appeal process can sound scary, remember that retaining the services of a skilled personal injury lawyer will only increase your odds of success. Our Georgia personal injury attorneys can guide you through this complex legal claims process. Ted A. Greve and associates have handled a wide variety of personal injury and auto accident cases. We have the work ethic and experience to help you gain the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one have been injured in an auto accident due to another person’s negligence, call our office today for a free consultation.