Our personal injury clients frequently ask whether they will have to go to court if the insurance company does not settle. The answer is, it depends. There are a number of factors that go into determining the value of a case and whether it will settle. Sometimes the injured party and the insurance company have a difference of opinion on who was at fault for the accident, while other times the two sides cannot reach an agreement on the value of the damages. It is important to point out that the settlement process is voluntary. Nobody can force the insurance company to offer more money, just like nobody can force you to settle your case. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement and voluntarily settle their case, then a lawsuit may be necessary.
What Is a Lawsuit?
A lawsuit is simply where one person or entity (the plaintiff) sues another person or entity (the defendant). The complaint is what initiates the lawsuit process. The complaint is prepared by the plaintiff (i.e. the person suing) and contains the allegations about what happened in the incident and why the defendant is responsible for paying the plaintiff's damages.
After the complaint is filed, it is served on the defendants. In Georgia, defendants have 30 days to file an answer after they are served. The answer is the defendant's response to the complaint. In the answer, the defendant admits or denies the allegations in the complaint and raises any defenses it may have to the claims.
Once the answer is filed, the discovery process starts. "Discovery" is where both sides get to learn more about the other side's claims or defenses. There are a number of discovery tools that both sides can use. There is written discovery, which involves sending written questions (interrogatories) and document requests (requests for production). A party can also send requests to admit to the other side asking that they admit or deny certain facts. In addition to written discovery, both sides can take depositions. A deposition is where an attorney gets to question another party or witness about what they know. The deposition is taken in the presence of a court reporter who records the testimony and prepares a transcript.
During or after the discovery process, one or both sides can file motions asking that the court take action on a particular issue. For example, there may be motions related to the discovery process, such as where one party asks that the court compel the other party to answer certain questions or produce documents they are withholding. There may also be motions where the court is asked to dismiss one or more claims or defenses.
Unless the claims are dismissed by the court for some reason, the case will proceed to trial after discovery is included. The trial is where both sides get to introduce evidence and argue their case. A jury decides the case in almost all personal injury trials, unless both sides have stipulated to a bench trial, which would involve the judge deciding their case. In a personal injury case, the jury will either find in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant, unless of course it simply cannot reach a decision (this is called a hung jury). If the jury decides that the plaintiff is entitled to win, then it will determine how much money the defendant should pay.
Just because you file a lawsuit does not mean you will have to go to court though. The lawsuit process can be lengthy, and the case could settle at any point during the process. Remember, settlement is voluntary. If at any time during the process the plaintiff and defendant reach an agreement, the case is over. There are many instances where the insurance company makes a low offer before a lawsuit, but then it re-evaluates the case after the lawsuit is filed and makes a more reasonable offer. There are a variety of reasons why this may happen. In many personal injury cases, insurance companies assign a litigation adjuster to the claim after a lawsuit is filed. The litigation adjuster is frequently more experienced than the pre-litigation adjuster and can be more reasonable to deal with. Other times the insurance company just may not be taking your claim seriously until you file a lawsuit.
If you have questions about a Georgia personal injury claim, call the experienced Atlanta personal injury attorneys at The Champion Firm, P.C.. We will provide you with a free consultation about your injury case so you fully understand what your rights are under Georgia law.