1. Do I have a case?
To evaluate the strength of a claim, we first consider the liability or responsibility of the other party or parties, as well as your own potential liability, based on the facts and the law. Under Georgia law, as in every other state, there are a number of claims, or causes of action, that a party can pursue to obtain relief. To prevail in a civil case, the plaintiff generally has show that the defendant or defendants is more-likely-than-not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. This evidence standard is called a preponderance of the evidence. Cases with strong evidence of liability by other parties indicates that there is a potential lawsuit worth exploring, but it still might not make sense for you or us to pursue the claim or file a lawsuit.
2. Is my case worth pursuing?
Even if you can show the opposing party should be held liable, you and your lawyer will have to consider the amount of damages that you would likely be able to recover in the case. If there is clear liability, but relatively small damages, often cases like that can be handled without a lawyer, in small claims court. It may not make sense to hire a lawyer for a relatively small claim, especially if the matter is straightforward, due to attorney’s fees and legal expenses. The Magistrate Court can provide forms to pro se litigants, and there are relaxed procedures that help people pursue smaller cases there. As long as the claim is for under $15,000, you can pursue the claim yourself in Magistrate Court in Georgia.
3. What other factors need to be considered at the beginning of a case to determine whether it makes sense to hire a lawyer?
The existence of insurance coverage is a critical factor in evaluating whether to pursue a lawsuit. Additionally, or in the alternative, it will often be important to consider whether the defendant has any assets. If not, any eventual judgment against such a person may be worthless, and uncollectable, even if there is clear liability and high damages.
4. What damages are recoverable, and how are they calculated?
In a personal injury case, typical expenses include medical bills (past and future), lost wages, other expenses incurred as a result of the injury, including property damages such as automobile repairs. Other damages can include general damages such as pain and suffering, punitive damages, and even “loss of consortium” damages, which compensate the uninjured spouse for their losses stemming from the injuries suffered by their spouse. Important factors that can affect the amount of damages recoverable include whether the injury is permanent, or how long the injury lasts, as well as the intensity of the pain, and whether there has been any impact on your ability to work or on daily activities and the enjoyment of life, and whether there is permanent scarring or another disfiguring injury.
5. What responsibilities would I have as a plaintiff and client?
If we take your case, we need you to tell us the truth and participate actively in your case. You will need to be responsive and reachable by phone, email, or letter. You will need to keep your appointments, or call to reschedule them before they are scheduled to occur, and keep our office updated if you move or change phone numbers.
6. How do I protect my credit if I don’t have health insurance and keep my providers from sending my bills to collections?
You need to be careful about making sure that you get a full list of your treaters to your attorney. After that, your attorney can inform your medical providers that they will get paid upon resolution of your injury case. Usually this will stop any debt collection letters or calls, and your providers will wait to resolve their bills until after your injury claim settles, or until after you obtain a judgment after any trial.
7. I was in a car collision, and the at fault driver was uninsured or underinsured, with very low or minimal coverage. What are my options?
In a case like this, we will need to review your own insurance policy and see whether you have uninsured or underinsured motorists’ coverage. If so, we can make a claim under that policy for your injuries.
8. How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
Generally speaking, in Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years in Georgia in personal injury cases. There are other deadlines, exceptions, and rules, depending on the type of claim and circumstances of the particular case. For example, claims against the city, county, or state government have much shorter notice requirements that affect your ability to pursue a claim against those entities.
- Claims against a city government for negligence or public nuisance require an “ante litem” notice within six months.
- Claims against the county or the state of Georgia require such notices be filed within twelve months.
- Claims against the federal government require that an administrative claim be filed, but under the Federal Tort Claims Act, such a claim needs to be filed within two years.
It is important to not delay in seeking legal help to be sure that you are not forfeiting your legal rights, and we can help you analyzed the statute of limitations in your case, and any related deadlines that might affect your case.
9. What happens after I hire a lawyer for my claim?
If you have been injured, we are going to work with you to make sure you continue with the medical care you need to get better, which can be a lengthy and difficult process. We are going to gather your medical records and do other informal discovery to help you evaluate your claim. If we are able to obtain a fair and adequate settlement, we will attempt to settle the case with the defendant or their insurance company without filing a legal complaint.
10. What happens if the insurance company refuses to pay what my claim is worth?
In that case, we will file a lawsuit and commence the formal discovery process. This includes sending written discovery, which are questions to the defendant and requests for them to produce relevant documents about the case to us. Likewise, we will have to answer the other party’s written discovery requests. It is also common for each side to take depositions of the fact witnesses and expert witnesses involved in the case. Usually, a deposition is where one party asks oral questions of witnesses for the other side of the case. The witness is placed under oath and a court reporter takes down what is said during the deposition for later use in the case. The parties also have a chance to file motions with the judge relating to the case. If the case cannot be resolved while the lawsuit is pending, then a trial will occur. Trials are rare today, but can be necessary when the parties have trouble evaluating and agreeing on the monetary value of a lawsuit, which occurs in personal injury cases more often than in business cases.
11. How much will this cost me?
In personal injury cases, generally, it won’t cost you anything unless we prevail in the case. Each case is different and sometimes alternative billing arrangements can make sense in the right case.
12. What should I do after I am involved in a collision?
You will naturally be shaken and confused. But it is important to take care of certain things. You can keep a list in your car of numbers to call and questions to ask, along with your own insurance information.
Important Steps to Follow:
Are there any injuries? Call 911 and tell the police that you need medical attention at the scene. It is not unusual to start to suffer serious medical problems and pain several hours or a day or two after the collision. It is important to seek medical care right away and not to ignore the problem. Follow your doctor’s orders regarding treatment and follow-up care for your injuries.
Get information. You and your insurance company will want to find the names and contact information of everyone involved in the accident, as well as all witnesses at the scene. Get insurance information from the other drivers for the other vehicles involved, and their license plate number.
Take Pictures. If you have access to a camera, it will be important to get photographs of the scene and anything that might indicate how the accident took place.
Insurance Company Communications. Contact your insurance company as soon as you can. Do not make any statements or answer questions from the other driver’s insurance company until after you have considered whether to get a lawyer for the collision and spoken with them about your case and communications with other driver’s insurance company.
13. If a loved one has died, what would it mean to file a wrongful death claim in Georgia?
Under Georgia law, the surviving spouse and children of the deceased have a right to recover for the full value of the life of the deceased family member in a wrongful death case. The damages in a wrongful death case in Georgia are determined from the deceased's perspective, not from the survivors' perspective. Therefore, the case is about what the deceased lost, and generally, not about how the death has effected his or her loved ones.
The “full value of the decedent’s life” includes the economic value of the deceased’s normal life expectancy as well as the intangible value that life held for the deceased. Because this part of the recovery is intangible, exact proof is not available or required. The factfinder, normally a jury, can consider the economic losses associated with the death, as well as any non-economic losses that it deems relevant. The total award is determined by the enlightened conscience of a fair and impartial jury.
The surviving spouse has the exclusive right to bring the action and is required to act responsibly on behalf of the children with respect to the claim. The law calls this a fiduciary duty. Any amount recovered is shared between the surviving spouse and children, with the particular share depending on whether there is a surviving spouse and the number of children. If the deceased is not survived by a spouse or children, then Georgia law gives the parents of the deceased person the right to bring the wrongful death action. If no spouse, child, or parent are living, then the personal representative of the estate may bring the lawsuit and recover for the benefit of any next of kin. Additionally, and separately, the personal representative of the estate may recover, on behalf of the estate, for the funeral and medical expenses relating to the injury and death of the deceased, as well as for punitive damages, if any.