If parties are unable to resolve a dispute amicably, whether it is a business disagreement, personal injury, property dispute or other conflict, the law provides a method of resolution through the filing of a lawsuit. The lawsuit allows for recovery of monetary damages if the party bringing the lawsuit [called the plaintiff] is able to prove his or her case by the greater weight of the evidence.
Generally speaking, a lawsuit begins with the plaintiff filing a document called a complaint with an appropriate court. In Richmond County, we have a magistrate court, a civil court, a state court, and a superior court, each of which is available to consider certain types of cases. In the complaint, the plaintiff lists the claims against the person sued [called the defendant]. Once the complaint is filed and served on the defendant, the defendant is required to file a document [called an answer] within thirty days. The answer responds to the allegations of the complaint. From that point, the parties engage in a period of discovery, which may last anywhere from six months to several years depending on the complexity of the case. The parties exchange written questions and answers, obtain relevant documents from each other and third parties, and take formal sworn testimony from involved persons [called depositions].
After discovery is concluded, if one party feels no real factual dispute exists, they may ask the judge to decide the case without a trial. If there is a dispute over certain important facts (for example, whether a light was red or green), the case proceeds to a trial before a jury of twelve citizens of the county, chosen through a random selection process. The jury hears the case, resolves any factual disputes, and, under legal instructions from the judge, decides whether the plaintiff or defendant should prevail. If they find in favor of the plaintiff, they also decide the amount of any monetary damages awarded. The losing party usually has a right to appeal the decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which can prolong the litigation for another six months to a year.
The above is a quick summary of the general litigation process, which can be much more complex depending on the particular facts of each case. Please contact our firm if we can be of assistance in resolving these types of civil issues for you.