The aggrieved party, the plaintiff, must file a complaint or petition seeking damages or other relief. The party that is sued, the defendant, must file an answer, defenses, and a counterclaim, if appropriate. The parties then engage in a discovery process to determine facts that are disputed and the basis for such disputed facts. The discovery period normally lasts six months after the defendant has been served, but can be extended if necessary. If there is no dispute as to material facts, one of the parties may be entitled to a judgment, and the court can enter a summary judgment based upon the undisputed facts. If there are disputed facts, the case will then go to trial and the disputed facts will be resolved at trial. Judges often require the parties to go through mediation or alternate dispute resolution before going to trial, and many cases are settled by the parties before trial.

In order to file a lawsuit in Georgia, you must file a Complaint or a Petition in the proper court setting out the facts to support your claims and the damages that you seek to recover. You will need to meet with our lawyers and provide documents and information to support your claims. Once the lawsuit is filed, the party that is sued (the “defendant”) must be served with the lawsuit, and service of the lawsuit triggers certain deadlines for responding, conducting discovery and filing motions with the court.

If you bring suit in the Georgia courts, you normally must sue in the county where an individual defendant resides. If you are suing a company, you might have additional options as to the location for filing the lawsuit. Most counties have a Magistrate Court, where small claims can be filed, a State Court, where contracts or tort claims in any amount can be filed, and a Superior Court, where a case involving injunctions, property rights, equity and divorce must be filed. If you bring a suit in the federal courts, there must be a connection to the state in which the suit is commenced.

If you have been sued, you must be served with the lawsuit. Normally, the sheriff or another authorized person will serve you with a copy of the complaint and a summons issued by the court. If you find out that a lawsuit was filed before you are served, you may be able to acknowledge service of the lawsuit to avoid the need for personal service by the sheriff.

In most cases, you are allowed 30 days after you are served with the lawsuit to file your answer and defenses with the court. When served with a lawsuit, you should promptly engage legal counsel for advice and to defend the case. If you don’t timely file an answer to the lawsuit, you can expect a judgment by default to be entered against you granting the plaintiff a judgment for the amount requested in the complaint.

Even if claims in the lawsuit appear to have merit, there is usually a dispute as to the precise amount owed. If there is no dispute as to the amount owed, there may be some legal defenses that can minimize or eliminate your exposure. Also, if you owe the amount claimed, you may be able to negotiate payment terms that you can afford to pay or negotiate a discount of the claim.

Discover is a process where parties and often non-parties are required to provide testimony or documents to establish and clarify the facts and issues in the lawsuit. Interrogatories are written questions that the opposing party must answer in writing. Documents may be requested from any party, or from non-parties who are in possession of relevant documents. Depositions involve a Q&A where a witness is questioned, under oath, regarding their knowledge of facts that might lead to admissible evidence in the case. A party to the lawsuit may also ask the other party to admit to certain facts which, if admitted, are deemed to be established for all purposes in the lawsuit. The discovery process allows lawyers to be better prepared to take the case to trial and sometimes leads to the settlement of a lawsuit.

Small claims of less than $15,000 may be brought in the Magistrate Court, which has no discovery, and which may go to trial in just a month or two. Claims brought in the State Courts, Superior Courts or Federal Court will take much longer. A motion for summary judgment may be filed at any time and, if granted, will shorten the case. Otherwise, the case will not go to trial until the discovery period has expired, which is usually six months after the defendant has been served with the lawsuit. A case to be tried by a judge can usually be tried more quickly than a case to be tried before a jury. Realistically, due to the back log of civil cases, a case that is tried less than a year after the case is filed is the exception. Most cases take more than a year to go to trial, and it is not uncommon for a case to take two or three years to be tried.

Unless the case is a small claim filed in the Magistrate Court, either the plaintiff or the defendant can demand a jury trial. However, if there is no dispute as to the material facts in the case, the judge may enter a summary judgment and take the case out of the jury’s hands.

If a judgment is by default, there is no basis to appeal. If a summary judgment is entered, or if judgment is a result of trial, the losing party may appeal the judgment. However, a judgment will be reversed only if there was a legal error that resulted in the entry of the judgment. A court of appeals will not retry the case, and the evidence will not modified unless the appellate court determines that evidence was improperly admitted or excluded.

If the claims are the result of a contract, the terms of the contract may establish the parties’ right to recover attorney’s fees. Otherwise, fees may be assessed if there is evidence of bad faith in the underlying matter, if claims were frivolously asserted or defended, or if the claims are the result of willful misconduct. In most cases, each of the parties will have to bear their own fees and expenses.

Sometimes, the losing party will agree to promptly pay the judgment. Other times you will need to consider terms of payment. If the losing party refuses to pay, you must attempt to collect by garnishing wages, bank accounts, or by seeking to have authorities foreclose on property that the losing party owns. If the defendant files for bankruptcy, the entire judgment might be discharged and become uncollectible.