A defendant is a party to a civil lawsuit. The defendant is the person being accused of causing a plaintiff’s injuries and damages in a civil case. Defendants in criminal cases are sued by a government entity and charged with violating one or more criminal laws.
Most personal injury claims settle without the need to file a lawsuit. However, when the parties cannot agree upon a settlement amount, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit seeking a jury verdict awarding damages. Even though the injured party files a lawsuit, the parties may agree to a settlement at any time before the jury returns a verdict.
How Do You Begin a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Atlanta, GA?
Each case is unique. However, most cases involve the same steps for filing a personal injury lawsuit.
The plaintiff hires an injury lawyer in Atlanta to file the lawsuit. Generally, the attorney files a complaint in state court. However, personal injury cases may be heard in federal or state court, depending on the type of case.
The complaint alleges the facts of the case and the basis for recovery. Typically, the plaintiff claims that the defendant’s conduct caused them to sustain injuries and damages. Under one or more tort laws, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant is financially liable for their damages.
Examples of personal injury claims include cases involving:
- Traffic accidents
- Defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Dog bites
- Premises liability
- Wrongful death
- Construction accidents
A defense attorney represents the defendant. If the defendant has insurance coverage that applies to the case, the insurance company provides an attorney to defend the lawsuit. The defense attorney files an answer to the complaint.
Steps in the Trial Process for a Personal Injury Case
The case enters the discovery phase after the initial pleadings are filed and served on the plaintiff and the defendant. Discovery allows both parties to gather information and evidence from each other.
Discovery tools the parties might use include:
- Requests to Produce Documents
- Requests for Admissions
The parties must answer questions posed by the other party. If the defendant were to fail to respond to interrogatories from the plaintiff, the plaintiff could ask the court to order the defendant to comply.
When the parties complete discovery, they may file one or more motions with the court. For example, the defendant may file a motion to dismiss the case. The defense could also file motions to exclude specific evidence or witnesses.
The parties may attempt to negotiate a settlement before the jury trial. If they cannot agree to a settlement amount, the case proceeds to trial.
The plaintiff and defendant call witnesses and present evidence to support their allegations. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the allegations against the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.
A preponderance of the evidence means the jurors decide there is more than a 50% chance that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Most personal injury cases are based on negligence claims. However, some cases may also involve strict liability, vicarious liability, or negligence per se.
Damages Available for a Personal Injury Claim
A defendant may be held liable for the plaintiff’s damages. Damages can include economic damages, which cover the plaintiff’s financial losses.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Loss of income and benefits
- Diminished earning potential
- Property damage
- Future lost wages
- Ongoing medical care
- Long-term nursing and/or personal care
Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Impairments and disabilities
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Physical pain
- Decreased quality of life
- Mental anguish
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Emotional distress
In limited cases, the jury may award punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded when the defendant’s conduct is grossly negligent or reckless, or the defendant willfully and intentionally injured the plaintiff. Punitive damages “punish” the defendant for this behavior by requiring the defendant to pay the plaintiff an additional sum of money.
If either party does not agree with the verdict, they may appeal. Appeals in personal injury cases could take years to resolve.
Does the Defendant Pay the Judgment in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If the defendant had liability insurance coverage, the insurance company pays the jury verdict up to the policy limit. However, the defendant is liable for any amount exceeding the policy limits.
Collecting a judgment can be difficult. The plaintiff must petition the court to garnish wages or seize personal assets in some cases.
Whether the plaintiff receives money from the defendant depends on several factors. Some wages and property may be exempt from garnishment for a personal judgment.
Contact an Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation
Do you have questions about a personal injury claim? Contact an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney to schedule a free case evaluation. A lawyer will evaluate your case and help you understand your options for seeking compensation after an injury or accident.