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What to Expect When You're Litigating (A Civil Suit)

For many, the steps that must be taken to file a civil suit are unfamiliar, and as such, the Don Turner Legal Team has compiled a short and simple guide to filing a civil lawsuit in the state of Georgia.

  • Look toward relevant legislation
    • In certain circumstances, for instance, tort, or civil wrongs, cases, there is a statute of limitations that affects how long a person has to file a lawsuit after the wrong has been committed.
    • In other circumstances, certain issues that the general public may perceive as being a “wrong” may not have a pathway to recourse built into our legal system, meaning that the harmed party will not be able to recover.
  • File a complaint
    • A complaint consists of your grievances against the person you are suing and includes the legal basis through which you believe that you are entitled to recovery.
    • Your complaint must be filed with the Clerk of Court in the county where the person you are choosing to sue either lives or a county that you believe has personal jurisdiction over the person you are suing.
  • After the complaint
    • After you file the complaint, that person is served, meaning that an agent of the court, who can be a sheriff, a marshal, or a professional process server, gives the defendant an exact copy of the complaint that you filed with the Clerk of Court along with a summons.
    • Once they have been served, the defendant has a certain period of time to answer; if they do not answer the complaint, the defendant goes into default, meaning that you, the plaintiff, win the suit without any further action.
    • To answer, they must respond, through admitting, denying, or a mix of the two, in writing to the Clerk of the court that you originally filed the complaint in. Anything that is not denied in the answer will be seen as admitted to by the defendant in court.
  • Discovery
    • Discovery is the process through which both sides in a lawsuit are able to receive more information on the issue that the complaint was written about. There are different ways to receive that information and they each have different names
      • Interrogatories are written questions that are sent by one party to another party. The interrogatory must be answered in writing within a timely manner then returned.
      • Requests to produce are written orders requesting that the other party produce document s that are relevant to the case
      • Depositions are similar to interrogatories, except that the questions are not written out and a court reporter is present to detail out exactly what was said.
  • Hearing
    • At this stage, a judge adjudicates over the proceedings, with or without a jury, depending on the amount in controversy and local rules. A plaintiff can always waive the right to a jury trial, which means that a judge will take over the jury's job, which is determining the facts of the case along with the judge's regular duties of determining the laws that govern the case.
      • During the trial, both parties will present their evidence as to why they should win, with the plaintiff going first. This evidence can include any witnesses to what may have occurred, documents detailing what happened, and the amount of damages owed.
      • When witnesses are called, the other party reserves the right to cross-examine the witnesses about what the witness said during their original testimony
  • Decisions
    • After the trial is over, the fact finder, either a jury in a jury trial or the judge in a bench trial, will determine who wins the case and how many damages, which can be monetary or otherwise, the parties are entitled to. This will be in the form of a court order and it is always filed with the Clerk of the Court.
    • If the result of the trial is an unfavorable one, the losing party can appeal to a higher court, to attempt to get the outcome changed.
  • Collecting Money
    • After the plaintiff wins his or her case, they will be able to collect the money. This happens in a couple of different manners.
      • Collection by lien
        • A lien makes property owned by the loser of the case become the property of the person who won the case.
          • If Joshua sued Jake for $100,000 and won, Joshua could establish a lien on Jake's house, worth exactly $100,000 to collect on his judgment.
      • Collection by garnishment
        • This allows for the winner to take the money of the loser. This can occur in a variety of ways.
          • Ex. Joshua sued Jake for $100,000 and won, so Joshua could move to garnish Jake's bank account for that money or to garnish Jake's pay checks from his job until the amount that Jake owes Joshua is satisfied. There is one caveat to paycheck garnishment, however, and it is that the entire paycheck may not be taken from the losing party. The federal and state government dictate the percentage per month that can be taken out.

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