Georgia courts have the power to issue legally binding rulings in the matters that are properly presented before them. However, before a court can hear a case and issue a ruling, certain procedures must be followed. One of the first procedures that must be followed in any personal injury lawsuit is for the plaintiff to serve notice of the lawsuit to each and every party who is named as a defendant.
In Georgia, proper service must contain the parties’ names, the name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney, and the time and date that the defendant must appear before the court. Service can be made by a sheriff, a process server, or anyone else specifically appointed by the court to effectuate service. If a plaintiff fails to properly serve one or more defendants, the plaintiff will almost certainly run into problems down the road. A recent case in front of the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates the issue of how improper service can significantly delay a plaintiff’s case and potentially result in an early dismissal.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was involved in an accident with a school bus. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit, claiming that the school bus driver was negligent in the operation of the vehicle and that the school district was also liable through the theories of vicarious liability, negligent entrustment, and negligent hiring.
The plaintiff had a process server serve the assistant for the district’s HR department. The plaintiff did not attempt to personally serve the school bus driver. Neither of the defendants responded to the lawsuit, and a default judgment was entered.
Once the default judgment was entered, the school district responded, claiming that it did not initially respond because it had not been properly served. The school district cited the relevant statute, which requires that service in a personal injury lawsuit against a “public body or organization” be made to the “chief executive officer or a clerk thereof.” The school district claimed that the assistant to the HR department was not a clerk within the meaning of the statute.
The Court’s Opinion
The court began its analysis by clarifying that when a defendant challenges the sufficiency of service, it is the defendant’s burden to prove that service was insufficient. Here, the school district claimed that the HR assistant was not a “clerk,” but the school district offered no evidence in support of that claim. The court explained that, since it is the defendant’s burden to prove insufficient service, the school district could not rely on mere allegations. As a result, the court held that service was proper and that the case should proceed against the school district.
The court also held, however, that since there was no evidence showing that the school bus driver was served, the case against him was properly dismissed.
Have You Been Involved in a Georgia Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. It is important to keep in mind, however, that personal injury cases require strict adherence to Georgia court rules, and a party’s failure to follow even a seemingly minor rule can result in months of delay or even a premature dismissal. The skilled injury attorneys at McAleer Law have extensive experience handling all types of Georgia personal injury cases, and we are familiar not only with all procedural rules but also with the relevant substantive legal doctrines. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call 404-622-5337 today.
See More Posts:
Anyone Can be the Victim of Negligent Conduct — Jury Awards Doctor $7 Million after Slip-and-Fall Accident in Operating Room, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, March 2, 2017.
Georgia Appellate Court Puts Plaintiffs’ Case in Free Fall, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, April 24, 2017.