The court in which the case is litigated is called the venue. In Georgia, injured plaintiffs have options when choosing where they sue a defendant. Plaintiffs can select the county, and they can choose between state and superior courts within that county. When a plaintiff is injured by an individual driver in Georgia (as opposed to someone driving for a company at the time of the crash), the venue is normally in the county where the at-fault driver resides. But where can an injured plaintiff sue a driver when that driver lives in another state?
O.C.G.A. § 40-12-3 is known as the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act. This statute creates a valid venue against an out-of-state driver who was not a resident of Georgia at the time of the crash or when the lawsuit was served upon them. Under the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act, the out-of-state driver can be sued in (1) the county where the injured plaintiff resides or (2) the county where the crash occurred.
Why is this useful? Plaintiffs want a choice of venue for a reason. Whether a venue is desirable is usually determined by the nature of the jury pool. In some counties, juries are known to be more pro-defendant and less likely to award large sums of money for things like a plaintiff’s pain and suffering. But in other counties, juries are known to be very generous. This might affect more than trial results because insurance companies also keep close tabs on which venues are more favorable for plaintiffs; therefore, they are more likely to settle for a reasonable amount when the plaintiff chooses the best available venue. Without using the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act, plaintiffs are usually free to sue out-of-state drivers in federal court as well. An experienced attorney can tell you if you are better off litigating your case in federal court or state court. It likely depends upon which Georgia state and superior courts are available under the Nonresident Motorist Act. If the crash occurred in the metro Atlanta area, the most favorable venue would probably be a Georgia state or superior court.
The Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act is also a useful tool for streamlining service upon the defendant driver. In order for a court to have power over a defendant (in other words, for a court to require a defendant to answer discovery, sit for depositions, respond to motions, etc.), it must have jurisdiction over them as well. A nonresident defendant driver must be “served” with a lawsuit before the court has jurisdiction over them. In general, it is more difficult and expensive to serve someone who lives out of state. However, under Georgia’s Nonresident Motorist Act, the Georgia Secretary of State will act as the nonresident driver’s “agent” for service, meaning the Secretary can accept service on behalf of the driver. The plaintiff is required to send the lawsuit to the nonresident defendant via certified mail and then must attach the return receipt to an affidavit he or she files with the Georgia court. The plaintiff must then send copies of everything sent to the nonresident defendant along with the affidavit to the Georgia Secretary of State.
Thanks to its ability to serve the Secretary of State, the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act can save an injured plaintiff time and money in litigating their case. However, the most significant value of the Act is to provide additional options of venue to the plaintiff so the plaintiff can set themselves up for the greatest possible recovery. An experienced Georgia attorney can walk you through the ins and outs of suing a nonresident motorist. And perhaps more importantly, an experienced attorney can help you choose the most favorable venue based on their knowledge and experience.
The lawyers at Rafi Law Firm are experienced in handling cases under the Nonresident Motorist Act and claims involving motor vehicle accidents. Rafi Law Firm has achieved significant financial results on behalf its clients. If you or someone you know was injured in an accident involving an out of state driver, call 404-800-1156 for a free consultation.