Based on my experience as a Georgia litigator, the settlement value of any case is a function of what both sides feel that a jury may award in a particular case. If suit is pending in a county where jurors have a reputation for awarding a lot of money, then the settlement value is likely to be higher because the defendant or defendant’s insurance company will run the risk of having to pay a higher judgment in such a county. On the other hand, the defendant or insurance company is likely to offer less money for the same case if it happens to be pending in a county where jurors have a reputation for giving small verdicts.
The settlement value of any case is a compromise between what the plaintiff and defendant feel are their best and worst case scenarios. For instance, if the plaintiff feels that a jury will most likely award him $50,000, but that they could award him as high as $100,000, he might agree to settle his case for $60,000. Alternatively, if an insurance company or defendant feels that there is an 80% chance that they will win a particular case, but that if they do lose the case, the damages could be $5,000,000, then they are still likely to offer a significant settlement to avoid that 20% risk. Cases can be settled any time, from the day after the injury or death until the moment the jury reads their verdict. I have settled cases while the jury was deliberating.
What jurisdictions in Atlanta and Georgia tend to give high verdicts and which tend to give low verdicts? There is some conventional wisdom that more urban counties give higher awards while more rural counties give lower awards. While there is some truth to this, it is not wise to generalize because the answer is more complicated. For instance, Gwinnett County, a historically conservative venue, earns the distinction as having produced two of the largest civil verdicts in Georgia history. Gwinnett jurors have a great zeal for “law and order” and tend to give large awards where one party has acted in violation of a criminal statute, committed fraud or has engaged in other egregious conduct.
I have found that most Georgia jurors are extremely fair, regardless of county. However, it is wise to understand the venue in which your case can be filed and perform research as to the verdicts jurors have returned in similar cases. All cases have specific facts and personalities, but settlements are a function of how intelligent parties analyze what jurors have done in the past. Accordingly, the defendant and the insurance company will look at the same research and base their settlement negotiations on these prior awards. You should understand the venue options and discuss these with your attorney well in advance of filing suit.