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The Definitive Personal Injury Law Glossary

We have compiled a comprehensive list of terms you might hear during your personal injury case, for those of us who have not spent countless years in law school.  We suggest you write down the terms that you may hear that you are not familiar with, and use this resource to educate yourself through the personal injury lawsuit process.  Thanks for taking a peek, and good luck with your case.

A

Accident Report – This is a written report of the incident by a professional such as a police officer, doctor or insurance agent.

Act of God – Natural causes that could not have been prevented by any human precaution or care such as flooding, wildfires, etcetera.

Alternative Dispute Resolution – This is also known as mediation. Mediation is where two parties go to a professional mediator (often a member of the legal profession such as a retired judge or paralegal) and come to an agreement or settlement. Unfortunately, most of what comes out of mediation is not legally binding and when one party breaches the agreement; a lawsuit ensues anyway.

Answer – A written and notarized statement or affidavit of the Defendant and the Defendant’s attorney, in response to the complaint filed by the Plaintiff and served upon the Defendant.

Appeal – A written request for the case to be heard by a Judge of a higher Court that which is backed by evidence and reasons for the appeal. The appellant must prove that the lower Court made an error in judgment based on legal precedent and facts.

ArbitrationA meeting, called a hearing, is held between the Plaintiff and Defendant, their attorneys and a professional third party (often an off-duty judge or lawyer). The parties enter into a written contract that binds them to the arbitrator’s decision; and that decision will be final. Several hearings may be required.

Assignment of Benefits – When an insurance company transfers benefits on the insured’s behalf and with the insured’s written consent. Usually this takes place in order to pay a doctor, directly for medical benefits.

Attorney-Client Privilege – The principal that anything a client says to an attorney stays with the attorney, barring murder or intended suicide. Attorneys are held accountable to this principal by the bar association. An attorney that violates this privilege is liable to be disbarred.

B

Bad Drugs – Also known as Defective Medication, these are pharmaceutical and prescribed medications that cause unintended side effects and/or injury to the patient.

Bad-faith Claim – a written claim by the insured, that the insurance company wrongfully denied their claim without good cause.

Benefit – This is generally the money paid from an insurance company to a hospital or doctor directly for services rendered to the insured. This term is also used to describe the food or money paid to an unemployed person by social services or unemployment.

Bodily Injury – Literally, any damage to a person’s body; inside and out.  Scrapes, burns, bruises, cuts, broken bones, blisters, nerve damage, brain damage, liver damage and lung damage are all examples of bodily injury.

Burden of Proof – The obligation to prove beyond reasonable doubt to a judge, jury or both; that a claim is valid based on factual evidence and legal precedent. In personal injury law this is the Plaintiff, Claimant, Insured, Beneficiary or Appellant.

C

Causation – Evidence linking a defendant to the injury. Proof that the injury was “caused” by something the defense did or failed to do.

Claim – A civil lawsuit for compensation of the Plaintiff’s physical, mental and financial injuries that are allegedly caused by the Defendant or should be paid by the Defendant.  This is also a request for payment to the insurance company for the insured’s mental, physical and financial injuries.

Claim Adjuster – An employee of the insurance company that is responsible for investigating insurance claims and gathering evidence. This may include but is not limited to accident reports, medical records and photographs.

Compensable Injury – Most commonly used in worker’s Compensation cases; this is an injury obtained at work with no previous history of an injury to the same part of the body.

Compensatory Damages – Payment to the Plaintiff that covers actual losses for the injury; this compensation is intended to bring the Plaintiff back, financially, to where they were before the injury (i.e. hospital bills, medications etc.).

Complaint – The first legal document that begins a lawsuit. A complaint usually contains an affidavit of the Plaintiff/injured party and must be properly served upon the Defendant.

Compulsory Medical Examination – See Independent Medical Examination.

Contingency Fee – This is the fee paid to an attorney; only if the attorney “wins”. This can be settlement monies or what is awarded by a Judge. The fee is almost always a percentage of the damages that which a Plaintiff agrees to when the retainer agreement is signed.

D

Damages – Generally monetary payment made to the Plaintiff in a civil case by the Defendant. There are several kinds of Damages.

Deductible – A certain amount of money that the insured party is required to pay before the insurance company will begin paying bills.

Defective Medication- A pharmaceutical drug that caused injury due to failure to warn, manufacturing defects or design defects.

Defendant – For the purpose of personal injury law; the person, people, corporation or entity being sued. Most often the insurance company.

Demand Letter – Generally, before a summons and complaint is filed; a letter to the party responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, requesting payment.

Deposition – A conference between parties, with attorneys in which a formal question and answer session is recorded and transcribed as evidence.

Disclosure – A document releasing or the act of releasing pertinent information in the case to another party.

Discovery – The process in which the Plaintiff and the Defense exchange evidence.

Duty of Care– The concept that a person or entity had an obligation to protect or prevent the injured party from injury. This is an element of negligence that must be proven to prove negligence.

E

Emergency Medical Condition (EMC) – a life threatening and severe, often chronic condition that, if left untreated, would reasonably cause severe injury and or death.

Exemplary Damages – Please see Punitive Damages.

Excess Judgement – Money damages that an insurance company may be mandated to pay by a judge that which go above the policy limit.

Exhaustion of Benefits – When all money allocated by an insurance company to the injured party has been used.

Expert Witness – A professional person who is consulted to give testimony in a court case.

F

Fault – Either acting purposefully or negligently and causing another party’s injuries.

Field Adjuster – Often, another name for a claims adjuster. This employee of the insurance company conducts all out of office investigation.

First-Party Claims –A claim that is made to the injured party’s insurance company rather than the negligent or responsible party.

G

General Damages– Money paid to the defendant subjectively. Can be for pain and suffering, loss of a loved one, scarring, loss of physical abilities and foreseeable future losses.

Good Faith– Acting with honest intent to do the right thing; usually referring to the insurance company or defense in a personal injury case.

H

HIPPA Act – Privacy laws. HIPPA is an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This federal law requires a patient or a patient’s designated representative to be the only people with access to the patient’s health information unless the patient or representative signs a medical release.

I

Income Replacement Benefits (IRBs) – Monetary benefits paid to the injured party for loss of work as a result of disability.

Independent Medical Examination – A second medical exam and opinion that the defense or insurance company requests the injured party to undergo. This is also referred to as a compulsory exam.

Interrogatories – Often part of the discovery process; these are questions written by one party that must be answered in written form by the opposing party within a certain amount of time (usually 20-30 days) and signed by the answering party in front of a notary.

J

Judgement – Conclusion of a Court case in which all of the legal standing and decisions are formally filed.

K

Known Loss Rule –A law preventing one from using insurance obtained after the incident that one is filing a claim for.

L

Legal Malpractice – This is generally when an attorney violates the client’s rights (usually signed by both attorney and client when the retainer is signed). Also, when an attorney acts dishonestly, violates confidentiality or behaves in any manor that which violates the character and fitness requirements of the American Bar Association.

Letter of Protection – A written affidavit or letter from an attorney to a healthcare professional that guarantees direct payment out of future settlement money.

Liability –  A legal obligation or responsibility to do something or prevent something from happening. Generally referring to insurance or negligence.

Limitation of Risk – The threshold of monetary damages that an insurance company is required to pay out.

Litigant – A term for all parties except for attorneys and the Judge in a lawsuit; both plaintiff and defendant.

Litigation – The time period during a civil action or “lawsuit” in which the parties are negotiating a settlement, gathering evidence and engaging in discovery.

Litigation Risk – The term used by an attorney to describe whether or not you have a case that is going to win at court. This is also a means of determining when and whether to settle.

M

Malpractice –When a professional person or entity has caused an injury to the public. See Medical Malpractice and Legal Malpractice.

Mandate – A court order that is signed by a judge at the settlement of a case and must be adhered to in order to avoid further penalties.

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) – At which time an injured person has healed or recovered to the best possible state. This point is used to calculate future wage loss and whether or not a person is permanently disabled.

Mediation – A neutral third party who assists two disagreeing parties to come to a non-legally binding settlement, “out of Court”.

Motion – Any written request to a Judge to perform an action or intervene with relative haste; before the next Court date. A motion hearing date will generally be set.

N

Negligence – A multi-element theory of law that means one party was at fault for the other party’s injuries because they failed to do something that they were supposed to do and directly caused the injury. One must show there was a duty; a breach of that duty and that the breach of duty directly caused an injury.

Negotiation – The time period before a complaint is filed in a civil suit or during litigation; in which both parties are exchanging offers and attempting to come to a settlement in order to avoid a Judicial decision or trial.

No-Fault – An abbreviation for a type of automobile insurance coverage in which neither party needs to prove who was at fault for coverage to begin.

Notary – A trained professional who has been licensed to witness and take sworn oaths in legal matters by signing and affixing a seal or stamp to the document.

Notice to Insurer – A letter to the insurance company, notifying them of the claim.

O

P

Paralegal – A trained professional that works in a law office and compiles evidence, helps build a case and handles many secretarial and assistant functions for the attorney. May draft and file legal documents under the supervision of an attorney.

Parties – The Plaintiffs and Defendants.

Pecuniary Damages – The monetary value of past and future lost income due to the injury.

Personal Injury Protection or PIP –A type of auto insurance coverage that is similar to No-fault insurance.  Mandated by the State of Florida, this coverage guarantees direct payment from the injured party’s insurance regardless of who was at fault.

Plaintiff – The injured party or the party filing a claim or lawsuit.

Pleading – Any legal document filed in a lawsuit by either party in a Court of Law that which is not a Motion. (See Motion)

Post-concussion Syndrome (PCS) – A mild form of brain trauma after a concussion that lasts weeks or months.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – A form of brain trauma caused by a shocking, terrifying or hurtful experience that a person witnessed. Often characterized by flashbacks of the events from some sort of visual, auditory, sensory or perceptive trigger.

Prayer for Relief – Also referred to as a Demand for Relief; a written, legal request to a Judge, by the Plaintiff, for immediate monetary relief.

Precedent –Also referred to as “Judge made law”; a legal decision by a higher court that has legal authority to overrule the law on the books. May be referenced by a lawyer to bolster one’s case.

Premise Liability – The legal concept that  land owners are responsible to have their land safe enough so that anyone who enters will reasonably not become injured.

Proceeding – All scheduled dates in which both parties appear before the Judge in a civil proceeding.

Product Liability – Responsibility that any seller of a product holds to ensure its safety to the public.

Prognosis – A doctor or medical professional’s determination of the injured party’s chances and length of recovery time.

Proximate Cause – The cause of the injury.

Punitive Damages – Rarely, these damages are mandated in order to punish the defendant for gross negligence.

Q

Quality of Life – A term that can be used as sometimes determined by a quality of life assessment for the lifestyle to which an injured party will have in the future. For example, will the person be able to commence their future way of living?

Qui Tam – A claim that is brought on by a “whistle blower” in which the party and the government make a deal. The claimant is generally an employee of a company that is misallocating funds or engaged in tax fraud. The whistleblower will receive a percentage of the settlement in exchange for testimony and or evidence of the defendant’s illegal activity.

Quid Pro Quo – A term that is latin for “this or that”. An exchange of benefits between parties.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment – When an employer offers an employee something in exchange for allowing sexual harassment or not reporting it. Often the employer only offers not to fire the person in exchange for silence.

R

Reasonable Care – The amount of care that a “reasonable person” would assume an entity has to the public or injured party.

Rehabilitation – The process of restoring necessary skills and normal movement for self-sufficiency after an injury, perhaps after an auto accident or slip-and-fall.

Rehabilitation Benefits – Physical or mental therapy, on-going programs or treatments to assist the injured party in getting as close as possible to the way they were before the injury; paid by the insurance company.

Request for admission – A formal, legal request in a lawsuit from one side to another to admit evidence into the case.

S

Settlement – The legally binding conclusion of a civil case in which a document is drawn up, signed by all parties, the parties’ counsel and the Judge; detailing the agreement that the parties have come to in order to avoid a Judge making the final decision.

Slip-and-Fall –A general term used for premise-liability claims, in which a person is injured by tripping, slipping or falling while on another party’s property.

Special Damages – Money paid to the Plaintiff to compensate for damages caused directly by the accident such as property damage.

Stacking of Coverages – When more than one insurance policy is applied to one incident.

Standard of Care – Usually in medical malpractice; where the injured party is responsible for defining the amount and type of care that they were reasonably supposed to be given by the defendant and providing evidence that the standard has been breached by the defendant.

Statute of Limitations – The legal amount of time that a person has to file a claim in any civil or criminal action. Time periods are specific to each law.

Strict Liability –The legal concept that a third party may automatically be at fault even if they were not directly involved in the incident. Often used in product liability cases, for example; if a person is injured by a piece of equipment at a gym, the manufacturer of the equipment may be at fault rather than the gym.

Subpoena – A written and formal legal document, issued by a Judge or attorney requesting a person’s attendance at trial or evidence in the case. If a subpoena is ignored a person or entity risks being in contempt of Court.  

Subrogation – Generally a legal term used to describe a first party insurance company paying the debts owed by a third party insurance company and later reclaiming that debt from the insurance company. This is a faster way for the injured to have medical bills and other debts paid before settlement.

T

Third-Party Claims – A claim mad by the Plaintiff against the Defendant’s insurance company.

Tort– Any civil action (usually brought in a Supreme Court) between two parties; a lawsuit apart from criminal law. Some torts may lead to criminal charges but are apart from them.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – An injury to the brain from a violent trauma to the skull that may cause ongoing symptoms or permanent brain damage affecting the injured party’s standard of life.

U

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM) – Auto coverage that will cover the injured party in the event that the person at fault does not have enough coverage for the damages. For example; a person with $10,000.00 in accident coverage totaling another person’s  brand new Ferrari.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) – Exactly like it sounds; insurance coverage for the event in which an uninsured driver crashes into another vehicle. Without this coverage a person in this event may be forced to pay out of pocket, use their own collision coverage and/or have to sue the uninsured driver for the damages.

V

Voir Dire – Jury selection before a judge, in which the Plaintiff and Defense may offer a limited amount of questions to the jurors and each side has a certain amount of jurors that they can request be removed.

W

Workers’ Compensation – Mandatory insurance coverage provided by an employer in the event that an employee is injured while working.

Wrongful Death – legal grounds for a lawsuit in which the survivors of the injured party sue an entity for the negligible death of a loved one. Generally, a widow(er) or children of the deceased are suing for lost earnings from the spouse or parent.

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