Common Law Terms (The Ultimate Guide)
Personal injury cases involve a party who has been injured as a result of another parties’ negligence. These cases include everything from automobile accidents to medical malpractice, wrongful death, and more. At Nelson Law Group PC, we bring over two decades of bench and jury trial experience to each personal injury case, and we will clearly communicate the litigation plan to keep you informed as your case moves forward.
As part of that ongoing communication, we also believe in educating our clients. This is why we’ve compiled this list of common personal injury terms that you need to know.
If you haven’t already, click here to read our Ultimate Guide of family law terms, which covers everything from estate planning to divorce, civil litigation, and personal injury.
Accident report — Documentation from the scene of an accident, such as a car accident, formally recorded by a police officer or hospital staff member.
Act of God — Refers to an accident or event that is deemed a direct result of natural causes. In other words, it could not have been prevented by any party in a potential personal injury case. Examples include floods, earthquakes, or storms.
Ad litem — When an independent and neutral person is appointed by a court of law to act in a lawsuit on behalf of another party who is deemed incapable of representing him or herself, that person is referred to as an Ad Litem. Ad Litem is Latin for “for the suit.” The primary objective for whoever accepts this role is to protect the best interest of the person they are representing, which is typically a child but can also be an adult who has been incapacitated and needs someone to watch over their situation and make sound decisions.
Alternative Dispute Resolution — An agreement between spouses that often settles many divorce disputes amicably without having to go to court. ADRs include mediation, collaborative law, informal settlement conference, arbitration, and cooperative law.
Answer — When a plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant in the case has an opportunity to file a formal answer. This is the defendant’s way of stating their position regarding the allegations.
Appeal — A formal process that allows a party to request that the case be reviewed to see if there is a legal reason to change the previous ruling. Not every appeal is granted.
Arbitration – Each party presents its position to an impartial third party who renders a verdict.
Bodily injury — Any physical damage to a person (burns, cuts, broken bones, nerve damage, etc.) because of an accident, someone’s negligence, or an intentional act.
Burden of proof — This is the burden that falls on the shoulders of someone who brings a case to court. It is that person’s responsibility to produce sufficient evidence to support their case. Burden of Proof is required in practically every court case, and the amount needed depends on the case.
Claim — A claim is a formal request to an insurance company submitted by the injured and insured party requesting coverage and payment for damage or injury.
Claim Adjuster — The person who acts as a liaison between the insured party and their insurance company when a claim is filed. Their job is to investigate and oversee the claim on behalf of the insurance company and, if necessary, approve further action.
Class-action lawsuit — A suit filed by plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and as representatives of others who were injured. These types of lawsuits typically happen in product liability cases.
Compensable injury — Any injury that will likely be covered by workers’ compensation since the injured party was injured while on the job.
Complaint — This is how a lawsuit is initiated; it is the formal expression of your grievance. The plaintiff (person bringing the case before a court) files the complaint with the appropriate court.
Concussion — A traumatic brain injury that results from a violent blow to the head, such as in a serious car accident. Concussions often cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and other issues.
Contempt of court — This is when you disobey a court. A person can be held in direct contempt by disobeying a judge in his presence or indirect contempt by violating a court order.
Consent Order — A court order that has been agreed to by all parties involved in the case.
Damages — The sum of money paid to an injured party as compensation for loss or injury. Juries can award multiple types of damages, including compensatory and punitive damages.
Damages (compensatory) — These are actual damages; money awarded to a plaintiff to compensate for injury or another incurred loss, such as medical and hospital bills, pain and suffering, emotional distress, increased living expenses, and physical therapy.
Damages (punitive) — The idea behind punitive damages is to punish the offending party for egregious conduct. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show the defendant’s actions were intentional. If awarded, punitive damages may be in addition to any compensatory damages.
Defendant — A defendant is the party in a civil or criminal case who has been accused or charged with committing an offense against the plaintiff. Just like it is the plaintiff’s job to prove their case, defendants must defend themselves against the formal accusations brought against them. Respondent is an alternative term for defendant used in family law cases.
Deposition — A term used to describe a sworn statement or testimony (such as from a witness) during the discovery phase of a trial that may later be used for court purposes.
Discovery stage — Refers to the timeframe before a trial where a lawyer is gathering as much information as possible to understand all factors of the case and the parties involved. This stage is typically where lawyers will introduce interrogatories.
Distracted driving — Refers to driving a vehicle while being engaged in another activity (texting, eating) that takes someone’s focus away from the road and the common tasks of driving.
District court — A trial court that has jurisdiction within a specific district. It is the lowest level of U.S. Federal Court. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in a district court.
Docket — Another name for a list of cases for trial or cases that are currently pending.
Expert witness — Unlike someone who was present during an accident and can speak to what happened, an expert witness is someone such as a scientist, neurologist, etc. who can speak with authority about a particular subject or injury during a personal injury case.
Fault — An act or error that causes injury to another person.
Hazard — External conditions that can increase the likelihood of damage or injury, such as inadequate lighting on a roadway or in a hallway or a spill in the aisle at a grocery store that causes a slip and fall accident.
Insured — A person who is protected under an insurance policy.
Insurer — Another name for an insurance company that provides coverage for an insured party.
Interrogatories — Refers to a list of written questions sent to the opposing party. The opposing party is required to answer these interrogatories, which can range from basic questions about their background and employment history to more pointed questions about assets, debts, and past drug use. Interrogatories are very important to a lawyer’s strategy.
Judgment — A court’s final decision.
Jurisdiction — The official power to make legal decisions and judgments. A court generally only has jurisdiction within the boundaries of its state or county. A court cannot render a verdict on a marriage or marital property it has no legal jurisdiction over.
Juror misconduct — Refers to when a member of a jury commits an act that goes against the law of a court during a case or after the court has reached a verdict.
Legalese — Formal language and terms used in the legal system that is often difficult for the layperson to understand.
Legally binding — Used to describe the terms and legal ramifications of a signed contract between two or more parties. When a contract is signed, all parties are legally bound to following through with or completing the conditions set forth in the contract.
Legal verification — A declaration under oath or upon penalty of perjury that a statement or pleading is true. False information given in a verified legal pleading is subject to penalties for perjury.
Liability — A person’s legal responsibility to another person or society as a whole. Liability is enforceable on a civil basis and through criminal punishment.
Litigant — A person who is involved in a lawsuit.
Litigation — Refers to the process of taking legal action.
Loss — The value given to an injury or damage in a personal injury case.
Mediation — An impartial third person (mediator) helps open up the lines of communication between parties in a case to promote a healthy settlement to their dispute.
Medical malpractice — Refers to when a medical or healthcare professional deviates from standards in his or her profession, causing injury or death to a patient.
Motion — A formal request by the parties involved in a court case or their lawyer that asks the judge to rule on or make an order on a specific issue.
Motion to withdraw — A written request to a judge asking that the lawyer assigned to the case be relieved of his or her duties. The request must include the specific reason for withdrawing.
Negligence — This is a failure to act or behave with the level of care that should be expected. It involves being careless, which ultimately causes damage or injury to another person.
No-fault — The opposite of fault in a personal injury case. Refers to an accident occurring without fault or negligence by either party in the case.
Notice of hearing — This is a legal document that requests the presence of all parties to hear a motion. The notice will also include the time and date for that hearing.
Out-of-pocket expenses — Money that a party must pay out of their own private funds on costs associated with their injuries (medications, assistive devices, travel, etc.).
Personal injury — A specialized area of civil litigation that includes a party who has been injured as a result of another parties’ negligence (auto accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, etc.). The party causing the injury can be a person, a group of people, or a business.
Plaintiff — A plaintiff is a legal name reserved for a person or group of people in a civil case who initiate a lawsuit in a court of law against an individual or business. It is the plaintiff who is seeking legal recourse, and if successful, a judge will rule in their favor. Petitioner and Complainant are alternative terms for plaintiff used in family law and criminal cases, respectively.
Pleading — Refers to when a party in a case responds to allegations against them.
Prayer for Relief — Information included within a formal complaint that details how much money the plaintiff is asking for.
Premise liability — When landowners and tenants are held responsible for someone getting hurt while on their property. Premise liability claims are usually based on negligence. An example would be a slip and fall claim at a grocery store because the owner did not take reasonable precautions to ensure the floors were clear or that warning signs were present in the area.
Preponderance of the evidence — A party has to show that something was more likely to have occurred when compared with the evidence from the offending party. In other words, the evidence from one side carries more weight, even if there is only a 51 percent likelihood that it is true.
Product liability — When a product is deemed defective, a merchant, business, or manufacturer can be held accountable for injury or property damage.
Settlement & Release Agreement — A straightforward document that allows parties in a potential case to settle their dispute outside of the courtroom.
Statute of limitations — Limits how long you have to bring a claim against another person. If you wait too long to file a claim, a judge has no choice but to throw the case out.
Strict liability — Refers to a law that holds someone liable for their actions regardless of their intentions or level of care. Examples can include defective product cases.
Subpoena — While a summons marks the beginning of a court case, a subpoena comes after a case has begun and requires the person who receives it to provide evidence that is considered important to the outcome of the case. You can still receive a subpoena even if you aren’t directly involved in the case.
Subrogation — Refers to when one party, such as an insurance company that is not obligated to pay, initially covers the cost of damages that are technically owed by another party, with the intent that they can later collect that money from the party that originally owed it.
Tort — A civil wrong inflicted by one person on another that unfairly results in loss or injury, and it forms the grounds or reasons for a lawsuit seeking damages. A tort is any wrongful act, including personal injury, wrongful death, and negligence, that is not considered a crime.
Underinsured motorist coverage — A provision in your auto insurance policy that covers you in the event damages are incurred by a motorist who does not have enough insurance coverage.
Uninsured motorist coverage — Another provision that covers you in the event damages are incurred by a motorist who does not have any insurance coverage.
Verdict — The final decision made in a civil or criminal court case by a judge.
Workers’ compensation — Compensation provided to a worker from his or her employer as a result of an accident or illness that happened while the employee was at work.
Wrongful death — This is a term used in a civil action in which damages are sought against one party for causing a death, either through negligence or as a result of an intentional act. Examples of accidents that sometimes lead to wrongful death cases include car accidents as a result of reckless or distracted driving, road defects, delayed and improper treatment, surgical errors, etc.
Call Nelson Law Group Today!!
Having a lawyer in your corner to answer any questions you have about the legal process is critical, and that’s what Nelson Law Group, PC in Flower Mound, Texas is here to do for our clients. Give our knowledgeable staff here at Nelson Law Group, PC a call if you have any further questions regarding the terms above or any specific legal issue you may be facing.
Give us a call today! For more information about Brett A Nelson click here.