Glossary of Personal Injury Terms

Glossary of Personal Injury Terms

Personal injury law includes hundreds of specialty terms of art. Most of these terms will strike the uninitiated as unfamiliar from the beginning. Other terms might seem familiar but actually mean something different than expected. 

Following is a list of some of the most common personal injury terms of art. Some of these terms are useful in other areas of law as well.

Personal Injury Terms

Admissible Evidence: Evidence that you can introduce into court under the Florida Evidence Code (or whatever evidence code applies in your jurisdiction). 

Affidavit: A written statement stating facts, made under oath. Lying on an affidavit can constitute a criminal offense. 

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Out-of-court methods for resolving disputes, such as arbitration or mediation.

Arbitration: A “rent-a-judge” proceeding where parties in dispute select a private party to hear their case and issue a binding resolution to the dispute.

Bad Faith: Dishonesty or bad intentions with respect to fulfilling civil or contractual obligations.

Burden of Proof: A legal obligation to prove your claim or defense. Normally, the person making a claim has the burden of proof with respect to that claim. A defendant, however, has the obligation of proving an affirmative defense.

Causation: The act of causing something to happen. In personal injury, it is relevant because the defendant must have actually caused the injury for the victim to have a claim against them.

Claim: A formal request for compensation for losses arising from another party’s wrongful act or omission. In some cases (strict product liability, for example), there is no need to prove a wrongful act or omission.

Comparative Negligence: A principle that reduces an injured party’s compensation in proportion to their own percentage of fault. In some cases, the injured party loses all of their compensation.

Contingency Fee: A fee structure whereby the client pays their lawyer a certain pre-agreed percentage of their winnings. Typically, if the client wins nothing, their legal bill is zero.

Cross-Examination: The questioning of a hostile witness by a lawyer. This takes place in a trial or at a deposition.

Damages: Monetary compensation that a court awards an injured party in a lawsuit. Settlement agreements typically refer to “compensation,” not damages. 

Defendant: The individual or organization (the “party”) that someone files a claim against in a lawsuit.

Deposition: A proceeding during which a witness offers under-oath, out-of-court testimony. This testimony is useful for investigation and, sometimes, as evidence.

Discovery: The pre-trial period where the parties gather evidence via depositions, interrogatories, demands for production, and requests for admissions.

Economic Damages: Tangible, easy-to-count losses in a personal injury case. In a personal injury case, medical expenses and lost earnings are the most commonly claimed economic damages. 

Expert Witness: Someone with special knowledge in a given field who a court allows to testify even without personal knowledge of the case.

Jury Instructions: Legal rules and guidelines that a judge provides to a jury, telling them how to apply the law to the facts of a case.

Litigation: The taking of legal action, beginning with the filing of a lawsuit and proceeding through discovery, voir dire, trial, and a final verdict.

Loss of Consortium: A claim made by a victim’s spouse (or sometimes children, parents, or dependents of the victim) for a loss of companionship, affection, etc. due to the primary victim’s injury or death.

Malpractice: Professional negligence by a healthcare provider or a lawyer that injures a patient or client. Courts refer to these as medical malpractice and legal malpractice, respectively.

Mediation: An alternative form of dispute resolution whereby a neutral third party uses non-coercive means to try to assist disputing parties to resolve their dispute and reach a settlement.

Negligence: The failure to meet the duty of reasonable care that applies in a given situation. A motorist has the duty to drive carefully, for example, while a doctor has a duty to exercise a professional level of care when treating their patients.

Negligence Per Se: A shortcut to proving negligence by establishing that someone violated a safety law or regulation. 

Non-Economic Damages: Compensation for intangible losses due to a personal injury. This might include, for example, pain and suffering and emotional distress.

Pain and Suffering: Non-economic compensation for physical and emotional pain and distress caused by an injury. 

Statute of Limitations: A statute that sets the deadline by which you must file a lawsuit concerning your claim. If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, your claim will lose all of its value immediately.

Strict Liability: A legal principle that holds a party liable even without proof of fault. For example, in Florida, a dog owner is strictly liable for injuries suffered by anyone their dog bites (absent provocation).

Summary Judgment: A judgment that a court enters in favor of one party in the absence of a full trial.

Testimony: Statements made by witnesses under oath. Testimony occurs during a trial or a deposition.

Tort: A wrongful act that leads to legal liability. An unprovoked assault might constitute the tort of battery, for example. Negligence can also result in tort liability.

Trier of Fact: Whoever decides factual issues in a case—the judge or the jury. In a trial, parties have the right to have their cases decided by a jury.

Venue: The location of a trial. A lawyer might try to change the court that tries a case by asserting that the venue is improper.

Verdict: The final decision on a matter of dispute in a civil or criminal case. Typically, it refers to a jury decision that concludes a trial.

Vicarious Liability: A situation where one party is liable for the wrongdoing of another party. For example, an employer might bear liability for the on-duty misconduct of their employee.

Voir Dire (Latin): The process of selecting a jury for a trial. Both sides (plaintiff and defendant) question potential jury members about their backgrounds.

Waiver: A voluntary surrender of a right or privilege. For example, you might surrender your right to sue someone for negligence in a written waiver of liability.

Warranty: An enforceable promise concerning the quality or performance of a product.

Workers’ Compensation: A public insurance program that provides limited benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries.

Wrongful Death: A claim against someone who is responsible for the death of someone else. Wrongful death is a civil claim for monetary compensation, not a criminal claim like a murder charge.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer For Help Understanding These Terms

Personal injury law doesn’t generate hundreds of special terms of art just to intimidate non-lawyers into hiring a lawyer. It generates these terms because it needs words to describe the particular concepts used to resolve personal injury cases. 

It is better to be confused and know that you are confused than to think you understand when you really don’t. A personal injury attorney can help you clear things up. Contact us today, we offer a free consultation so you can have your case looked at by an experienced professional.