Personal Injury Basic Terms

The person bringing the claim is commonly referred to as the plaintiff. The person who is sued is known as the defendant. Each side is entitled to learn what evidence the other side has regarding issues of liability and damages.

This process preceding trial is called “discovery”. It allows both sides to adequately prepare for trial. Every state their own set of rules regarding discovery. Other terms include:

Affidavit – A formal written statement declared under oath.

Arbitration – A non–judicial legal procedure that happens outside of the courts where parties dispute in front of a neutral arbitrator.

Attorney Client Privilege –Confidential Communications between an attorney and the client.

Complaint – A legal complaint states the plaintiffs’ allegations against the defendant and their prayers for relief.

Contingency Fee – A contingency fee is paid to a plaintiffs attorney when the attorney prevails by taking a percentage of the recovery.

Defendant – The party that a lawsuit is brought against based on negligence or an intentional act (tort).

Deposition – Oral testimony taken under oath in which one party  questions the other party.

Discovery – Discovery is a process in which parties gather facts and information about the other party to build their case. Discovery can be written, in the form of interrogatories or request for production, or by deposition.

Docket – The courts calendar of cases to be scheduled for hearing.

Evidence – Information to prove or disprove an issue in controversy.

Expert Witness – A witness who has a specific and recognized expertise in a given field and who provides expert opinion testimony at trial or in deposition. One example of an expert witness is a accident-reconstructionist.

Federal Tort Claims Act – If the negligent behavior of a federal employee causes another person physical injury, loss of life or property damage, the victim has the right to seek compensation from the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946.

Interrogatory – In discovery, it is the exchange of written questions between parties of a lawsuit used to uncover relevant evidence.

Lawsuit – A legal proceeding between multiple parties in a court of law.

Liability Insurance –Insurance coverage held by a policy holder which provides compensation to a party who is injured or whose property is damaged as a result of the negligence of the policy holder.

Medical malpractice – When a doctor or healthcare provider is negligent in the care and treatment of his patient and which conduct falls below the standard of care resulting in patient’s injury or death.

Motion – A formal request by one party against another requesting the judge’s ruling on an issue in controversy in the case.

Personal injury – Injury to one’s physical body, emotions, or reputation.

Plaintiff – The party that files a lawsuit against the defendant.

Power of Attorney – A document that gives someone legal authority to act on another person’s behalf.

Product Liability – Manufacturers are held legally responsible for any damages or injuries caused by their defective products. Examples include automotive liability by proving that there was a defect in design of the product.

Statute of Limitations – The time limit in which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit or loss all rights to bring the action after that date runs.

Summary Judgment –  Usually one party files for summary judgment when it appears there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment in as a matter of law.

Summons – A legal document prepared by the plaintiff and issued by a court that provides legal notice to the person being sued.

Testimony – Oral evidence given by witness under oath during a deposition or trial.

Tort –Negligent or wrongful conduct by one person legally caused by another for which damages may be recovered.

Witness – A person who testifies under oath during legal proceeding.

Workers’ Compensation – System of compensation for an injury obtained in the scope of one’s employment.

Wrongful death – A wrongful death is a death that has been caused by the negligence or reckless act of another person.


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