You may pursue a personal injury case if you’ve suffered injury or lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. A glossary of personal injury terms may help you anticipate the process ahead. As you pursue your case, this glossary may also help you navigate the concepts and terminology you encounter.
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Glossary of personal injury terms
Some common personal injury terms include:
Accident report: A report, generally issued by a law enforcement agency, documenting an event such as a traffic accident. Accident reports may also exist for medical errors, work-related injuries, and other events that lead to a personal injury case.
Ad litem: A legal term commonly used in cases involving child victims. A guardian “ad litem” is a court-appointed party who represents a minor during legal proceedings.
Arbitration: Arbitration is one possible resolution to a civil case. When two parties don’t agree to a settlement and prefer not to go to trial, they may undergo arbitration. In these cases, an independent arbitrator issues a binding resolution to the case.
Attorney: Another term for a lawyer. An attorney receives a law degree and generally practices in a specific legal field – like personal injury law.
Bad faith: Bad faith refers to one’s intent to deceive or act dishonestly. Insurance companies are one party that may act in bad faith.
Burden of proof: The requirement that someone must prove something in order to achieve a certain outcome. In personal injury cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that they’ve suffered harm because of the defendant’s negligence.
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Case evaluation: Sometimes synonymous with consultation, a case evaluation occurs when a law firm reviews your case. Personal injury firms may conduct these evaluations for free and handle a case following the evaluation.
Civil code: The set of laws governing civil cases, including personal injury cases. Civil codes vary from state to state.
Civil rights: The fundamental rights granted to American citizens. A violation of civil rights may prompt someone to bring a personal injury claim. Citizens also have rights specific to personal injury claims, such as the right to hire an attorney.
(Personal injury) Claim: A claim is a civil legal action through which a plaintiff seeks compensation from a defendant. It is a formal allegation that a liable party has caused damages and that the plaintiff intends to seek compensation. The American Bar Association (ABA) provides greater detail about personal injury claims.
Class action: A type of claim in which a single plaintiff or small group of plaintiffs represents a larger group.
Comparative negligence: A rule that allows someone to seek compensation even if they’re partially at fault for a harmful incident. The term “comparative fault” is often used in relation to comparative negligence.
Compensation: Otherwise known as “awards,” compensation is the goal of most personal injury claims. The amount of compensation a plaintiff receives typically corresponds to their damages.
Consultation: A meeting between a potential plaintiff and a law firm. This is generally the first step in any personal injury lawsuit. Consultations are often free and conducted over the phone.
Contingency fee: The fee structure many personal injury law firms employ. They only collect their payment if they secure compensation for their client.
Damages: The amount of money awarded in a personal injury case. “Damages” is sometimes used in place of “losses” to refer to harm a plaintiff has suffered.
Duty of care: Someone’s legal responsibility to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.
Expert witness: An expert in their field, sometimes relied upon by personal injury attorneys to strengthen a client’s case.
Judgment: A decision issued by a jury in a personal injury case.
Liability: The responsibility of one party for another party’s damages. If a defendant is “liable” in a personal injury case, then they must generally pay damages to a plaintiff.
Loss of consortium: A group of losses common in wrongful death cases. This may include loss of companionship, loss of a parent, and other damages.
Medical malpractice: When a medical professional commits negligence, causing harm as a result.
Negligence: An unreasonable action or failure to act that results in harm to another party. Negligence is generally the standard for liability in personal injury cases.
Plaintiff: The person in a personal injury case who is seeking compensation. A plaintiff alleges that the defendant has caused harm and is liable for the resulting damages.
Settlement: An agreement between a plaintiff and defendant to resolve a case. A settlement can occur when each party agrees on a specific amount of compensation for the plaintiff.
Tort: A wrongful act that violates someone’s rights. Torts are generally the basis for personal injury claims.
Trial: A proceeding through which a jury rules on a personal injury case. This is an alternative resolution to a settlement.
Vicarious liability: The legal standard by which someone is responsible for another person’s actions. This standard applies when an employer is liable for an employee’s negligence.
Wrongful death: The outcome when negligence causes fatal injury or illness. Wrongful death cases are a specific type of legal action.