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.
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.
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.