Personal Injury Terms

Accident report: A formal account of an event, including legal and medical records. Often drafted by a police officer or hospital staff member.

Act of God: Incident resulting from a natural cause, such as a flood, lightning, earthquake, etc., which could not have been prevented by human intervention.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Methods used to resolve disputes without litigation, such as meditation or arbitration.

Appeal: A petition to a higher court to reverse a decision made by a lower court.

Arbitration: A form or alternative dispute resolution in which a third party (the arbitrator) negotiates and settles the disagreement between plaintiff and defendant. The arbitrator’s decision is final and binding.

Assumption of risk: Voluntarily acting in a situation with an awareness of the risks. Often used by a defendant to avoid being held liable, claiming the plaintiff was aware of the dangers of an act and proceeded anyway, absolving the defendant of liability. See liability.

Bad faith claim: Usually filed against an insurance company in personal injury cases, this claim asserts the defendant unjustly denied, delayed, or failed to fully pay out an insurance claim to the plaintiff.

Burden of proof: In personal injury, the plaintiff’s obligation to prove his/her claim is accurate, factual, and legal.

Case evaluation: A process in which parties in a lawsuit present their case to a third party for evaluation, to determine the likely settlement amount for the claim. This is not a judgement, but rather gauges the probable verdict to help the parties shape their case.

Causation: The sequence of events that led to an incident. For personal injury, this means proving an injury was directly caused by the defendant’s action or inaction.

Claim: A statement asserting one party owes another compensation, such as for an injury resulting from one party’s negligence.

Comparative fault: A rule that assigns fault to both parties in relation to their role in an incident. For instance, a jury may rule that one party is 25% at fault and the other is 75% at fault. Damages are then shared based on that ruling.

Compensation: Something given to one party to compensate for a loss caused by the other party. Typically, this is monetary compensation in personal injury cases.

Concussion: A traumatic brain injury (TBI) in which the brain is rattled or jolted within the skull as a result of a blow to the head, collision, sudden violent motion, or slip-and-fall.

Contusion: Medical term for a bruise.

Contingency fee: Payment given to an attorney only if a case is resolved successfully — it is contingent on the settlement being won.

Damages: Monetary compensation awarded to a plaintiff following a lawsuit. Compensatory damages pay for costs, fees, care, lost income, and other incurred losses. Punitive/exemplary damages are additional compensation for the plaintiff that punish the defendant monetarily.

Defendant: The person defending against a suit filed against them.

Deposition: An out-of-court Q&A that is still under oath and counts as legally-binding testimony.

Disclosure: The divulging to the opposing party of all knowledge, data, documents, and other information relevant to the case. This ensures everyone is operating with the same information and maintains fairness during the discovery period. See Discovery.

Discovery: Process in which parties exchange information and evidence with each other prior to trial. This evidence includes testimonies, depositions, and relevant documents.

Duty of care: The expectation that a person behave reasonably toward others to avoid preventable injury. A breach of this duty of care is considered negligence. See also fault.

Expert witness: A specialist testifying in a case on their area of expertise. For instance, a medical expert can testify regarding a plaintiff’s injuries.

Fault: Breach of duty of care; the failure to act reasonably to prevent injury or damage, either by intention or oversight.

Good faith: Acting with the honest intention to fulfill a promise, contract, or expectation to the best of that person’s ability.

HIPPA Act: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of patients’ medical records.

Independent medical examination: Also called a second opinion, this is usually requested by the defendant to verify a plaintiff’s claims.

Interrogatories: A list of questions prepared by one party for the other to answer during discovery. These questions must be answered and returned within the specified time limit and are answered under oath.

Judgement: The final verdict in a court case, including the amount of damages awarded. A judgement resolves a lawsuit, unless the verdict is appealed.

Joint and several liability: When two or more parties are held liable for an act, each party can be pursued for the full amount of the damages. For example, if three parties are deemed liable, the plaintiff can choose to only go after the first party for the full amount. However, that first party can turn to the other two to help cover the compensation or be forced to pay the amount in full.

Known loss rule: A rule prohibiting someone from seeking insurance coverage on something that is already damaged or lost. For instance, this prevents a driver from seeking compensation for a loss that occurred before the car was insured.

Liability: Legal responsibility for one’s actions. In personal injury, liability results from breach of duty of care and/or negligence.

Litigation: The act of filing a lawsuit to resolve a dispute.

Loss: The legal monetary value assigned to items damaged or lost, injuries sustained, expenses or fees incurred, and pain and suffering, all as a result of someone else’s action or inaction.

Malpractice: An act when a professional does not meet a standard of care or duty, resulting in injury or damage. Malpractice can occur in medicine, law, dentistry, and accounting.

Mediation: A form of alternative dispute resolution in which a third party (the mediator) meets with the defendant and plaintiff in a lawsuit to reach a settlement.

Motion: A formal request to the court that a judge take a certain action.

Negligence: The failure to act with the expected level of care or duty. Negligence includes both action and inaction that results in injury, damage, or loss to someone else. When an individual does not behave like a reasonable person would under similar circumstances, or fails to prevent a foreseeable incident, that person is negligent.

Negotiation: An effort to reach a mutual agreement between two parties through discussion and settlement.

Notice to insurer: A written notice about an incident sent to an insurance company to start a claim.

Out-of-court settlement: An agreement reached by the plaintiff and defendant without going to court and receiving the verdict of a judge/jury.

Parties: Those involved in a lawsuit. This could be individuals, businesses, or other entities.

Pecuniary damages: Past and future income lost due to injury or death.

Plaintiff: The person who is filing a suit against the defendant.

Pleading: Any formal document filed with the court, containing claims or defenses.

Post-concussion syndrome: A disorder characterized by symptoms occurring weeks or months after a concussion, causing dizziness, headaches, fatigue, anxiety, sleep issues, sound and light sensitivity, vision and hearing problems, and decreased concentration and memory.

Precedent: A ruling in a previous case that provides a basis for future rulings.

Premises liability: The law requiring property owners to uphold a reasonable level of care in maintaining a premises so it remains safe. They are liable for instances of negligence or oversight in maintaining their property for others.

Product liability: The law holding manufacturers, sellers, and businesses responsible for the quality of their products. They are liable when the products cause damage or injury due to defects or hazardous materials.

Proximate cause: When an action or inaction can be reasonably assumed to have directly contributed to an injury or damage; the injury or damage would not have occurred without this cause.

Settlement: A resolution between the parties in a lawsuit that occurs before the case is resolved in court.

Slip and fall: A kind of personal injury claim in which an individual slips and falls on someone else’s property and is injured. Causes can include poor site maintenance, ice, and lack of signage. See also premises liability.

Standard of care: The reasonable expected level of care a person should provide in a situation. For instance, in a medical situation, the standard of care is the treatment a doctor should be reasonably expected to provide to a patient for an ailment.

Statute of limitations: The period of time in which a lawsuit can be filed.

Strict liability: A broader understanding of liability that holds a defendant liable even without proof of negligence. This allows a plaintiff to receive damages without necessarily proving the defendant’s fault. Often applied to product liability with regard to defective products.

Subpoena: A court-issued summons ordering a party to give testimony at a certain time and place, such as before a judge.

Tort: A non-criminal action or inaction that results in injury or damage to someone else, for which the perpetrator is held legally liable. The most common kind of civil litigation. Encompasses all forms of personal injury.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI): An injury to the brain caused by an external force that disrupts the brain’s normal function. Caused by a blow to the head, a jarring or jolting motion, penetrating heady injury, or any violent action that causes the brain to move in the skull. Includes concussions, penetration injuries, shaken baby syndrome, diffuse axonal injuries, and coup-countrecoup.

Verdict: The final, formal decision made by a judge or jury in a case.

Worker’s compensation: The state-mandated system providing benefits to workers who sustain job-related injuries.

Wrongful death: A lawsuit filed when a defendant’s negligence resulted in the death of another person. Plaintiffs are typically family members of the deceased. Compensation includes money for medical expenses, lost income, and funeral costs.