Help! I Can’t Understand My Personal Injury Lawyer


Personal Injury Lawyers

Your PI attorney should speak in terms you understand, but sometimes lawyers fall into bad habits. Use this glossary to decode the messages.

Legalese Glossary for PI Clients

Arbitration: A method of alternative dispute resolution where the issues are decided by third parties appointed by the parties of the case.

Class-Action Lawsuit: A lawsuit in which the court authorizes one person or a small group of people to represent the interests of other people experiencing the same personal injury claim.

Comparative Negligence: A plaintiff’s own negligence, which in some states, can proportionally reduce the damages the plaintiff may recover from the defendant.

Complaint: The initial document (pleading) that begins a lawsuit.

Contingency Fee: A fee agreement in which the client does not pay an attorney unless the lawsuit is successful. If successful the client pays the attorney a percentage of the settlement.

Contributory Negligence: A plaintiff’s own negligence, which in some states, is so severe that the plaintiff cannot recover damages from the defendant.

Damages: A sum of money defendant may have to pay plaintiff to compensate a person for loss or injury.

Defendant: The party being sued.

Deposition: Out-of-court testimony given by witnesses under oath. That testimony is usually recorded and put into a written document, which can be presented at court.

Duty: A legal obligation that is owed to another and needs to be satisfied.

Expert Witness: A witness qualified by education, skill, knowledge, or experience in a particular subject to provide a scientific, technical, or other specialized opinions about evidence or facts.

Lawsuit: A formal proceeding where one party asks another party to compensation or a particular action.

Liability: Being legally obligated or accountable to another person. Liability in personal injury case means that the at-fault party must make compensation to the injured party.

Mediation: A form of alternative dispute resolution where a third-party mediator attempts to help the parties come to an agreement.

Negligence: Failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in the same situation.

Party: A person involved in a lawsuit as either plaintiff or defendant.

Personal Injury Claim: In legal terms, a claim is the assertion of an existing right to be paid or to be granted a remedy. A personal injury claim, claims that someone has been injured, that someone else is at fault for the injury, and that the at-fault party should compensate the injured parties for his or her losses and injuries.

Plaintiff: The person who initiates (files) a lawsuit.

Preponderance of the Evidence: This is the standard of proof used in most civil claims. It means more likely than not. Compare this standard of proof to the standard of proof used in criminal trials: beyond a reasonable doubt. A preponderance of the evidence is a lower standard of proof. That is why a football star accused of killing his wife can be exonerated in criminal court, but can still be held liable for wrongful death in a civil proceeding.

Settlement: An agreement ending a dispute or a lawsuit. In personal injury cases, this usually means that the defendant has agreed to pay the plaintiff an award of money; the plaintiff has agreed to stop litigation against the defendant.

Statute of Limitations: A law that bars plaintiffs from making certain types of claims after a specified period of time.

Strict Liability: Liability that does not depend on negligence or actual intent to harm. For example, a pet owner is strictly liable for injuries caused when his or her pet bites another person. The plaintiff does not have to show that the defendant was negligent.

Summary Judgment: A procedure where the parties or the judge determine there are no issues of fact that need to be decided by a jury, and the judge can grant relief to the parties without going through an entire trial.

Tort: A civil wrong you can sue for relief or damages over that is not a breach of contract.

Tortfeasor: A person who commits a tort.

Verdict: In personal injury actions, a verdict is a jury’s finding of fault regarding the facts of the case. If there is no jury, a verdict can apply to a judge’s decision.

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