LawCash Legal Dictionary
If you have suffered a personal injury and are involved in a lawsuit, the legalese may be daunting and confusing, but don’t be scared! We created the LawCash Legal Dictionary to help you tackle all the legal terms that might be confusing. If you are involved in a lawsuit, you need to understand the legal terms involved so that you know what is going on in your case. We have translated legalese into brief understandable explanations to make your life easier and help you focus on recovery.
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- Accident Report – A formal, detailed recording of an incident or event documented at the scene of the incident or shortly thereafter by an authority figure such as a police officer, manager, or hospital staff member.
- Act of God – An accident or event resulting from natural causes, without human intervention or assistance; an act which could not have been prevented by reasonable precaution or care, including for example, damage from floods, lightning, earthquake, or storms.
- Arbitration – The hearing and settlement of a legal dispute between the plaintiff and defendant, without a trial, jury, or court proceeding, by a neutral third-party arbitrator; can be binding or non-binding.
- Bad-Faith Insurance Claim – A lawsuit filed by an insured person against their insurance provider for unreasonably denying or delaying their claim, or for refusing to pay out a full insurance claim without cause.
- Burden of Proof – The obligation in legal proceedings to prove one’s claim is accurate and true; whoever has the burden of proof must show their claim to be factual. For example, in a personal injury car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show a driver was negligent and caused harm to the plaintiff as a result of this negligence.
- Causation – The act or process of causing something. In a personal injury negligence case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions, or inaction, caused the injury to the plaintiff.
- Claim Adjuster – The liaison between the insured and an insurance company when an insurance claim is filed. The claim adjuster is responsible for investigating and overseeing the claim on behalf of the insurance company, as well as approving medical and rehabilitation treatment plans. The claim adjuster works for the insurance company and will aim to serve the insurance company’s interests rather than those of the insured or the injured.
- Comparative Negligence – A standard of law applied in negligence cases in some states to determine responsibility and damages based on the percentage of negligence of every party directly involved in the injury. Thus, a plaintiff might recover 40% of damages resulting from a car accident if the person who caused the injury was deemed 60% responsible.
- Compensatory Damages – In a negligence case, a prevailing plaintiff will receive compensatory damages to compensate for the results of the injury, including economic losses, lost earnings, property damages, emotional pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc. Compensatory damages are intended to restore the injured to the state they were in before the injury.
- Complaint – The first pleading or document filed in court by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another party; the official document that starts a lawsuit; states the claim and theory of the case.
- Contingency Fee – In lawsuits where money is being claimed as damages, in lieu of other payment methods, a lawyer may agree to receive and a client may agree to pay a percentage of the case award, to be paid only if the case is won. The fee is contingent upon success; if the client does not prevail, the client owes no legal fees.
- Contributory Negligence – A doctrine of law which holds that if a person is injured in a car accident due to his/her own negligence (his/her negligence “contributed” to the accident), the injured party is not entitled to collect any damages (money). Under this rule, a badly injured person who was 1% negligent could not win in court against a 99% negligent defendant. The jurisdictions which still employ the Contributory Negligence Rule are Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.
- Damages – In personal injury lawsuits, monetary payments awarded to the plaintiff to compensate for loss or injury as a result of another’s negligence. These can be “actual” or “punitive”.
- Deductible – The amount of money the insured person must pay toward an insurance claim. Once the deductible has been reached, the insurance company will cover the remainder of the allowable costs.
- Deposition – Out-of-court question and answer session under oath; testimony given under oath, recorded in an authorized place outside of the courtroom and usually documented by a court reporter. The questions will be asked by the opposing attorney, with the party’s attorney present and able to object to improper questions; the purpose of a deposition is to have an official, sworn, written account for discovery purposes and to be used at trial if it occurs.
- Discovery – The legal process by which opposing parties obtain evidence from one another; in personal injury cases, discovery typically includes interviews, depositions, interrogatories (written questions), requests for documents and records, requests for plaintiff to receive a medical and/or neuropsychological exam, and requests for admissions.
- Distracted Driving – The practice of driving a motor vehicle while engaged in another activity, causing one to lose focus from the road and tasks of driving.
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI, also DWI) – The act of operating a moving vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, chemical substances, or controlled substances.
- Duty of Care – A requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would use.
- Exhaustion of Benefits – In the liability and health insurance contexts, the running out of assistance payable to the insured; all money allocated for a particular benefit has been depleted.
- Field Adjuster – Similar to a claims adjuster, the field adjuster does a majority of the outside-the-office work involved for an insurance company in a car accident claim, including: conducting face-to-face meetings with claimants, scene investigators, and/or damage inspectors, holding negotiations with the above parties, and inspecting the cause and outcome of an accident. Claims adjusters may also perform some of these duties , but their responsibility lies more specifically in getting the claim settled.
- Foreseeable Risk – A danger which a reasonable person should anticipate as the result from his/her actions. Defendants in negligence lawsuits commonly offer foreseeable risk as an affirmative defense; they argue that the injury and accident that arose wasn’t foreseeable to a reasonable person in their situations.
- General Damages – Considered non-economic damages; general damages are more difficult to quantify and include pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.
- Gross Negligence – Carelessness which displays reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety; for example, a caregiver failing to give food and water to an elderly person for a week.
- Hazard – Dangerous condition that increases the probability of damage or injury, such as a crack in a sidewalk, a spill in the aisle, a work truck operating without proper lighting, or inadequate lighting on steps in front of a business.
- HIPPA Act – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; a US law designed to provide privacy standards to protect patients’ medical records and other health information; requires patient’s or authorized person’s approval to gain access to medical information.
- Income Replacement Benefits (IRBs) – Money in place of the income one would usually make working; for example money received by a person injured in a car accident who can no longer work, typically paid by an insurance company.
- Independent Medical Examination(IME) – Medical opinion usually requested by the defendant/insurance company in a personal injury lawsuit; plaintiff is required by law to submit to this medical exam, performed by a physician approved by and paid by the defense. Sometimes called a Compulsory Medical Examination, as IME’s are viewed as biased rather than “independent.”
- Injury -In the legal context, actionable injury includes any harm done to a person by the acts or omissions of another person or entity. Injury may include physical hurt as well as damage to reputation or dignity, loss of a legal right or breach of contract.
- Letter of Protection – A letter sent by a personal injury lawyer to a healthcare professional that gives permission for an injured person to obtain medical care they otherwise cannot afford; on credit in exchange for a promise to pay for the services directly out of any settlement or judgment.
- Litigant – Someone who is engaged in a lawsuit; a term for either the defendant or the plaintiff. Does not include a witness or attorney, but does include a co-defendant or co-plaintiff.
- Litigation Funding – A third party pays some or all of the costs/expenses associated with a dispute, or simply provides funding to a party to be used for any purpose whatsoever, in return for a share of the proceeds of the dispute. If the litigation is not successful, the recipient of funding does not have to repay the advance. Litigation funding has two major contexts: consumer legal financing, commonly referred to as pre-settlement funding or plaintiff advances (to an individual), and commercial legal financing, of non-personal injury claims (usually to a business).
- Litigation Risk – The likelihood of winning a personal injury lawsuit in court (rather than settling out of court); all attorneys will assess in determining whether settlement is a good idea, and at what amount, the risk of bringing a case to trial, considering the strength of the parties’ positions and unpredictable factors such as a strict judge, poor witness presentation, a sudden surprise, or death of a witness.
- Loss – In the personal injury litigation context, the monetary value assigned to an injury or damage, including medical costs, pain and suffering, past and future income, future medical care, at-home assistance, and any harm resulting from the injury.
- Mental Pain and Suffering – Damages for emotional and physical pain, including but not limited to mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, fear, anger, humiliation, anxiety, and shock.
- Mitigation of Damages – The obligation upon a person who sues another for damages, to minimize – or mitigate – those damages, as far as reasonable. This concept rarely applies in personal injury cases, but would include failing to seek medical care promptly.
- Negligence – Failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would use in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not undertake. Negligence doesn’t require intent and differs from “intentional torts” such as assault and battery or trespass, and from many crimes; but the definition of a crime can embrace a negligent act, such as reckless driving.
- Negligence Per Se – Negligence due to the violation of a standard of care defined by a public statute, such as high speed driving. That is, negligence will be presumed by the mere fact that one has driven a certain speed on a given road.
- No-Fault – Slang term for a form of personal injury protection common in some states; a type of auto insurance coverage that provides benefits for medical expenses, loss of income, funeral expenses, and similar expenses arising from a car accident, without regard to fault or negligence; party does not need to prove who was at fault or negligence in order to receive benefits or damages after an accident.
- Non-Pecuniary Damages – Damages which are not readily quantified by or valued in money, such as compensation for pain and suffering or loss of consortium. Also known as special damages or emotional damages.
- Non-Recourse Funding – Funding advanced which the recipient does not have an absolute obligation to repay regardless of outcome; to be repaid only through the attached collateral or in the case of lawsuit funding, the lawsuit proceeds. Litigation funding provided to plaintiffs is non-recourse funding.
- Notice to Insurer – Written notice to the insurance company about an incident upon which a claim is to be based. The policyholder must provide timely notice in order to receive coverage.
- Out-of-Court Settlement – An agreement reached between the plaintiff and defendant in a lawsuit to settle and release all claims; an out-of-court settlement will typically be struck between the two parties’ lawyers before a trial takes place. This can be achieved during mediation at arbitration, or famously “on the courthouse steps.”
- Out-of-Pocket Expenses – In the personal injury lawsuit context, money spent out of the injured party’s own funds on costs related to their injuries, which may include: travel, medications, assistive devices; anything the injured person has to pay as a result of the injury.
- Pain and Suffering – The legal term that refers in the personal injury lawsuit context to physical and emotional stress and loss caused by an injury.
- Pecuniary Damages – In personal injury lawsuits, money or economic damages.
- Personal Injury – In personal injury lawsuits, the injury to the natural body of a person caused by the acts or failure to act by another.
- Post-Settlement Funding – Lawsuit funding provided after the parties reach a settlement, but before payment is received; there can be a gap of months or years before payment occurs.
- Prayer for Relief – Request addressed to a court by the plaintiff for specific remedies or damages to be paid if the lawsuit claims succeed.
- Precedent -In the legal context, precedent is a principle or rule established in a prior published legal case, which is binding or persuasive in determining the outcome of or reasoning in a subsequent case raising similar issues or facts. Precedent from a higher court in the same jurisdiction and from the U.S. Supreme Court carries the most weight.
- Pre-Settlement Funding – In the personal injury context, providing financial assistance to an injured plaintiff while a lawsuit is ongoing; can be used for any purpose and is paid back only if the injured plaintiff prevails. Individuals use pre-settlement funding to avoid “low-ball” settlements offered by better-capitalized defendants and insurance companies.
- Product Liability – The legal accountability of a merchant, business, or manufacturer for the bodily injury or property damage caused by a defect in their product.
- Prognosis – Usually provided by a physician; the anticipated chance of recovery from and likely course of events after an injury, based upon the symptoms and nature of the particular case; educated prediction of how a person will fare when facing a medical condition, injury, or disease.
- Punitive Damages – Damages intended to “punish” the defendant’s behavior and to prevent the defendant and others from repeating such actions. In the personal injury context, punitive damages are typically awarded when the judge or jury views compensatory damages as an inadequate amount of compensation in light of the defendant’s wanton or reckless acts, or careless disregard of another.
- Quality of Life – In personal injury claims, the jury or judge may award “special” or “emotional” damages which take into account non-monetary injury and loss, including diminishment of and changes in the quality of life of the person injured. The term is somewhat nebulous and includes virtually all aspects of the existence a person was living prior to the injury and could reasonably expect to continue to enjoy given their age, history, habits, and relationships.
- Reasonable Care – The duty owed by a healthcare professional or provider to a patient; care which would be considered adequate by a fair and sensible person.
- Rehabilitation Benefits – Treatments and programs offered by health insurance to help an injured person recover from or eliminate the effects of an injury; aim to restore the life of the injured to its pre-injury state, or as close as possible.
- Rolling Contracts – In the litigation funding context, contracts which allow plaintiffs to draw on funds as they are needed, rather than in one lump sum payment. Taking out smaller amounts of money over time results in less money advanced and lower fees, and encourages responsible spending.
- Special Damages – Out-of-pocket and quantifiable damages; also known as “economic damages.” In the personal injury context, includes medical costs, lost wages, property damage, transportation costs, etc.
- Subpoena – A command, issued by the court, to an individual to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony for a case. Documents can also be subpoenaed during the discovery portion of a lawsuit.
- Third-Party Claims -In a personal injury case, liability claims brought by the injured person against or payable by someone other than the person who caused the injury, such as the insurance company for the driver who caused or drove a car involved in an accident. The claim against the third-party insurance company is known as a third-party claim.
- Tort – From French for “wrong,” a civil wrong or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, in which injury occurs to another and which gives rise to legal liability. Torts include all negligence cases as well as intentional wrongs such as false imprisonment.
- Workers’ Compensation – The system by which employers provide state-required no-fault benefits to employees—or employees’ families—suffering from a job-related injury resulting from an accident or illness which happened or developed in the workplace.
- Wrongful Death – A tort involving the death of a human being as the result of a negligent or intentional act of another person. The definition of wrongful death varies from state to state but generally includes assault and battery, traffic accidents, and medical malpractice.
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