Personal Injury Legal Glossary

Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms


Affidavit: A written statement under oath.

Agreement: Mutual assent between two or more parties; normally leads to a contract; may be verbal or written.

Answer: Pleading filed by the defendant that responds to a complaint, petition, or motion.

Appeal: A request to the higher court for review of the lower court’s decision and to request a reversal of the judgment.

Arbitration: The procedure by which a dispute may be resolved by a person who is not a judge. Arbitration is often used to limit legal costs to both parties.

Arbitrator: A person who conducts an arbitration.

Assumption of Risk: A doctrine that states if the plaintiff has knowingly accepted the danger of doing something, recovery from the defendant in an action brought for negligence will be barred.

Bench Trial: A trial without a jury. The judge rules on facts and evidence presented to him.

Burden of Proof: The obligation of one party in a suit to prove all the requirements necessary to show entitlement to recovery. If the burden is not met, the party with the burden will lose the issue or the case.

Casualty: A loss of property due to fire, storm shipwreck or other casualty, which is allowable as a deduction in computing taxable income.

Cause of Action: The plaintiff’s legal claim against the defendant. There is often more than one cause of action in a lawsuit.

Civil Law: That part of the law which governs relationships between people where there is no criminal activity involved.

Co-defendant: A defendant joined together with one or more other defendants in the same case.

Common Law: Body of law that has grown based on the decisions of courts long ago. It originated in England and has since passed to the United States. It is always changing to reflect the current needs society.

Comparative Negligence: A defense to negligence used when it is believed that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to his or her injuries. Based on the amount of negligence by each party, the amount of damages is adjusted accordingly.

Complaint: A pretrial document filed in a court by one party against another that states a grievance, called a “cause of action.”

Contingency Fee Agreement: An agreement between an attorney and their client, which allows the attorney to be paid only if the client prevails in a lawsuit and collects monetary damages. The lawyer then receives a percentage of the damages, generally 1/3 of the award.

Contributory Negligence: A defense to negligence, which points out that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to his or her injuries.

Counterclaim: A demand by the defendant against the plaintiff asserting an independent cause of action in the same lawsuit.

Cross Examination: Questioning the witness who has been presented by the opposition at trail or a deposition.

Damages: The sum of money awarded to the injured party in a personal injury lawsuit.

Default Judgement: A judgment issued when the defendant offers no defense by not responding to the complaint as required by law. A default judgment normally grants the relief that is requested in the Complaint.

Defendant: The person against whom a claim is brought.

Deposition: A pretrial discovery device in which one party verbally answers questions from the other party, under oath, and in the presence of a court reporter.

Deponent: The person who testifies at a deposition.

Discovery: Methods and procedures by which information is made available to each party prior to trial. Discovery may include depositions, interrogations, requests for production of documents, and demands for independent medical examinations.

Docket: A summary system kept by the clerk’s office which contains a record of all pleadings, court orders and other important activities in a case.

Emotional Distress: Mental anguish.

Equitable Remedies: Remedies that do not include monetary settlements. Examples include injunctions and restraining orders.

Evidence: The body of law concerning the manner of presentation of information to a judge or jury in a trial.

Exhibit: Any piece of physical evidence or document used at a trial.

Expert: A witness who may give an opinion in court based on the particular competence and expertise of that witness.

Final Judgment: The written ruling on a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial. This completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court. Also called a final decree or final decision.

Fraud: Occurs when intentional false statements are made to entice a victim to give up something of value.

Garnishment: A proceeding whereby a debtor’s money, or other property, which is under the control of another is given to a third person to whom the debtor owes a debt.

Gross Negligence: Failure to use even the slightest amount of care in a way that shows recklessness or willful disregard for the safety of others.

Hearing: A proceeding usually without a jury.

Impeach: Attacking the credibility of a witness.

Injunction: A court order requiring a person to do, or to refrain from doing, a particular thing.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Intentionally causing severe emotional distress by extreme or outrageous conduct.

Interrogatories: A written set of questions sent from one party to the other during the discovery process.

Impaneling: Selecting a jury from the list of potential jurors.

Judgment: A court’s decision.

Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (n.o.v.): An order by the trial judge entering a judgment in a manner contradictory to the jury’s verdict. This is granted only when the verdict is unreasonable and unsupportable.

Jurisdiction: The power of a court to act in particular case.

Jury: The panel of people who decide the facts in a lawsuit.

Libel: A libel case consists of published material with the following criteria: (1) The material is defamatory; (2) the written statements are about someone who is identifiable and living; (3) the material is distributed to someone other than the victim. A key in a libel case is that the victim’s reputation must suffer as a result of these written words in order for the action to be actionable.

Loss of Consortium: Damages awarded to a family member (usually a spouse) for loss of companionship.

Mental Anguish: Mental suffering. In some cases, damages may be awarded for mental anguish even though no physical injury is present.

Motion: An application to the court requesting an order or rule in favor of the applicant.

Negligence: Failure to exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring others or their property. Negligence includes both actions and failure to act.

Nuisance: An unreasonable or unlawful use of one’s real estate that results in injures to another or interferes with another person’s use of his real property.

Occupational Disease: An illness resulting from long-term employment in a particular type of work, such as those employees exposed to asbestos, who later develop cancer.

Opinion: An explanation written by the judge explaining his decision.

Ordinance: A law passed by a local or municipal government.

Original Jurisdiction: The first court to which a legal dispute is referred.

Overrule: In a trial, to overrule means to reject an objection.

Peremptory Challenge: A challenge to a particular juror that requires no reason. Normally an attorney has a limited number of these challenges.

Personal Property: Defined by the law as “things movable.” This is distinguished from the term “real property,” which includes things such as trees, buildings and land.

Petition: A formal request that the court take some action; a complaint.

Plaintiff: The party bringing the case against another.

Pleading: The process of making formal, written statements by the litigants. All papers filed with the court are collectively referred to as “pleadings.”

Precedent: The value that a completed case has on deciding future cases.

Process Serving: The method by which a defendant in a lawsuit is notified that a plaintiff has filed a suit against him.

Product Liability: A type of strict liability in which the manufacturer or seller is strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products.

Pro Se: On one’s own behalf; not using an attorney.

Punitive Damages: Damages given for the purpose of punishing the defendant and to prevent similar conduct by others.

Reasonable Care: The standard of care in negligence cases; the duty to act reasonably so as to avoid harming others. Reasonable care is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under the same or similar circumstances.

Remand: The decision of an appellate court to send a case back to the trial court with instructions on how to correctly decide the case; often used with the term “reversed.” Reversed means that the appellate court overturned the trial court’s decision.

Remedies: Relief that the plaintiff receives from the defendant in a lawsuit. Often this will include monetary damages or equitable relief (i.e. injunctions).

Service of Process: Providing a formal notice to the defendant that orders him to appear in court to answer plaintiff’s allegations.

Statue of Limitations: The time period within which a plaintiff must file his action against the defendant. This time frame varies by state. In Ohio, the statute of limitations for negligence is two years from the date of the injury.

Strict Liability: The defendant is liable to the plaintiff regardless of fault.

Subpoena: A document issued by the court or an attorney that requires someone to appear in court or to appear for a deposition. A Subpoena Duces Tecum requires the production of a document or thing.

Third Party Litigation: When a lawsuit is brought against a defendant and that defendant wants to add another party to the suit, the original defendant may file a “third party complaint” which results in a third party litigation or lawsuit.

Tort: A civil wrong; a wrongful injury to a person or a person’s property. There are three types of torts: intentional, negligence and strict liability. A tort can be the result of negligence, or purposeful conduct.

Venue: The place of a trial.

Verdict: The decision of the case reached by the judge or jury.

Vicarious Liability: The liability of one person for the torts of another.

Witness: One who testifies at a trial or a deposition.

Wrongful Death Statutes: Laws giving the family members of a deceased a cause of action if the death of their loved one resulted because of another’s negligence.