When you file a personal injury claim, you may encounter a number of unfamiliar terms. Although you can always ask your attorney for clarification, this glossary may help you become more familiar with the process of resolving your claim.
Commonly Used Terms in Personal Injury Cases
Adjudicate: To resolve a legal case, including a personal injury claim.
Ad litem: A Latin term that means the court appointment of one party to act in a lawsuit on behalf of another party. A guardian ad litem is necessary in cases involving injured children or dependent adults.
Assumption of risk: When a person freely proceeds with conduct despite knowing it carries a risk of danger and is thus not able to seek monetary damages for injuries that result.
Bodily injury: Damage to the body, ranging from minor cuts requiring a few stitches to broken bones, burns, nerve damage, or brain injury.
Burden of proof: The obligation to prove a claim is factually accurate. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff (injured person filing the claim) has the burden of proof to show the defendant (person causing the injury) was negligent.
Civil court: Place where non-criminal disputes such as personal injury claims are resolved.
Comparative fault: When the plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident that caused his injuries, comparative fault rules require the settlement to be proportionally reduced by his assigned percentage of fault.
Compensatory damages: Monetary awards intended to offset the plaintiff's actual losses. In a personal injury claim, compensatory damages include medical expenses, as well as lost income and applicable property damage.
Contingency fee: Personal injury attorneys typically use a contingency fee arrangement, which means they accept a percentage of the final settlement as a fee for legal representation. This lets you retain a skilled attorney with no upfront expense.
Expert witness: Someone allowed to testify because of education, training, and experience related to a topic. For example, personal injury expert witnesses can testify about the plaintiff's injuries, future medical needs, or lost earning potential.
Litigation: The process of filing a claim and taking legal action.
Loss of consortium: Monetary damages awarded to the family member (usually a spouse) when a person has died or suffered severely disabling injuries that result in a loss of care and companionship.
Negligence: Conduct that is considered to fall below the legal standard for acceptable care to prevent unreasonable risk of harm to others, such as speeding down a busy highway or failing to fix dangerous tripping hazards in a business.
Parties: Term used to refer to either the plaintiff (person initiating the lawsuit) or the defendant (person or business entity being sued for damages).
Premises liability: The legally responsible property owners or occupants have to compensate people who are injured due to hazardous conditions.
Products liability: A portion of civil law that says manufacturers, retailers, and others who make a defective product available to the public are responsible for injuries that result. For example, a product liability case may involve a personal injury claim if a car accident was caused by defective auto parts.
Punitive damages: Monetary awards intended solely to punish the defendant for particularly negligent or malicious conduct. Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury cases.
Res ipsa loquitur: A Latin term meaning "the thing speaks for itself." In a personal injury claim, res ipsa loquitur allows attorneys to present circumstantial evidence when the accident that resulted in your injury would not normally occur unless someone was negligent.
Settlement: An agreement between both parties in a lawsuit that resolves the claim without having to go to court. Personal injury cases are settled out of court about 95% of the time.
Statute of limitations: Length of time a plaintiff has to take legal action, which varies according to the state and type of case. For personal injury cases in Louisiana, the statute of limitations is one year unless your case falls under a listed exception to the statute of limitations.
Subpoena: A legal document from the court ordering a witness to testify or provide evidence.
Subrogation: Subrogation refers to the right of your health or car insurance company to be reimbursed for expenses they've already paid on your behalf from the settlement funds you receive in a personal injury claim.
Verdict: A decision reached by the judge or jury on a case if the issue can't be resolved before going to court.
Wrongful death action: A type of personal injury claim, filed against an individual or company, seeking damages for the death of a person due to negligent or wrongful behavior. Wrongful death claims can only be filed by certain surviving family members of the deceased.
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