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Glossary of Personal Injury Terms: Best of Philadelphia

If you are involved in injury litigation, you may find there are terms that are difficult to understand.  The list that follows should help.  Feel free to contact me at 610 642 7676 if you need more help.



agency. A legal principal supporting liability against one party for actions taken by another.

answer. The legal document filed by the defendant that responds to the Complaint.

arbitration. A relatively informal means for resolving a dispute. Arbitration is generally much less expensive and time consuming than a jury trial.

assault. A violent physical or verbal attack.

assumption of risk. The defense that a plaintiff should not be allowed to collect from a defendant after engaging in an activity that he or she knew to be dangerous, but voluntarily engaged in that activity anyway.


battery. The causing of harm to someone through impermissible contact.

burden of proof. The standard of proof that the plaintiff must sustain in order to make a case and defeat a motion for judgment.


causation. The connection that shows that the other party’s act was a substantial factor in producing the harm.

challenge for cause. Disqualifying a juror because of perceived prejudice concerning matters relevant at trial.

closing argument. Final address made by each side summing up the evidence and events of the trial in the light most favorable to that side.

comparative negligence. The percentage of negligence attributable to the injured party. (It reduces the amount recoverable from the defendant by the same percentage.)

compensatory damages. Compensation for all proven injury or loss, such as medical bills, lost earnings, or automobile property damage.

complaint. A legal pleading that starts a lawsuit, which states the nature of the plaintiff’s claim, the request for damages, and the basis for the court to hear the case.

contingent fee. The amount an attorney charges for handling a personal injury case. It is calculated as a percentage of whatever the client is awarded.

costs. Money expended in the pursuit of a lawsuit. It includes the cost of obtaining medical records, filing the lawsuit and any motions, investigating the accident, obtaining expert testimony, taking depositions, procuring the attendance of witnesses, etc.

cross-examination. The questioning of a client by the adverse attorney. All witnesses are subject to both direct and cross-examination.


damages. The sum of money that an injured party claims the other party owes for all losses, expenses, and harm to property or persons.

defamation. The harming of a person’s reputation by making a false statement to another person, either in writing or orally.

defendant. The party against whom the plaintiff takes legal action.

deliberations. The time during a jury trial when the jury leaves the courtroom to weigh and analyze the facts in the case, in order to ultimately reach a verdict.

demand letter. A correspondence in which an injured party explains its side of a legal dispute and requests a sum of money to settle the case.

deposition. The out-of-court procedure at which the attorney has the opportunity to question the opposing party or any other potential witness under oath.

direct examination. The questioning of a client by one’s own attorney. All witnesses are subject to both direct and cross-examination.

discovery. The stage of the lawsuit in which each side obtains answers to interrogatories, responses to request for production of documents, and depositions. It is the process by which each side learns of the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s case.

discovery motion. A motion through which one party attempts to obtain the court’s assistance in forcing the other party to produce information about the case .


emotional distress. The mental reaction (anguish, grief, fright) to another person’s actions. It may only be recoverable as damages when it is accompanied by physical manifestations (such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness).

excessive damages. An unreasonable or outrageous award of money by a jury that is subject to reduction by the court.

expert witnesses. Those witnesses whose special expertise is required regarding a matter of relevance to the trial. Doctors, engineers, accident reconstructionists, statisticians, economists, vocational specialists, nurses, etc.., are all examples of expert witnesses.


fact witnesses. Those witnesses who will testify concerning the facts of the accident.

fee agreement. A contract between an attorney and client that spells out the terms of the legal representation.

future damages. The money awarded for additional medical treatment, future pain and suffering, or loss of earning capacity.


general release. A legal writing setting forth the terms of the settlement. It prevents the plaintiff from seeking further legal redress.


hearsay. Generally inadmissible as evidence in court, it is the statement a witness makes about what he or she heard another person say.


inadequate damages. A jury award that does not fairly compensate the plaintiff for the injuries and losses proved. The court’s remedy may be to award a new trial.

independent medical examination (IME). A term used by the insurance industry for medical examinations conducted by doctors paid by the insurance company to examine the plaintiff. (IME’s are performed strictly for litigation purposes.)

insurance adjuster. The insurance employee who handles some or all aspects of the investigation, negotiations, and settlement of the claim.

insurance board. The supervisors of the insurance business conducted in a state.

intentional injury. The harm inflicted as the result of intentional conduct, as opposed to negligent conduct. (An example are the injuries suffered in an assault and battery incident.)

interrogatories. The written questions that one party submits to the other party during litigation in order to gather factual information relevant to the case.

invitee. A person who has an expressed or implied right to be on the premises, such as a business associate or a restaurant patron. The owner of the premises has a duty to inspect the premises and to warn the invitee if there are any dangerous conditions.


joinder. A legal process by which two separate lawsuits are joined together into one litigation.

jurisdiction. The legal authority of a court to preside over a case.


liability. A legal responsibility to another.

libel. A defamatory statement expressed in a fixed medium, such as a writing, art, or the Internet.

licensee. One who has an express right to be on the premises, but is not there for the owner’s benefit, such as a social guest. An owner has a duty to warn the licensee about dangerous conditions, if they are known to the owner.

litigation. All of the strategies and communications involving the prosecution or defense of a legal claim.

loss of consortium. The loss of the affection, sexual relations, aid, services, and companionship that one spouse is entitled to from the other spouse.

loss of future earning capacity. The loss of the ability to earn future wages as the result of an accident.

lost wages. The money that an injured party is awarded for the time he or she lost from employment due to the injury .


mediation. An alternative to court involving a neutral third party who assists the parties in settling the case.

motion. A legal document that requests that the court issue an order pertaining to the case.

motion for judgment. A motion filed by one party during the trial asking the court to rule in its favor regarding some or all of the issues in the case.

motion in limine. A motion filed by one party to prevent the other party from using certain evidence at the trial of the case.


negligence. The failure to act with the degree of care ordinarily expected of the average person.

no-fault benefits. Those benefits obtainable from one’s own insurance company, usually for medical bills and lost wages. (This is sometimes also known as PIP benefits or first party benefits.)


objective evidence of injury. An injury that is directly provable generally through radiological methods, such as MRI, X-Ray, or EMG testing.

opening statement. The opening address given by each side before the testimony begins. It serves to summarize the evidence and orient the jury to the case it is about to hear.


preemptive strike. Disqualifying a juror for no stated reason.

plaintiff. The party that was injured and who seeks compensation from the defendant.

product liability. The legal liability caused by a defective product.

proximate cause. Conduct so closely related in time and space to the injury that it is legally determined to be the cause of that injury.

proximate damages. The amount of money awarded for those injuries and losses that flow immediately and directly from the defendant’s conduct.

punitive damages. The amount of money awarded to the plaintiff if the defendant acted recklessly, intentionally, outrageously, or fraudulently. The award is over and above the actual damages and is intended as a deterrent.


request for production. A written request from one party to another asking for specific documents and other things for reviewing and copying.


service of process. The formal delivery of a legal notice.

settlement. The resolution of a legal dispute in which the parties agree on the amount the defendant must pay the plaintiff.

slander. A defamatory statement made orally.

soft tissue injury. Injuries such as neck or back strains and sprains involving damage to the connective tissues. This type of injury does not show up on radiological testing and is therefore often considered by the insurance company to be faked or at least exaggerated.

special damages. The damages for past, present, and future medical bills,

property damage, and lost earnings.

statute of limitations. An established time limit within which an injured party can sue the defendant.

statutory damages. The money awarded because statutory law requires it.

subjective evidence of injury. The proof of an injury in which objective evidence is not available. This most commonly takes the form of the plaintiffs own testimony concerning pain and suffering and limitations in function and range of motion.

subpoena. The legal document used to compel the attendance of a witness or the production of documents.

subrogation. The right of recovery for amounts already paid. For example, your insurance company may pay you for your property damage under your collision coverage and then assert its right of subrogation to recover that money from the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident.


third party benefits. Those benefits obtainable from the other party’s insurance company.

tort. A wrongful act, damage, or injury for which a civil lawsuit can be brought.

tort reform. The phrase coined by the insurance industry characterizing its efforts to change the laws regarding personal injury litigation.

tortfeasor. The individual who caused the accident.

trespasser. One who has no consent or right to be on another’s property.


venue. The place where a trial can properly take place. Proper venue is usually found where the accident happened or where one or more of the defendants lives or does substantial business.

voir dire. The point early in the trial when the lawyers and judge question potential jurors to see if they are desirable as jurors.


workers’ compensation. A state system that allows employees to recover payment for lost wages and medical bills for injuries sustained at work.

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