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Glossary Of Personal Injury Terms

Welcome to our comprehensive glossary of personal injury law terms. Whether you are navigating the aftermath of an accident, considering legal action, or simply seeking to expand your understanding of personal injury law, this resource is designed to provide clear and concise definitions of key legal terms and concepts. As you explore this glossary, you will gain insights into the terminology that is essential for interpreting the complex landscape of personal injury cases. Our aim is to empower you with the knowledge that will help you make informed decisions and better understand the legal processes that may impact your life.

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J  K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S  T   U   V   W

A

Abstract of title: All legal records and recorded documents related to a piece of real property.

Accident report: Any formal record documenting an incident, including anything from an authority figure like a police officer or staff member of a hospital.

Act of God: Events arising without human cause. Generally refers to occurrences such as flooding, lighting, storms, or earthquakes.

Affidavit: A formal written statement declared under oath.

Appeal: A move one party may take in the hopes of reversing the decision of a lower trial court by petitioning for a higher court to examine the claim.

Arbitration: The settlement of a dispute by a third party. The decision of the third party will be final. The third party is often an off-duty judge or an attorney. This approach is considered more efficient than litigation or negotiation.

Assignment of Benefits: A transfer of the benefits provided by an insurance policy to another party; it can only be done with the written consent of the insured. Most often, this takes the form of a person assigning their medical benefits to a hospital or doctor, so that they can be paid directly.

Assumption of risk: The voluntary act of taking on risk despite being aware of potential dangers. If an individual assumes risk prior to an incident, they will not be permitted to pursue monetary damages.

Attorney Client Privilege:Communications between an attorney and client that are confidential.

B

Bad faith: In the case of insurance disputes, bad faith refers to a tort claim that an insured person may file against an insurance company for its bad acts such as denial of coverage to failure to negotiate a settlement or inaction. 

Benefit: For legal purposes related to personal injury law, a benefit is financial assistance that a party receives from an employer, insurance company, or social program (such as social security) in a time of sickness, disability, or unemployment. When a person receives financial compensation for their wages or when a person’s surgery is covered by the insurance company and paid directly, both are considered benefits.

Bodily injury: Any damage to a person’s body; for example: bruises, burns, cuts, poisonings, broken bones, nerve damage, etc. Bodily injury may result from an accident, negligence, or an intentional act. Causing bodily injury on purpose is a crime (assault, battery, etc.) while accidental and negligent harm may result in a lawsuit.

Burden of proof: The obligation to prove one’s claim is accurate and true; whoever has the burden of proof must show their claim to be factual. In a personal injury claim, the plaintiff has the burden of proof–to show a driver was negligent, to show that a claim was made in bad faith, etc.

C

Causation: To make something happen; the act or process of causing something. In a negligence case, the plaintiff must show that their injury was directly caused by something the defendant did (or failed to do).

Claim: A civil action relating to the physical or mental harm suffered by the plaintiff, or on behalf of the injured victim, due to negligence of the defendant; a request to the insurance company by the insured requesting coverage and payment for damage or injury.

Claim Adjuster: The liaison between the insured and the insurance company, responsible for investigating and overseeing the claim on behalf of the insurance company, as well as approving medical and rehabilitation treatment plans; they work for the insurance company and are obligated to them.

Comparative Negligence: Comparative negligence is a tort principle used by the court to reduce the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover in a negligence-based claim according to the degree of negligence each party contributed to the incident. Specifically, when an injured victim was partially at fault because of their own negligence, the court may assign a percentage of fault to both the injured victim and the defendant. For instance, if the court assigns 60% fault to the defendant and 40% to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may only recover 60% of the damages, rather than the full. 

There are two types of comparative negligence in the United States, as well as contributory negligence, so damages awarded vary from state to state.

Compensable Injury: An injury caused by an accident arising from a person’s employment and in the course of the employee’s work. Basically, a compensable injury is any injury that will be covered (or will be compensated) by workers’ comp. This term is used to rule out injuries that did not occur at work or because of employment that may come up during a workers’ comp case.

Compensatory Damages: See Damages.

Complaint: The first document filed with the court by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another party; the official document that starts a lawsuit. Includes what wrongdoing the plaintiff feels the defendant did.

Compulsory Medical Examination: See Independent Medical Examination.

Concussion: A traumatic brain injury from a violent blow or jolt to the head that alters the way your brain functions. It’s commonly associated with a loss of consciousness, however, this is not a prerequisite for the syndrome. Often causes nausea, dizziness, disorientation, and headaches, among other medical issues. Multiple concussions can be life-threatening. See Post-Concussion Syndrome

Contingency Fee: A sum of money that a lawyer receives as payment only if the case is won. The fee is dependent upon the attorney winning a settlement.

Contusion: A region of injured tissue or skin in which blood capillaries have been ruptured; the medical term for what is more commonly called a bruise.

D

Damages: Payments awarded following a civil case. Compensatory damages are intended to make up for actual losses. Punitive damages are intended to deter future misconduct or failures by punishing the responsible party beyond the actual losses.

Defendant: The person or party being sued by the plaintiff.

Demand letter: A formal request, in writing, that one party take action to compensate another party that is believed to have been wronged. Read more

Deposition: Testimony that takes place out of court and under oath, recorded in an authorized location and by a documented court official. Questions are typically addressed to each side by the opposing attorney.

Disclosure: The process of releasing documents that reveal a party’s full knowledge of the case. The goal is to ensure that all available information is divulged in a manner that ensures all parties are equally aware of its existence.

Discovery: The process of opposing parties obtaining evidence from one another. This typically includes sharing of interviews, document requests, and information from medical exams.

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.

Duty of care: The reasonably responsible actions one party must take to ensure that no one is harmed. For example, a driver turning left has a duty of care to see that the way is clear before turning. Or a surgeon has a duty of care to remove all medical instruments from their patient’s body before closing the wound.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) – The act of operating a moving vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, chemical substances, or controlled substances. Under Florida law, DUI is proven by failure to complete a Standard Field Sobriety Test successfully or by rating a blood alcohol or breath alcohol level of .08 or above. The penalties upon conviction can include fines, community service, probation, and/or imprisonment.

E

Emergency Medical Condition (EMC): A medical condition with severe symptoms—for example, severe pain or trauma—such that a lack of immediate medical attention would reasonably be expected to result in any of the following: serious danger to a patient’s health, serious damage to bodily function, or serious damage to any bodily organ or body part. Florida PIP laws now require that a healthcare professional deem a patient to have an EMC before they can receive the full $10,000 in benefits. See PIP.

Excess judgment: When a judgement against the defendant exceeds the limits of their insurance. A defendant is personally liable for an excess judgement.

Exemplary damages: Damages awarded when the defendant’s acts were malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or extremely negligent. Rare in civil cases. (See also “punitive damages”)

Exhaustion of Benefits: The running out of assistance payable to a party; all money allocated has been depleted.

Expert Witness: Testimony given by someone who is qualified to speak with authority about scientific, technical, or professional matters. For example, an attorney may bring in a neurologist to testify about their client’s brain damage so that the court can hear the information directly from an expert.

F

Fault: An intentional or negligent failure to act reasonably, according to law, or according to duty; it is a wrong act or error that causes injury to another person. The wrong act or error can arise out of ignorance, carelessness, negligence, or even unskillfulness. This means that not knowing any better, not taking proper precautions, not taking into account those around you, or even lacking the skills necessary to perform a function can all be considered acts of fault if the result is injury to another.

Field Adjuster: Similar to a claims adjuster, but does a majority of the outside-the-office work involved in an 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. A claims adjuster may do some of these duties also, but their responsibility lies more specifically in getting the claim settled.

First-Party Claims: Claims made towards one’s own insurance company (as opposed to against someone else’s insurance company).

Fraud: Anything intentionally false or misrepresentative. In many cases, consumer fraud is actionable in a civil injury case.

G

General Damages: See Damages

Good Faith: Honest intent to fulfill a promise to act or to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person; acting without intent to defraud someone. An insurance company says they will cover certain damages in an accident, and when that unfortunate event happens, they follow through without much trouble.

 

H

Hazard: Conditions that increase the probability of damage or injury, like a crack in a sidewalk, a spill in the aisle, a work truck without proper lighting, or inadequate lighting on steps in front of a business.

Health Care Expenses: The costs incurred by seeing a number of different healthcare providers, such as doctors, therapists, and specialists; the collective cost of all one’s medical care.

HIPAA: Stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”; a law designed to protect the medical privacy of patients.

I

Income Replacement Benefits (IRBs): Money in place of the income one would usually make working; received by a person injured in a car accident who can no longer work, typically paid by the car insurance company.

Independent Medical Examination: Second medical opinion usually requested by the defendant/insurance company; plaintiff is required by law to gain this second opinion. Sometimes called a Compulsory Medical Examination since they are widely seen as being biased.

Insurance: A contractual relationship that exists when one party—the insurer—for a reoccurring fee (called a premium) agrees to reimburse another party—the insured—for damage or injury caused by certain hazards or dangers. (Sometimes called assurance.)

Insurer: The company or entity that provides coverage through an insurance policy.

Insured: The individual protected under an insurance policy.

Interrogatories: Written questions created by one party’s attorney for the opposing party to answer under oath within a specific amount of time. After the document is filled out, the plaintiff’s attorney reviews it then it is signed by the answered in front of a notary.

J

Judgment: The final part of a court case that resolves all the contested issues and terminates the lawsuit; a final decision is made about the rights and claims of each side in a lawsuit.

Jury Instructions: Directions given to the jury before deliberation, including their instructions for reaching a verdict, the laws pertaining to the case, and what must be proven and by whom.

K

Known loss rule: A prohibition on insured individuals seeking insurance coverage while knowing that something is already damaged or lost. For example, an insured driver cannot claim damages for dents that existed prior to acquiring insurance on a car.

L

Legal malpractice: Failure of an attorney to uphold their duties in dealing with a client, such as attorney/client confidentiality.

Letter of Protection: A letter sent by a personal injury lawyer to a healthcare professional that gives permission for an injured person to obtain the medical care they otherwise cannot afford on credit in exchange for a promise to pay for the services directly out of their settlement or judgment.

Liability: Legal responsibility for one’s acts or omissions; an obligation one is bound to by law to perform, typically involving the payment of monetary damages. One of the most significant words in the field of law.

Limitation of Risk: The maximum amount an insurer can be obligated to pay in any one loss event.

Litigant: Someone who is engaged in a lawsuit; an encompassing term for either the defendant or the plaintiff. Does not include a witness or attorney, but can include a co-defendant or co-plaintiff.

Litigation: The process of taking legal action and/or filing a lawsuit.

Litigation Risk: The likelihood of winning a personal injury lawsuit in court (rather than settling out of court) usually assessed by your attorney; the risk of attending court since there are unpredictable factors, like getting a strict judge, poor witness presentation, a sudden surprise from the defendant, last-minute evidence, etc. Going to court is risky.

Loss: The monetary value assigned to an injury or damage in a personal injury claim, including: pain and suffering, past and future income, future medical care, at-home assistance, current medical bills, etc.

Loss of earnings: A situation where the injured person has had to take time off work, change jobs, or give up work due to their injury resulting in decreased or no income, impacting their financial situation.

M

Malpractice –Negligence or misconduct by a professional person—such as a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist, or an accountant—who has failed to meet a standard of care or standard of conduct; the situation becomes malpractice when a client or patient is injured or damaged because of error, negligence, or rarely, intent. See Medical Malpractice and Legal Malpractice.

Mandate – Command from a court directing the enforcement of a judgment, sentence, or decree.

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) – The point at which an injured person’s condition or injury stabilizes and no further improvement or recovery is expected, even with additional care and medical treatment; to use an idiom, the injury’s recovery is as good as it gets; treatment for an injury has reached its plateau. The term is most often used in workers’ compensation cases when temporary benefits are provided until the patient reaches MMI, at which point the patient will be assessed for permanent disability and any further benefits. This is because no insurance company will continue to pay for treatments if a doctor thinks that the condition cannot improve any further.

Mediation – Outside help settling a dispute; a non-binding method of resolving a case in which a neutral third party, agreed upon by both parties, helps the disputing sides to reach a mutually agreeable settlement.

Medical Malpractice – Negligence by a professional healthcare provider, such as a doctor or hospital, who departs from the applicable standard of care, and by act or omission causes injury to a patient. Often difficult to prove; requires expert witnesses that can testify to the wrongs committed. See Malpractice.

Mesothelioma – A tumor, usually cancerous, of the epithelium lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart; often associated with exposure to asbestos dust. Asbestos is a microscopic fiber that is extremely durable and resistant to fire and most chemical reactions and breakdowns. These properties of asbestos were the reasons that it was used for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial applications, including, but not limited to: roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds, textile products, and automotive parts.

Once it was discovered to be a carcinogen, its use was discontinued; however, it continues to cause medical issues for those exposed to it.

Motion – A formal request that a judge makes a ruling or take some action; the judge either denies or grants the request.

N

Named Insured: Any individual whose name actually appears on the insurance policy, as opposed to those who may be covered, but are not specifically named on the documents.

Negligence: Failure to use a degree of care considered reasonable under a given set of circumstances; the four elements of negligence are: a duty owed to a plaintiff, a breach of that duty by the defendant, proximate cause, and an injury or damage suffered by the plaintiff; carelessness.

Negotiation: To arrange or settle by discussion and mutual agreement; in a personal injury case, negations are common. Negotiations take place between the plaintiff (usually the accident attorney, or injured person directly) and the insurance adjuster. Negotiating to reach a final settlement is a back-and-forth type of bargaining in order to reach an agreed-upon amount the injured person will take and the insurance company will pay.

No-Fault: Slang term for Personal Injury Protection, a type of auto insurance coverage that provides first-party benefits for medical expenses, loss of income, funeral expenses, and similar expenses without regard to fault; the party does not need to prove who was at fault or negligence in order to receive benefits or damages. See PIP.

Notary: A person with legal training who is licensed by the state to perform acts in legal affairs, in particular, witnessing signatures on documents. Their seal and signature on a document are proof that the person who signed the document did so willingly and is who they say they are.

Notice to the Company: See Notice to Insurer.

Notice to Insurer: Written notice to the insurance company about an incident upon which a claim is to be based. Also called Notice to the Company.

O

Opening Statement: The initial statement made by each attorney at the beginning of a trial outlining the facts each intends to establish during the trial.

Out-of-Court Settlement: An agreement reached between the plaintiff and defendant which does not require the approval of a court or judge; an out-of-court settlement will typically be struck between the two parties’ lawyers before a trial takes place. Can be achieved on attorneys’ own terms, during mediation, or at arbitration.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Money spent out of the injured party’s own funds on costs related to their injuries, which may include: travel, medications, assistive devices, etc. Anything one had to pay before they began to receive benefits. See Special Damages.

P

Paralegal: Someone trained and certified to perform any function of assistance to a lawyer including: summaries, research, investigation, and the retrieval of records; a certified person who works in a law office helping an attorney prepare a case.

Parties: Persons, corporations, or associations who have started a lawsuit, or who are defendants in a lawsuit.

Pecuniary Damages: Referring to the loss of past and future income. See Damages.

Personal Injury Protection: See PIP

PIP: Commonly used acronym for Personal Injury Protection; a type of auto insurance coverage mandated by the state of Florida that requires insurers to provide first-party benefits for medical expenses, loss of income, funeral expenses, and similar expenses without regard to fault. In Florida, coverage is $10,000 in medical benefits, $5,000 in death benefits, and $2,500 for non-emergency medical conditions (see Emergency Medical Condition).

Plaintiff: The person in a court or legal case that is suing, usually the person who is injured.

Pleading: Generally, any document, statement, or request filed with the court; a formal document in which someone that is part of the legal case makes or responds to allegations, claims, denials, or defenses.

Post-concussion Syndrome (PCS):  a disorder in which various symptoms—such as headaches, nausea, irritability, and dizziness—last for weeks and sometimes months after the injury that caused the concussion; a form of mild traumatic brain injury.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying or stressful event—either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. PTSD does not only occur in those who have been involved in a war, in fact, it is quite common in people who have been involved in a serious accident or suffered severe injury.

Prayer for Relief: A request addressed to the court by the plaintiff (through their attorney) requesting specific remedies or damages. Also called Demand for Relief.

Precedent: When a previously decided case(s) is recognized as the basis and authority for determining future cases. If a past case is heard by a high enough court, then their decision becomes the law regarding that situation.

Premise Liability: The legal principles that hold landowners and tenants responsible when someone enters their property and gets hurt due to a dangerous condition; premises liability claims are usually based on negligence. This concept comes from laws that state that a person can reasonably expect to be safe when they enter someone else’s property.

Proceeding: Any hearing or court appearance related to a legal case.

Product Liability: The accountability of a merchant, business, or manufacturer for bodily injury or property damage because of a defect in their product.

Prognosis: The anticipated chance of recovery from an injury, based upon the symptoms and nature of the particular case; prediction of how a person will heal or recover determined by a doctor.

Proximate Cause: An event sufficiently related to an injury recognized to be the cause of that injury.

Punitive damages: Compensation aimed at punishing a defendant for extremely negligent actions or, in the case of intentional wrongdoing, to help them learn their lesson. Rare in civil litigation.

Q

Quality of Life: The type of existence a person was living prior to the accident/injury or after the accident/injury. A quality-of-life assessment could include factors such as:

  • Activities of daily living
  • Mobility and organization
  • Social relationships and the ability to interact
  • General life satisfaction
  • Recreational or work-related activities
  • Future prospects
 

Qui Tam: A legal claim in which an individual alleges fraudulent billing by a government contractor. Funds recovered by the government because of the claim are divided between the government and the person who brought the claim (the “whistleblower”), who is given a percentage of the recovered funds as a reward. Qui tam litigation is used as one way the U.S. government combats abuses of government funds, like Medicare fraud, usually brought on by someone who is privy to the information.

R

Reasonable Care: The level of treatment by a healthcare professional/establishment that would be considered adequate by a fair and sensible person.

Rehabilitation: The process of restoring necessary skills and normal movement for self-sufficiency after an injury, perhaps after an auto accident or slip-and-fall.

Rehabilitation Benefits: Treatments and programs offered by private or employee-based health insurance with the intent of helping an injured person recover from or eliminate the effects of their injury to restore their life back to normal, or as close as possible. See Rehabilitation.

Request: A request or petition; the expression of a desire to some person for something to be granted or done.

S

Settlement – Conclusion of a legal matter; negotiated agreement by opposing parties in a civil suit before or after litigation has begun but before the court hears the case, eliminating the need for the judge to resolve the controversy.

Sexual Assault –Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Can be anything from rape to unwanted touching.

Slip-and-Fall – A personal injury case in which a person slips or trips and is injured on someone else’s property; usually falls under the broader category of premises liability claims. Slip-and-fall accidents usually occur on property owned or maintained by someone else who is then held legally responsible.

Special Damages – See Damages

Stacking of Coverages – The application of two or more policies’ limits to a single occurrence or claim; commonly applied to auto liability or uninsured/underinsured motorists’ coverage when two or more vehicle policy limits can be stacked to apply to a single accident.

Standard of Care – The level of medical assistance and services at which the average, sensible provider would practice; how similarly qualified practitioners would have managed the patient’s care under similar circumstances. In medical malpractice, the plaintiff must establish the appropriate standard of care and demonstrate that the standard of care has been breached.

Statute of Limitations – A law that determines the period of time that someone has to file legal action, usually beginning when the injury or damage occurs. In Florida, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is four (4) years, with the exception of Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death which is two (2) years. If the personal injury claim is against the city, county, or state government, the limit is three (3) years.

Strict Liability –A legal idea that expands the responsibility of wrongdoing to another party regardless of their direct involvement in the incident. For example, if a car company produces a car with faulty brakes, and those bad brakes lead to an accident, the car company could be deemed accountable for the accident due to strict liability. These cases essentially shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant, causing the defendant to prove they are not liable.

Subpoenas – A command, issued by the court, to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony for a case.

Subrogation – A legal right that allows one party to make a payment that is actually owed by another party, and then later collect that money from the party whom originally owed it. For example, if you are in a car wreck and it is taking too long for the at-fault driver’s insurance to pay for your car to be repaired, your insurance may step in and cover the cost. However, they are not legally or contractually obligated to pay for the repair, they are just doing it to help out their customer.

T

Third-Party Claims: Liability claims brought by a person allegedly injured or harmed by the insured. The insured person is the first party, the insurance carrier is the second party, and the injured person/claimant is the third party; a claim brought against another party’s insurance company, rather than their own. See First-Party Claims.

Tort: A civil or private wrong—that is not a crime—that leads to legal liability. Personal injury law is the most common type of tort law.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A type of injury that occurs when an external force causes brain dysfunction; usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. An object penetrating the skull, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull, can also cause traumatic brain injury.

Trier of Facts: The jury; or in a non-jury trial, the judge. The person or group that analyzes the evidence in order to make a decision about the case or issue in dispute.

Trip-and-Fall: See Slip-and-Fall

U

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM): An auto insurance policy provision that extends coverage to include property and bodily damage caused by a motorist without enough insurance coverage. It’s designed to provide the injured party with compensation above what is allotted by the at-fault party’s policy.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM): An addition to a standard automobile insurance policy that provides coverage in the event the other driver is both at fault for the accident and is not insured; protects the first-party from having no coverage in the event that someone who is driving without insurance (illegal in Florida) crashes into them.

V

Verdict: A final decision about a case, made by a judge or jury.

Voir Dire: Commonly known as jury selection; much like a criminal trial, in a personal injury case the attorneys go through a selection process to choose who sits on the jury in order to ensure that they meet certain criteria. More specifically, it refers to the examination of the prospective jurors. Pronounced “vwahr-deer” or “vor-deer”

W

Wrongful death: A lawsuit submitted against a party when someone has died as the result of negligence, malice or another wrongful behavior. Plaintiffs often pursue compensation to cover lost wages, loss of consortium, medical expenses and funeral costs.

ES