Personal Injury Glossary of Terms
A layman’s legal dictionary for understanding common words and phrases associated with personal injury lawsuits
Having a basic knowledge of important legal terminology is important as you move ahead with your personal injury case, workers’ compensation claim or tort lawsuit. At the Babcock Law Firm, we want you to be as educated as possible throughout the entire process, from filing a claim to negotiating a settlement.
Throughout our website, blog and legal library you’ll find detailed information to help you become more acquainted with nearly any subject pertaining to personal injury and workers’ compensation. We hope this glossary serves as a useful resource for looking up simple definitions of the terms you’re sure to come across on our site or elsewhere.
Use the navigation below to quickly lookup a word by skipping to the appropriate section.
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.
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.
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.
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. Read more
Bodily injury: Harm that has come to a person’s body. Bodily injury may range from bruises to loss of body parts.
Burden of proof: The obligation of one party to show their claim to be factual, accurate and true. In personal injury cases, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff.
Compensation: Something, typically money, intended to make up for a person’s losses.
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.
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.
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”)
Fault: A failure to act as would be reasonably expected. This covers both intentional actions and accidents.
Fraud: Anything intentionally false or misrepresentative. In many cases, consumer fraud is actionable in a civil injury case.
HIPAA: Stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”; a law designed to protect the medical privacy of patients.
Judgment: The final amount of damages awarded at the end of a lawsuit. Distinct from a settlement in that a judgment is imposed by a court regardless of how parties to the case feel about it.
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.
Legal malpractice: Failure of an attorney to uphold their duties in dealing with a client, such as attorney/client confidentiality.
Letter of protection: A formal request sent to a healthcare provider promising to pay for medical services rendered from the proceeds of a settlement or judgment.
Litigation: The entire process of taking civil legal action or filing a lawsuit.
Loss: In legal terms, any monetary value that can be assigned to injuries, including pain and suffering, ongoing medical care, current medical expenses and income that won’t be earned.
Malpractice: The failure of any professional to meet a standard of care. This applies to all licensed professionals, but typically refers to legal or medical malpractice.
Mediation: Non-binding outside help intended to bring two parties together in arriving at a settlement. Read more
Medical malpractice: The specific failure of a medical professional or institution to uphold a standard of care.
Motion: Any formal request for a judge to take a specific action.
Negligence: The failure of one party to grant an expected level of care relative to a set of circumstances. For example, a business with a sidewalk is expected to keep the sidewalk clear during winter weather. When a party fails to do so and that failure is the proximate cause of injury, this is considered negligence. Read more
Negotiation: Discussions intended to lead to a mutual agreement.
Notice to insurer: A formal, written notice sent to an insurance company about an incident that will form the basis of a claim.
Out-of-court settlement: A formal agreement arrived at without the involvement of a judge or court.
Parties: Those individuals who either have standing to seek compensation or those against whom action is being sought.
Pecuniary damages: The loss of past and future income due to an injury or death.
Plaintiff: The individual who is suing.
Pleading: Any document or statement formally filed with the court.
Precedent: The standard that previous decisions by higher courts represent the standards by which all cases must be decided.
Premises liability: The law that applies to a property owner’s legal obligation to provide a reasonably safe and secure environment for their guests or customers. Examples of premises liability negligence include slip and fall accidents, animal attacks and inadequate security.
Proximate cause: The most immediate reason something injurious happened. Without such cause, it can be presumed harm would not have come to an individual.
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.
Settlement: An agreement arrived at by both parties in a lawsuit.
Standard of care: The expected standards for a professional to reasonably follow. For example, doctors are expected to reach a minimal standard in order to protect their patients from needless harm. If they fail to obey this standard, they may be held liable for medical malpractice.
Statute of limitations: How long an individual has, as required by law, to file a lawsuit. This designated time period varies by state and case type.
Strict liability: Legal fault that does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm; also referred to as absolute liability. In certain accident and injury cases, Colorado law imposes strict liability—meaning the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the defendant behaved negligently in order to recover damages.
Subpoena: A court document commanding a person or party to appear at a certain time and place to provide their testimony for a case.
Tort: The biggest category of civil litigation, encompassing a wide range of personal injury cases from car accidents to toxic pollution. A tort lawsuit is possible when a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) occurs. There are three main types: intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability. Read more
Verdict: A final decision about a case, made by a judge or jury.
Voir Dire: More commonly known as “jury selection.”
Workers’ compensation: The state-required system which forces employers to grant no-fault compensation to an employee—or their family—when a job-related injury or death occurs at the workplace. Read more
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. Read more