Sometimes the legal lingo can be hard to navigate, whether you are already a client or just reviewing your options. We’ve compiled some of the most common words used into a personal injury law dictionary.
Whether you have been injured in a California car accident, motorcycle accident, dog bite, or slip & fall, this can be a helpful resource. Don’t worry, not all of the terms will apply to your case.
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Adjudicate – When a judge hears and decides a case.
Affidavit – A written statement that someone swears to under oath in front of someone that is legally authorized, like a judge or notary public.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – Methods of resolving disputes without official court proceedings. These methods include mediation and arbitration.
Appeal – When someone loses at least part of a case and asks a higher court (called an “appellate court”) to review the decision and rule if it was right.
Arbitration – When a person not involved in the case reviews the evidence, hears arguments, and makes a decision.
Bench Trial (or Court Trial) – Trial without a jury. The judge decides the case.
Brief – A written statement that each side gives the court to say why the court should decide that they should prevail.
Complaint – In civil cases, a written statement filed by the plaintiff that initiates a case. The statement spells out what the defendant did and asks the court for a remedy.
Damages – Money that the losing side must pay to the winning side to make up for losses or injuries. Damages can be “compensatory,” meaning money to pay for the actual cost of an injury or loss; and “punitive” or “exemplary,” meaning an amount of money that exceeds the actual damages—considered a punishment for willful or malicious acts.
Date of Loss – An insurance term used to indicate the first date on which an insured event occurred. For example, this would be the date of the vehicle accident.
Default Judgment – A court decision in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to answer or appear in court when they have been so ordered.
Defendant – The person or entity defending or denying a lawsuit.
Demurrer – When a defendant says the facts presented by a plaintiff, even if true, are not enough to establish or prove the defendant’s legal responsibility.
Deposition – Written or oral testimony given under oath in front of an authorized third person like a court reporter. Depositions take place outside of court. They allow the parties to get a record of a person’s testimony, or to get testimony from a witness that lives far away.
Dismiss with Prejudice – When a court dismisses a case and will not allow any other suit to be filed on the same claim in the future.
Dismiss without Prejudice – When a court dismisses a case but will allow other suits to be filed on the same claim.
Implied Warranty of Habitability – A rule that requires landlords to keep their rental units fit for people to live in. A rental unit must comply with important building and housing code standards that affect tenants’ health and safety.
Indemnity – An obligation to provide compensation (usually money) for a loss, injury, or damage.
Injunction – A court order that prohibits a defendant from performing an act or directs a defendant to perform an act.
Inquest – A legal inquiry (investigation) in a court or before court officers authorized to hold inquiries, usually to establish the cause and circumstances of a death.
Interrogatories – Written questions sent by one side in a lawsuit to an opposing side as part of pretrial discovery in civil cases. The side that receives the interrogatories must answer them in writing under oath.
Judgment Creditor – The party in whose favor a judgment has been awarded.
Judgment Debtor – The party that the judgment has been entered against.
Judgment – In general, the official decision of a court that resolves the dispute between the parties to a lawsuit.
Liability – Any legal obligation, either due now or at some time in the future. If a person is “liable” for a debt or wrongful act, they are responsible for paying the debt or compensating the wrongful act.
Money Judgment – A specific amount of money awarded by the court to a person as payment for damages (losses or injuries) suffered.
Plaintiff – A person that brings a legal action, complains or sues in a civil case.
Precedent – A court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to a dispute currently before a court.
Pretrial Conference – A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan a trial, discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, review proposed evidence and witnesses, and set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the lawyers also discuss the possibility of settling the case.
Prima Facie – Not requiring further support to establish existence, credibility, or validity.
Prop 213 – A law that states: If the innocent victim of auto accident did not have automobile liability insurance, then he or she cannot collect non-economic damages as in pain and suffering. The only exception is when the negligent driver is convicted of drunk driving.
Restitution – The act of restoring or giving the equivalent value to compensate for an injury, damage, or loss.
Settlement – An agreement reached among the parties that resolves the case at any time before a judge’s decision in the case or a jury verdict.
Statute of Limitations – The time you have to file a legal action against a person or entity in hopes of receiving compensation for loss or injury. Statutes vary widely by state and type of action. If the deadline passes, the “statute of limitations has run” (or the claim is “time-barred”).
Stipulated Judgment – An agreement between the parties to a case that settles a case. Once the stipulated judgment is signed by the judge, it becomes the judgment in your case.
Summary Judgment – A court decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the court record without a trial. Used when no factual disputes exist in the case.
Tort – A private or civil wrong; failure to perform some duty required by law or custom, resulting in harm to another. The victim of a tort may sue for various damages to compensate for their loss or harm. Victims of crimes may also sue in tort (in a civil case) for the wrongs done to them.
Total Loss – A term used in the insurance industry when a vehicle is damaged and the cost of repairs and the salvage value combined would exceed the current value of the vehicle.
Trustee – In general, the person that has custody of or control over funds or items for the benefit of another.
Underinsured Motorist – Policyholders who are in insured, but given the extent of damages sustained in a given collision, do not carry significant enough coverage limits to address the claims of other drivers for negligence or fault. This may include damages of property and personal injury claims.
Uninsured Motorist – California law requires anyone who operates a motor vehicle on the public streets or highways to maintain some form of financial responsibility. For most drivers, the financial responsibility requirement is satisfied by maintaining automobile liability insurance. If your motorcycle, car, truck or other motor vehicle is found to be uninsured, the DMV will send you a 30-day warning letter. If you fail to get insurance after that the, the DMV will suspend your registration. If you are found to be driving without proper registration, your car can be seized by the State, and you can face fines of up to $1,000. If you get into a motorcycle, car or other motor vehicle accident and have no insurance, you could lose your driver’s license for up to a year, be fined of up to $2,000, and hit with a costly civil judgment for all the damages you have caused.
Without Prejudice – A dismissal of a lawsuit without prejudice means a new suit can be brought on the same cause of action without loss of rights or privileges – if it is within the statute of limitations.
Writ – In general, a written court order saying that certain action must be taken.