Legal documents are famously dense and full of complicated terminology. If you have suffered an injury and are looking to hire a personal injury lawyer, it is a good idea to understand how certain terms are used in the personal injury context.
Below you will find definitions of many of the critical terms and phrases used by legal professionals, insurance companies, and courts during personal injury cases. When you are ready to move forward with your case, we are here for you.
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 natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes, but may also cover biological disasters such as SARS or COVID-19.
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 neutral third party prior to the case going to court. 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 claim that an insured person may file against an insurance company for its bad acts such as denial of coverage, failure to negotiate a settlement, or inaction.
Bodily Injury: Harm that has come to a person’s body. Bodily injury may range from bruises to loss of body parts (i.e. amputation).
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 to prove the negligence of the defendant.
Claim: A civil action relating to the physical or mental harm suffered by the plaintiff due to negligence on the defendant’s part. Civil claims can be brought by or on behalf of the injured victim.
Claim Adjuster: The liaison between the insured and the insurance company who is responsible for investigating and overseeing the claim on behalf of the insurance company, as well as approving medical treatment and therapy plans. They work for the insurance company and are not on your side.
Comparative Negligence or Fault: Comparison of a plaintiff’s contribution to the accident to the defendant’s negligence. Under Florida’s “Pure Comparitive Negligence” system, both parties in the accident essentially share fault. For example, if one driver makes an aggressive left turn in front of an oncoming driver who was speeding, there will be a discussion of what percentage of the fault to assign to each driver. These percentages of liability will then directly determine the amount of damages recoverable by each party.
Compensation: See Damages.
Complaint: The first document filed with the court by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another party, which initiates a lawsuit. Includes a description of the harms the plaintiff believes the defendant caused.
Contingency Fee: The primary billing method used by personal injury lawyers. Fee is taken out of the total judgment awarded in a settlement or successful trial. Fees are capped in Florida by the state Bar association.
Damages: Payments awarded following a civil case, usually monetary, for an injury or loss caused by another person’s negligence. Types of damages include:
- Economic Damages: Monetary damages actually caused by the injury, including medical and hospital bills, ambulance charges, lost wages, property damages, and replacement costs.
- Non-Economic Damages: Monetary amount awarded for future and subjective damages, including pain and suffering, loss of consortium (see below), loss of capacity to earn, shortening of life span, mental anguish, humiliation from scars, loss of anticipated business, and other harms.
- Deductible: The amount of money the insured person is responsible for paying toward a claim. Once the deductible has been reached, the insurance company will cover the remainder of the costs.
- Punitive Damages: Damages that are intended to punish a defendant for extreme negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Rare in civil litigation.
Defendant: In civil law, the person or party being sued by the plaintiff; usually the person who caused the injury and their insurance company.
Demand Letter: A formal request, in writing, that one party take action to compensate another party that is believed to have been wronged.
Deposition: Litigation process. 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 lawyers.
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: Litigation process. 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 any activity that reduces the driver’s cognitive, visual, or manual focus.
Duty of Care: A requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would use. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit. For example, a driver turning left has a duty of care to check that the way is clear before turning. Likewise, a business has a duty of care to keep their store free from any hazards and generally safe.
Emergency Medical Condition (EMC): A medical condition with severe symptoms (e.g. pain or trauma) such that a lack of immediate medical attention would reasonably be expected to result in serious danger to a patient’s health, bodily function, or any bodily organ or body part. Florida PIP law now requires that a healthcare professional designate a patient as having an EMC before they can receive the full $10,000 in PIP benefits.
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 punitive damages).
Expert Witness: Testimony given by someone who is qualified to speak with authority about scientific, technical, or professional matters. For example, a personal injury lawyer may bring in a neurologist to testify about their client’s traumatic brain damage so that the court can hear the information directly from an expert.
Fault: A failure to act as would be reasonably expected. This covers both intentional actions and accidents. In Florida, especially in personal injury cases, “fault,” “negligence,” and “liability” will be used interchangeably.
First-Party Claims: Claims made to one’s own insurance company (as opposed to someone else’s insurance company). Because Florida is a “No-Fault” insurance state, when an accident happens, each driver turns first to their own insurance company to pay for their repairs and recovery costs.
Fraud: Anything intentionally false or misrepresentative. In many cases, consumer fraud is actionable in a civil injury case.
HIPAA: Acronym for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.” A law designed to protect the medical privacy of patients.
Independent Medical Examination: Second medical opinion usually requested by the defendant and insurance company. The plaintiff is required by law to get this second opinion, hence its other name: Compulsory Medical Examination. They are widely seen as being biased.
Judgment: The final amount of damages awarded at the end of a lawsuit. Judgments are distinct from settlements in that a judgment is imposed by a court (either a jury or a judge).
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. It is vital that you choose your personal injury lawyer carefully to find
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.
Liability: One of the most significant words in personal injury law. 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.
Litigation: The entire process of a civil court action or filing a lawsuit. Very involved and expensive.
Loss: In legal terms, any monetary value that can be assigned to injuries, including pain and suffering, past and future medical care, and lost income.
Loss of Consortium: Consortium is Latin for “partnership” or “close connection.” This is a type of damage recoverable when an injured party can no longer provide the same love, affection, companionship, parenting, care, or sexual relationship due to their injuries. Spouses and close family members of car accident victims can be compensated for the loss of consortium.
Malpractice: The failure of any professional to meet a standard of care or standard of conduct. This applies to all licensed professionals, especially doctors, dentists, lawyers, or accountants.
Mediation: Non-binding outside help intended to bring two parties together in arriving at a settlement. Usual step prior to taking a civil action to trial.
Medical Malpractice: The specific failure of a medical professional or institution to uphold a standard of care which results in an injury.
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 of fallen branches and rocks. Proving negligence requires that you show 1) a duty was owed to a plaintiff, 2) the defendant breached that duty, 3) the event was a proximate cause of the injury, and 4) an injury or damage suffered by the plaintiff.
Negotiation: Discussions intended to lead to a mutual agreement.
No-Fault: Short hand 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. Florida is one of a few “no fault” insurance states in the country.
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 between the parties arrived at without the involvement of a judge or court.
Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Any money spent out of the injured party’s own funds on injury-related costs including travel, medications, assistive devices, etc.
Paralegal: Someone trained and certified to assist an attorney in their day-to-day legal work and case preparation.
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.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP): 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. Florida requires all drivers to have an auto insurance policy with a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) coverage.
Plaintiff: The individual who is suing, usually the injured party.
Pleading: Any document or statement formally filed with the court.
Post-concussion Syndrome (PCS): A mild form of traumatic brain injury in which various symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, irritability, and dizziness, persist for weeks or months after the injury that caused the concussion.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying or stressful event. Symptoms range widely, but may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. Over 22% of car crash survivors develop posttraumatic stress disorder.
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, dog bites, and inadequate security.
Proximate Cause: The most immediate reason an injury occurred, without which it can be presumed the harm would not have happened.
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.
Quality of Life: The type of day-to-day existence a person has. Comparing quality of life prior to and after an accident can be used to show the full impact of an injury.
Reasonable Care: The level of treatment by a doctor or healthcare professional 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 a car 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.
Settlement: An agreement negotiated by opposing parties in a civil suit before or after litigation has begun but before the court hears the case.
Slip-and-Fall: A personal injury case in which a person slips or trips and is injured on someone else’s property due to the improper maintenance of that property. Slip and fall accidents are often classified under the broader category of premises liability claims.
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: Length of time an individual has, as required by law, to file a lawsuit. In Florida, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is four years, with the exception of Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death which is only two years. If the personal injury claim is against the city, county, or state government, the limit is three years. Florida PIP law also requires that injuried parties seek medical treatment within 14 days of the accident.
Strict Liability: Legal concept whereby fault does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm. 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.
Subpoena: A court document commanding a person or party to appear at a certain time and place to provide their 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 that 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. Subrogation allows your insurance company to later reclaim that money from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This also prevents the claimant, the person who needed the car repaired, from being paid for the repair twice: once by their insurance and then again later by the other insurance. Subrogation also applies to other types of insurance, like health insurance. For example, your private healthcare may pay for some initial treatments after a car accident, but later they will be reimbursed if some other form of payment, like PIP, comes through.
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 person’s insurance company.
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.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A type of head injury that occurs when an external force causes brain dysfunction. TBI usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head. An object penetrating the skull, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull, can also cause traumatic brain injury.
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. UM is 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 auto insurance policy that provides coverage in the event the other driver is both at fault for the accident and not insured. Although illegal to drive without insurance in Florida, we have one of the highest uninsured motorist rates in the country. UIM protects the first-party in the event that someone who is driving without insurance crashes into them.
Verdict: A formal and final decision about a case made by a judge or jury.
Voir Dire [Fr. vwah-deer]: French term, more commonly known as “jury selection.” Before the civil trial kicks off, personal injury attorneys go through a selection process to choose who sits on the jury in order to ensure that they meet certain criteria.
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.
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. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Florida is two years.