You’ve probably heard the metaphor, “It’s all Greek to me,” when someone doesn’t understand or is totally confused by a subject. The law is “Greek” to many people. It is frequently misunderstood and legal terminology is misused by most people.
For the majority of my clients, pursuing a lawsuit after being the victim of a car wreck is the first contact they have with the court system. Navigating a car accident and subsequent lawsuit is often a confusing and intimidating experience for car wreck victims and their families. The process is further complicated by the use of unusual terms or words that are “Greek” to anyone who has not been involved in a lawsuit.
Below is a list of 20 words you may hear if you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit and their meaning.
1. Personal Injury – any injury to the body, mind or emotions of a person, as opposed to an injury to property. A personal injury can be an injury sustained in a car wreck, slip and fall, oil field accident or any other number of accidents.
2. Lawsuit – a civil action brought in a court of law in which a person who suffered a loss as a result of another person’s actions, demands a remedy.
3. Civil Case– Civil Law is most often used as a generic term for all non-criminal laws, usually as it applies to settling disputes between private citizens or entities. A Civil Case is a lawsuit brought in Civil Court which is a division of the State and Federal Court system and involves dispute resolution of private law issues between individuals, business entities or non-profit organizations, as opposed to Criminal Cases. Lawsuits involving car wrecks, divorces, contract disputes, evictions, land disputes are all examples of civil cases.
4. Plaintiff – the person or company who initiates a lawsuit in a court. By doing so, the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy.
5. Defendant – in a civil case the defendant is the accused person. A defendant is a person accused of injuring another person through a car wreck, breach of contract, or other action. Many times clients confuse defendants and insurance companies. Many times defendants have insurance which may pay for the damage caused by a defendant and may pay for an attorney for the defendant. However, the insurance company is not usually a defendant.
6. Jury Trial – or trial by jury, is a legal proceeding in which a jury (group of citizens) makes a decision or findings of fact after hearing the facts of a lawsuit. It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge makes all decisions. In Texas, most (but not all) jury trials are made up of 12 individuals. Members of a jury must be residents in the same county in which the lawsuit is pending.
7. Bench Trial – A court proceeding in which a judge reviews all the facts of a lawsuit and makes a decision regarding which side should prevail.
8. Damages – a remedy in the form of a money award to be paid to a claimant as compensation for loss or injury. To warrant the award, the Plaintiff must show that the actions of a Defendant caused loss. In order to succeed in a lawsuit a Plaintiff must show that they actually suffered damages. It is not sufficient to show they could have suffered damages. To be awarded in a lawsuit they must involve damage to property, or mental or physical injury.
9. Discovery – a pre-trial procedure in a lawsuit in which a plaintiff or defendant can obtain evidence from the other party or parties by asking specific questions. There are several different ways to ask questions and they are referred to as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions.
10. Settlement – a resolution between a plaintiff and a defendant about a legal case. A settlement can be reached either before or after a lawsuit begins.
11. Mediation – Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution resolving disputes between two or more parties with concrete effects. Typically, a third party, the mediator, assists the parties to negotiate a settlement. A mediator is usually another lawyer with no connection to the case that meets with both parties and attempts to work out a resolution to the lawsuit without the need to go to court. Mediations are usually informal and conducted in a law office.
12. PIP – Personal Injury Protection is an extension of car insurance available in some U.S. states that covers medical expenses and, in some cases, lost wages and other damages. PIP is sometimes referred to as “no-fault” coverage, because the statutes enacting it are generally known as no-fault laws. That is, even if the person seeking PIP coverage caused the accident, they are entitled to make a claim under the PIP portion of their policy. “No-Fault” does not mean that insurance premium of the person making the claim will not increase. Typically, a PIP claim is made by the insured driver to their own insurance company, however, there are several exceptions that allow persons who have been injured in an accident to make a PIP claim if they do not own a vehicle. The particular state law and policy language of the insurer should be reviewed to see what exceptions exist in that state. Limits vary from policy to policy.
13. MedPay – Car insurance protects your car, not the people inside of it. “Medical Payments to Others” (often called Med Pay) covers the medical payments of all passengers in your vehicle if they are injured in an accident. Med Pay will cover the medical costs resulting from an auto accident, regardless of who was at fault. Only injuries caused directly by the accident will be covered by Med Pay.
14. UM – Uninsured Motorist insurance is a coverage that protects you if you’re involved in an accident with someone who does not have Liability insurance or does not have enough Liability insurance to pay for your damages. UM insurance also protects you and your passengers if struck by a hit-and-run driver. Covered UM expenses for you and your passengers include medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
15. UIM – Underinsured Motorist insurance (UIM) pays for injuries, such as medical expenses, that result from an accident caused by a driver who has too little insurance to cover all of the injuries. In some cases, UIM is part of UM.
16. Negligence – Negligence refers to carelessness, or the failure to act in a way that a “reasonable or prudent person” would do in the same given circumstances. Negligence is different from intentional wrongs, such as assault or trespassing, but can still cause serious physical, emotional, or financial harm.
17. Malpractice – In healthcare, malpractice occurs when an individual is harmed by a doctor or healthcare provider, due to negligence.
18. Judge – A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings. In state Court the judges are usually elected officials who live in the County where the lawsuit is filed.
19. Petition – the title of a legal pleading filed by the Plaintiff that initiates a legal case. The initial pleading in a civil lawsuit that seeks only money (damages) is called a Petition.
20. Answer – the title of a legal pleading filed by the Defendant that officially responds to a petition filed by the Plaintiff.