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Personal Injury Glossary Terms

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This glossary provides a quick-access resource for looking up definitions of terms you will likely encounter while seeking compensation.

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

A

Accident Report — A detailed official record of an incident created on-site by an authority figure such as a police officer or hospital staff member.

Act of God — An unforeseen event caused by natural forces without human involvement that couldn’t have been prevented with reasonable care, such as damage from floods, lightning, earthquakes, or storms.

Alternative Dispute Resolution – Using methods other than litigation to resolve a legal dispute, such as mediation and arbitration. See Arbitration and Mediation.

Appeal – To request a higher court to reconsider a decision made by a lower court when one party disagrees with the ruling, seeking a review of the decision in hopes of overturning it.

Arbitration — Resolving a legal dispute between the plaintiff and defendant by a neutral third party whose decision is final. It’s often likened to a mini-court case, with the third party typically being an off-duty judge or attorney. Both parties agree that the arbitrator’s decision will be binding. Arbitration is often seen as a more efficient, quicker, and less costly alternative to litigation.

Assignment of Benefits – The transfer of insurance policy benefits to another party, requiring written consent from the insured. Typically, this involves a person assigning their medical benefits to a hospital or doctor to enable direct payment.

Attorney-Client Privilege – A legal principle that protects the confidentiality of communications between an attorney and their client. This ensures trust between the lawyer and client while preventing the opposing party from accessing such information during legal proceedings. All conversations between attorney and client remain private.

B

Bad Faith Claim – A legal action taken by an insured individual against their insurance company for unreasonably denying, delaying, or partially fulfilling a claim without a valid reason. This type of claim is typically pursued when a person’s claim is rejected, but they believe it should have been covered.

Benefit – In the context of personal injury law, a benefit refers to financial assistance from an employer, insurer, or social program (such as social security) during sickness, disability, or unemployment. Financial compensation for lost wages or direct payment for medical procedures are examples of benefits.

Bodily Injury – Any physical harm inflicted on a person, including bruises, burns, cuts, poisonings, fractures, nerve damage, etc. Bodily injury can result from accidents, negligence, or intentional acts. Intentionally causing bodily harm constitutes a crime (assault, battery, etc.), while accidental or negligent harm can lead to legal action.

Burden of Proof – The responsibility to demonstrate the accuracy and truthfulness of one’s claim; the party with the burden of proof must provide evidence to support their claim. In personal injury cases, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, who must demonstrate negligence, bad faith, etc.

C

Causation – The action or process of causing something to happen. In a negligence case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that their injury directly resulted from something the defendant did or failed to do.

Claim – A legal action concerning physical or mental harm suffered by the plaintiff due to the defendant’s negligence; a request made by the insured to the insurance company for coverage and compensation for damage or injury.

Claim Adjuster — A representative of the insurance company who investigates and manages claims on behalf of the insurer. They are responsible for approving medical and rehabilitation treatments and work for the insurance company.

Compensable Injury —An injury resulting from an accident that occurs during an employee’s work and is covered by workers’ compensation. This term excludes injuries that are not work-related and may arise during workers’ compensation proceedings.

Complaint – The initial document filed with the court by a party claiming legal rights against another party; it formally initiates a lawsuit and outlines the plaintiff’s allegations against the defendant.

Concussion – A brain injury caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head, resulting in altered brain function. It may include symptoms like loss of consciousness, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, headaches, and other medical issues. Multiple concussions can be life-threatening. See Post-Concussion Syndrome.

Contingency Fee – A fee paid to a lawyer only if the case is won. The fee is contingent upon the attorney securing a settlement.

Contusion – Injured tissue or skin where blood capillaries have ruptured, commonly known as a bruise.

D

Damages – Compensation, usually in monetary form, awarded in a civil court case for an injury or loss caused by another person’s negligence. See Economic Damages and Non-Economic Damages.

Deductible – The portion of a claim the insured individual is responsible for paying. Once the deductible is met, the insurance company covers the remaining costs.

Defective Medication – Medication that has caused harm to a patient. Claims involving defective drugs fall under product liability law and typically revolve around three types of defects:

  • Manufacturing Defects: Occur when a pharmaceutical drug is improperly manufactured or contaminated during production, harming the patient.
  • Design Defects: Arise when a pharmaceutical drug, although manufactured correctly, causes harm or injury due to its side effects.
  • Failure to Warn: Refers to a lack of sufficient or appropriate instructions, warnings, or recommendations regarding the drug’s usage.

Defendant – In civil law, the individual being sued is typically the one who caused the injury, along with their insurance company.

Demand Letter – A formal letter sent to the opposing party requesting specific action, often with the threat of legal action.

Deposition—An out-of-court sworn testimony session in which a witness answers questions posed by the opposing party’s attorney, typically recorded by a court reporter. This process is conducted to obtain an official account of events.

Disclosure – Providing documents and other information requested by the opposing party to reveal relevant details about the case.

Discovery – The legal procedure through which opposing parties obtain evidence from each other. It involves interviews, depositions, document requests, medical examinations for plaintiffs, and requests for admissions.

Distracted Driving – Operating a motor vehicle while engaging in activities that divert attention from driving tasks, such as:

  • Talking on a cell phone
  • Using a navigation system
  • Texting or emailing
  • Eating
  • Grooming
  • Adjusting the audio system
  • Texting

Department of Transportation (DOT) – The federal agency responsible for planning and coordinating federal transportation projects as well as set safety regulations for all modes of transportation in the United States.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) – Operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances.

Duty of Care – The obligation to act with care and prudence toward others and the public, as a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. Failure to meet this standard may lead to negligence claims and subsequent damages. For example, businesses open to the public have a duty to maintain a hazard-free and safe environment.

E

Economic Damages – Financial losses that an injury victim has incurred due to an accident. This includes medical expenses, loss of income, and funeral costs. See Non-Economic Damages.

Emergency Medical Condition (EMC) – A medical condition characterized by severe symptoms, such as intense pain or trauma, where immediate medical attention is necessary to prevent any of the following: risk to the patient’s health, serious impairment of bodily function, or severe damage to an organ or body part. Florida PIP laws now mandate that a healthcare professional must determine whether a patient has an EMC before they can receive the full $10,000 in benefits. See Personal Injury Protection.

Excess Judgement – The additional amount of damages that an insurer must pay beyond the policy limit, typically awarded by a judge if the insurance company is found to have acted in bad faith during claim settlement.

Exhaustion of Benefits – When a party has utilized all the allocated assistance available and has no remaining funds.

Expert Witness – Testimony provided by an individual with specialized knowledge in scientific, technical, or professional fields. For instance, an attorney might call upon a neurologist to testify about a client’s brain injury, allowing the court to hear expert information directly.

F

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

Fault – Fault refers to intentionally or negligently failing to act reasonably, according to legal standards or one’s duty, resulting in harm to another person. This failure can arise from various factors such as ignorance, carelessness, negligence, or a lack of skill. If actions like not being aware, not taking proper precautions, disregarding others, or lacking necessary skills lead to injury to another person, they can all be considered as fault.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – The leading federal government agency regulating commercial motor vehicles. Its purpose is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks.

Field Adjuster – A field adjuster, similar to a claims adjuster, primarily deals with tasks related to accident claims outside the office. This includes conducting face-to-face meetings with claimants, investigating scenes of accidents, inspecting damages, negotiating with involved parties, and assessing the causes and impacts of accidents. Although claims adjusters may also handle some of these tasks, their main role is settling the claims.

Full Tort Insurance — An auto insurance option in Pennsylvania that allows the injured party to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party for pain and suffering damages. See Limited Tort Insurance.

G

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 the steps in front of a business.

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

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 (IME) — The defendant/insurance company usually requests a second medical opinion, which the plaintiff is required by law to obtain. Sometimes called a Compulsory Medical Examination, it is widely seen as biased. See Workers Compensation.

Insurance – A contractual relationship 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 specific hazards or dangers.

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

Insured – The individual is 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 time. After the document is filled out, the plaintiff’s attorney reviews it, and the answer is signed before 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.

K

Known Loss Rule — A rule stating that one may not obtain insurance coverage for a loss that has already occurred and was known to the insured; it prevents individuals from buying insurance to cover something already damaged, lost, or otherwise in need.

L

Legal Malpractice — When an attorney breaches their legal duty, all legal malpractice cases generally involve four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. In all dealings and relations with their client, a lawyer has to act with honesty, good faith, fairness, integrity, and dependability. They must also possess the legal skills and knowledge ordinarily possessed by members of the same profession. A lawyer should not take any improper action or even suggest the appearance of being improper.

Letter of Protection – A letter sent by a personal injury lawyer to a healthcare professional that permits 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. It is one of the most significant words in the field of law.

Light Duty — Temporary work assignments are given to injured employees who are unable to perform their normal job duties because of their injury. See Workers Compensation.

Limitation of Risk – The maximum amount an insurer can pay in any loss event.

Limited Tort Insurance — A car insurance option in Pennsylvania that prevents the injured party from filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party for pain and suffering. See Full Tort Insurance and No-Fault.

Litigant – Someone engaged in a lawsuit; an encompassing term for either the defendant or the plaintiff. It does not include a witness or attorney but can include a co-defendant or co-plaintiff.

Litigation – The process of taking legal action and filing a lawsuit.

Litigation Risk – The likelihood of winning a personal injury lawsuit in court (rather than settling out of court) is 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 of Consortium – The loss of benefits of a family relationship because of injuries caused by negligence.

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 in which 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 and impacting their financial situation.

M

Malpractice – Malpractice refers to negligence or misconduct by a professional, such as a lawyer, doctor, dentist, or accountant, who fails to meet the standard of care or conduct expected in their profession. It becomes malpractice when a client or patient is injured or damaged due to error, negligence, or, rarely, intent. See Medical Malpractice and Legal Malpractice.

Mandate – A command issued by a court directing a judgment, sentence, or decree enforcement.

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) – MMI is when an injured person’s condition stabilizes, and no further improvement or recovery is expected, even with additional care and treatment. In simpler terms, it means the injury has recovered as much as possible. This term is commonly used in workers’ compensation cases, where temporary benefits are provided until the patient reaches MMI. At this point, the patient is assessed for permanent disability and any further benefits. Insurance companies typically stop paying for treatments if a doctor believes the condition cannot improve.

Mediation – Mediation is an outside method of settling a dispute, where a neutral third party, agreed upon by both sides, helps them reach a mutually agreeable settlement. It is a non-binding process.

Medical Malpractice – Medical malpractice refers to negligence by a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or hospital, who deviates from the applicable standard of care and causes injury to a patient. Proving medical malpractice is often challenging and requires expert witnesses who can testify to the negligence.

Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a tumor, usually cancerous, that develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. It is often linked to exposure to asbestos dust. Asbestos, a microscopic fiber known for its durability and resistance to fire and chemicals, was widely used in various commercial and industrial applications, including roofing shingles, floor tiles, and automotive parts.

Motion – A motion is a formal request made to a judge to issue a ruling or take some action. The judge may either grant or deny the request.

N

Named Insured – The named insured is any individual whose name appears on the insurance policy itself, as opposed to those who may be covered under the policy but are not explicitly named.

Negligence – Negligence refers to the failure to use a reasonable degree of care given the circumstances. The four elements of negligence are a duty owed to a plaintiff, a breach of that duty by the defendant, proximate cause, and injury or damage suffered by the plaintiff. It is essentially carelessness.

Negotiation – Negotiation involves arranging or settling matters through discussion and mutual agreement. Negotiations are common in personal injury cases, where discussions occur between the plaintiff (usually the accident attorney or injured person) and the insurance adjuster. The aim is to reach a final settlement amount that both parties agree upon.

No-Fault – No-fault insurance is auto insurance coverage that provides first-party benefits for medical expenses, loss of income, funeral expenses, and similar expenses without determining fault. This means one does not need to prove who was at fault or negligent to receive benefits or damages. See Limited Tort Insurance and Personal Injury Protection.

Non-Economic Damages – Compensation for non-monetary and subjective losses. This includes pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and more. See Pain and Suffering and Loss of Consortium.

Notary – A notary is a person licensed by the state to perform legal acts, particularly witnessing signatures on documents. Their seal and signature on a document attest that the person who signed did so voluntarily and is who they claim to be.

O

Opening Statement – The opening statement is the initial declaration made by each attorney at the start of a trial, outlining the facts they intend to establish during the proceedings.

Out-of-Court Settlement – An agreement between the plaintiff and defendant without requiring court approval. Typically negotiated by the parties’ lawyers before a trial, it can be achieved through mediation, arbitration, or direct negotiation.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses – These are expenses paid by the injured party from their funds for costs related to their injuries, such as travel, medications, assistive devices, etc. These expenses are incurred before any benefits are received.

P

Pain and Suffering – A legal term that describes the physical, emotional, and mental injuries a personal injury victim sustained following an accident. See Non-Economic Damages.

Paralegal – A trained and certified professional who assists lawyers in various tasks, including summarizing, researching, investigating, and retrieving records. They work in law offices, helping attorneys prepare cases.

Parties – Parties are individuals, corporations, or associations involved in a lawsuit as plaintiffs or defendants.

Pecuniary Damages – Pecuniary damages refer to the loss of past and future income. See Damages.

Personal Injuries – Also known as tort law, personal injury law covers claims where someone is injured physically, mentally, or emotionally as a result of another party’s negligent actions. See Tort.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) – Personal Injury Protection is a type of auto insurance coverage that provides first-party benefits for medical expenses, loss of income, funeral expenses, and similar expenses without considering fault. In Pennsylvania, coverage includes $10,000 in medical benefits, $5,000 in death benefits, and $2,500 for non-emergency medical conditions. See No-Fault.

Plaintiff – The plaintiff is the individual suing in a court or legal case, typically the injured party.

Pleading – Pleading refers to any document, statement, or request filed with the court. It is a formal document in which a party involved in the legal case makes or responds to allegations, claims, denials, or defenses.

Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) – A disorder characterized by various symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, irritability, and dizziness, lasting for weeks or months after the injury that caused the concussion. It is a form of mild traumatic brain injury.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – A mental health condition triggered by a terrifying or stressful event, either experienced or witnessed. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. PTSD is not limited to war veterans; it is also common among people involved in serious accidents or suffering severe injuries.

Precedent – Precedent refers to previously decided cases that serve as the basis and authority for determining future cases. Decisions made in past cases, especially by higher courts, become the law regarding similar situations.

Premises Liability – Premises liability is the legal principle that holds landowners and tenants responsible when someone is injured on their property due to a dangerous condition. Premises liability claims are typically based on negligence, grounded in laws that expect property owners to maintain safe premises for visitors.

Proceeding – A proceeding is any hearing or court appearance related to a legal case.

Product Liability – Product liability refers to the accountability of a merchant, business, or manufacturer for bodily injury or property damage caused by a defect in their product.

Prognosis – Prognosis is the anticipated chance of recovery from an injury based on the symptoms and nature of the particular case. It involves a doctor’s prediction of how a person will heal or recover.

Q

Quality of Life – A person’s life before or after an accident or injury. Factors assessed in a quality-of-life evaluation may include:

  • Activities of daily living
  • Mobility and organization
  • Social relationships and interaction ability
  • Overall life satisfaction
  • Participation in recreational or work-related activities
  • Future prospects

Quid Pro Quo – Latin for “this for that,” quid pro quo refers to the mutual exchange between parties to establish a contract. In the context of workers’ compensation, employees relinquish their right to sue employers in exchange for receiving no-fault benefits.

R

Reasonable Care – The standard of treatment provided by healthcare professionals or establishments that would be considered adequate by a fair and sensible person.

Rehabilitation Benefits– Treatments and programs offered by private or employer-based health insurance aimed at helping injured individuals recover from or mitigate the effects of their injury, enabling them to restore their lives to normal or as close as possible.

Request – A request or petition signifies a desire to a person for something to be granted or done.

Request for a Physical or Mental Examination – This is a request made by one party in a lawsuit to another party to undergo a physical or mental examination relevant to the case.

Request for Admission – A request for admission involves one party in a lawsuit requesting another party to admit the truthfulness of a fact or the authenticity of a piece of evidence.

Request for Documents – This type of request involves one party in a lawsuit asking another party to provide specific documents or other physical evidence relevant to the case.

S

Settlement – A settlement marks the conclusion of a legal matter, representing a negotiated agreement between opposing parties in a civil suit. This agreement is reached before or after litigation has begun but before the court hears the case, thus eliminating the need for the judge to resolve the controversy.

Sexual Assault – Any form of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. It encompasses a range of acts, from rape to unwanted touching.

Slip and Fall – A premises liability claim involving a person slipping or tripping and being injured on someone else’s property caused by a hazard that should have been fixed.

Specific Loss Benefits – A type of workers compensation benefit for injured workers who have lost either a body part or the function of a body part due to a work-related injury or disease. See Workers Compensation.

Standard of Care – The level of medical assistance and services that an average, reasonable provider would deliver. It reflects how similarly qualified practitioners would manage the patient’s care under similar circumstances. In medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff must establish the appropriate standard of care and demonstrate its breach.

Statute of Limitations – The statute of limitations is a law that determines the period within which someone must file legal action, usually starting from the time the injury or damage occurs. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two years, unless the accident happened to a minor, who has two years after their 18th birthday to file a claim.

Strict Liability – Strict liability is a legal concept that extends responsibility for wrongdoing to another party regardless of their direct involvement in the incident. For example, if a car company manufactures a car with faulty brakes, and those brakes cause an accident, the car company could be held accountable for the accident due to strict liability. In such cases, the burden of proof shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant, requiring the defendant to prove they are not liable.

Subpoenas – Court commands issued to appear at a specific time and place to provide testimony for a case.

Subrogation – Subrogation is a legal right that allows one party to make a payment owed by another party and later collect that money from the party who originally owed it. For instance, if you’re in a car accident and the at-fault driver’s insurance delays payment for your car repair, your insurance may cover the cost. However, they are not legally obligated to pay; they do so to assist their customer.

T

Third-Party Claims – Liability claims filed by an injured party against a third party responsible for their injuries. See Workers Compensation.

Tort – A civil or private wrong, distinct from a crime, that leads to legal liability. Personal injury law is the most common type of tort law.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – An injury that occurs when an external force causes dysfunction in the brain. It usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. Objects penetrating the skull, such as bullets or shattered skull pieces, can also cause traumatic brain injury.

Trip-and-Fall – A person tripping and falling on someone else’s property due to a hazard. See Slip and Fall.

U

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM) – Auto insurance policy provision that extends coverage to include property and bodily damage caused by a motorist with insufficient insurance coverage. It is designed to compensate the injured party beyond what the at-fault party’s policy covers.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) – An addition to a standard automobile insurance policy that provides coverage if the other driver is at fault for the accident and is uninsured. It protects the insured party from having no coverage if an uninsured driver crashes into them.

V

Verdict – A verdict is a formal decision about the outcome of a case made by a judge or jury.

Voir Dire – Commonly known as jury selection, voir dire is a process in which attorneys select jurors for a trial. In personal injury cases, attorneys undergo this selection process to ensure the jurors meet specific criteria. Specifically, it refers to the examination of prospective jurors.

W

Workers Compensation – An insurance system by which state-required, no-fault benefits are provided by an employer to an employee—or the employee’s family—due to a job-related injury (including death) resulting from an accident or illness that happened at work.

Wrongful Death – A claim made on behalf of the survivors or beneficiaries of a person who has died as a result of wrongful conduct—either negligent or intentional. Such claims are generally made by those financially dependent upon the deceased. Damages could include medical expenses before death, loss of earnings of the deceased during their expected natural life, and loss of consortium (deprivation of a marital/sexual partner or familial relationship).

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