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Personal Injury Legal Term Glossary

Catastrophic Injury – a life-changing injury that results in a person being permanently disabled, preventing them from being able to secure gainful employment

Civil Suit – a lawsuit brought about by a person against another person or entity. Defendants in a civil lawsuit do not face the possibility of incarceration as a result of the case, but might be required to pay the plaintiff compensatory and punitive damages. Personal injury and wrongful death cases fall under the category of civil law.

Contingency Cases – a legal case in which a contingent fees agreement has been reached between a client and attorney

Contingent Fees – also known as contingency fees. Refers to a payment arrangement offered by a personal injury or wrongful death lawyer in which the plaintiff’s legal fees are due only if the plaintiff’s case is won in court or is settled favorably for the client outside of court.  Rather than being collected from the client, contingent fees are collected from the payment awarded to the client in the case.

Compensatory Damages – rewards, typically in monetary form, awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury cases for past, present and future pain and suffering

Deposition – an examination and interview involving all parties in a lawsuit that takes place prior to the case going to trial. Both parties in a case are present at a deposition, along with their legal representation, a court reporter and sometimes a couple of witnesses. Attorneys from both sides ask questions of the other’s client to gain information that might help them argue the case. If a deposition is arranged, attendance by all involved parties is required by law.

Personal Injury – injury to a person’s physical or mental well being

Preponderance of Evidence – in contrast to criminal cases, in which defendants must be found “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” civil cases only require a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that evidence must show that events surrounding the lawsuit “most likely” happened or didn’t happen. In a personal injury or wrongful death case, a plaintiff must present evidence to show that it is more likely than not that their injuries or family member’s death resulted from the negligence or misconduct of the defendant.

Punitive Damages – damages added to a settlement or to a compensatory damages award that serve as extra punishment for a defendant guilty of severe and willful misconduct, such as drunk driving

Recovery – money awarded to a plaintiff in a personal injury or wrongful death case

Settlement – an agreement reached between both parties in a lawsuit, prior to the case going to trial or before a decision is reached in a trial. Settlements negotiated in personal injury and wrongful death cases typically involve both parties agreeing that the defendant will pay a specified amount of money to the plaintiff.

Statute of Limitations – a measurable amount of time designating the deadline by which legal proceedings must begin following an event

Tort Laws – Laws protecting those who have suffered personal injury because of someone else’s carelessness, negligence or misconduct

Wrongful Death – the death of any person that is caused by the careless, negligent or malicious act of another. In a wrongful death case, family members of the deceased seek monetary damages from the person or entity responsible for the death. Monetary damages are determined based on a number of factors, including the earning potential of the deceased, the number of dependants the deceased had, the deceased’s prior life expectancy, medical bills arising from the act that ultimately led to the death, and funeral expenses.

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