Too Confused for Words: A Guide to Common Legal Terms

Have you ever started reading a book only to find you needed a dictionary alongside it? Most of the time we put those books down after getting so frustrated with having to stop every few minutes to pick up the dictionary. It can feel much the same way when you are looking at all the different legal terms that can come your way if you ever find yourself in need of legal assistance. We don’t want you to feel any unnecessary additional frustration so we put together some definitions for common terms you may encounter.

Q: What is tort litigation?

A: Tort refers to a civil wrong or wrongful act that results in injury to another. It can be either intentional or accidental. Torts include all negligence cases as well as intentional wrongs, which result in harm.

Q: What does at-fault mean?

A: The person deemed “at-fault” means they are deemed responsible for the harm that was caused, either to property (e.g., automobiles, homes, fences, etc.) or to people.

Q: What is a statute of limitation?

A: A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum period of time that a person (or persons) can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. The periods vary by state. Federal statutes set the limitations for suits filed in federal courts. If the lawsuit or claim is not filed before the statutory deadline, the right to sue or make a claim is no longer an option.

Q: What is personal or bodily injury?

A: Personal injury, sometimes referred to as bodily injury, includes any harm done to a person by the acts or omissions of another. Injury may refer to physical hurt as well as damage to reputation or dignity, loss of a legal right or breach of contract. If the party causing the injury was either intentionally causing harm or negligent then he/she is responsible (liable) for payment of damages for the harm caused.

Q: What is malpractice?

A: Malpractice is an act, or continuing conduct, of a professional (medical, legal, or financial/accounting), which does not meet the standard of professional competence and results in provable damages to his/her client or patient. Such an error may be through negligence, ignorance (when the professional should have known), or intentional wrongdoing. However, malpractice does not include the exercise of professional judgment even when the results are detrimental to the client or patient.

Q: What is a trial?

A: A trial is an examination of the facts and witnesses (both witness accounts and expert witnesses) of a case that is presided over by a judge. This can occur in a courtroom with or without a jury. If a jury is required, they will judge the factual issues and decide the verdict based on the law as given in the instructions by the judge. Final verdict or judgment usually concludes the trial.

Q: What is the difference between a verdict and a judgment?

A: A verdict is the decision of a jury after a trial, which must be accepted by the trial judge to be final. A judgment is the final decision by a court in a lawsuit, criminal prosecution or appeal from a lower court’s judgment.

Q: What is a consultation?

A: A legal consultation is simply a short meeting between an attorney and a potential client during which the potential client gives the facts of his or her case to the attorney, and the attorney explains the legal implications of those facts. After this consultation, the potential client has the option to request representation from the attorney.

Q: What is a contingent fee?

A: In a contingent fee arrangement, the attorney agrees to accept a fixed percentage of the recovery, which is the amount finally paid to the client. If you win the case, the attorney’s fee comes out of the money awarded to you. There are no up-front costs to the client.

Q: What is a claim?

A: A claim is a formal request for coverage or compensation for a covered loss or policy event. A claim can be submitted for a personal (or bodily) injury, property damage, or malpractice.

Q: What is an insurance adjuster?

A: An insurance (or claims) adjuster conducts the investigation into the claim(s) covered by the insurance policy. This can include automobile, personal injury, and property damage. An insurance adjuster should inspect all damage, review any police reports, speak to any witnesses, and talk to the property owners. The insurance adjuster then works to determine the amount of the insurance company’s potential liability to the person or property it insures. It is important to talk to an attorney if there is any doubt that the amount of compensation offered is sufficient to cover all damages.

Q: What are damages?

A: Damages refer to the amount of money awarded to the person for the harm caused to their person (body) or property.

Q: What is a settlement?

A: A settlement is a resolution to a lawsuit (or a legal dispute) prior to it going to trial. Most settlements are achieved by negotiation in which the attorneys (and sometimes an insurance adjuster with authority to pay a settlement amount on behalf of the company’s insured defendant) and the parties who filed the claim agree to terms of the settlement.

Facing the onslaught of legalese can be scary. We don’t want it to be. Do you have another legal term you would like to have defined here?

If so, leave a comment below and we will get it answered for you.

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