Personal Injury Legal Terms

The following legal terms are used in personal injury cases. They are likely to come up in your discussions with your attorney. By educating yourself on the legal meaning of these words you can be better prepared to communicate with your attorney and meaningfully contribute to the litigation process.

Arbitration: A form of alternative dispute resolution that is binding upon the parties. The parties, often times through a pre-dispute contract, refer a dispute to arbitration by one or more persons known as the arbitrator(s) and agree to be bound by the arbitration decision. The arbitrator, a third party, reviews the evidence in the case and imposes a decision that is legally binding on both sides and enforceable in the courts.

Consortium: A consortium claim is a cause of action that is available to the family members of a person injured or killed by the wrongful acts of another. Loss of consortium is the deprivation of the benefits of a familial relationship. These benefits include companionship, cooperation, affection, aid, financial support and services.

  • Loss of spousal consortium: A loss of consortium is a claim for damages suffered by the spouse of a person who has been injured or killed as a result of the defendants negligent or intentional, or otherwise wrongful acts.
  • Loss of parental consortium: A loss of consortium is a claim for damages suffered by the children of a person who has been injured or killed as a result of the defendants negligent or intentional, or otherwise wrongful acts.

Damages: Damages refer to the legal harm suffered by an individual. There are two types of legal damages that compensate an injured party: economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages compensate for the actual cost of the loss of a tangible economic sum. For example, medical expenses and lost wages. Non-economic damages, compensate for intangibles such as mental anguish, pain and suffering and physical impairment. Punitive Damages: if conduct is reckless, intentional or result of elective impairment (e.g. Alcohol, drugs), a jury can award punitive damages that are designed to punish the defendant for their conduct and deter others from such conduct. A plaintiff must satisfy a higher burden of proof to be entitled to punitive damages.

Deposition: In a deposition, a person appears under oath to answer questions posed by an attorney. It usually occurs outside the courtroom and is transcribed by a court reporter. Depositions are a form of discovery.

Discovery: Discovery permits parties to obtain evidence to be used at trial. There are various forms of discovery, including written interrogatories, requests for production of documents and depositions.

Expedited Claim: A civil law suit in which the sole relief sought is generally a money judgment of $75,000 or less. Parties may stipulate to an Expedited civil action and, if granted by the court, will not be bound by the $75,000 limitation. Expedited Civil Actions have limited and simplified discovery procedures which are designed to make expert witness evidence and presentation less expensive to the litigants.  If tried before a jury, the jury will consist of six people, however the parties can agree to a non-jury trial.  Typically, the time frame for setting an expedited case for trial is significantly shorter than the time frame for bringing a traditional civil case to trial.

Mediation: A form of alternative dispute resolution that is not binding on the parties. A third party, the mediator, assists the parties in negotiating a settlement.  The process is private, confidential, and voluntary. The mediator acts as a neutral third party and facilitates rather than directs the process.  Each party typically presents evidence to the mediator in a non-confrontational process and the mediator help to facilitate a discussion about the facts, strengths, weaknesses, and risks of each parties case.

Negligence: Negligence is a failure to act in accordance with the standard of care that society expects of its members. People have a duty to act as a reasonable person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.

Non-Jury Trial: A legal proceeding tried by a judge as opposed to a trial by jury.  The judge decides factual as well as legal questions, and makes the final judgment.  The parties must both agree to waive the right to a jury trial to have the case decided by a judge.

Personal injury: Personal injury cases involve an injury to the body, mind, or emotions, rather than injury to property.

Proximate cause: Proximate cause refers to the primary cause of an injury. It is the act from which the injury resulted, and without which the injury would not have occurred. Proximate cause is often referred to as the “legal cause” or “cause at law.”

Small Claim: Small claims courts have limited jurisdiction to hear civil cases between private litigants. The damages sought must not exceed the jurisdictional amount of $5,000.  The proceeding is confrontation in that each party may call and cross-examine witnesses and there is no jury as the case is tried to an Associate District Court Judge who issues a ruling.

Standard Non-Expedited Claim: A civil case begins when a person or entity (such as a corporation or the government), called the plaintiff, claims that another person or entity (the defendant) has failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff. The Plaintiff may demand a legal or equitable remedy.

Statute of limitations: Statute of limitations refers to the time limit in which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit. In personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is typically two years from the date of the incident. But, there are many exceptions which require earlier notice or suit. Always promptly consult an attorney to find out for sure.

Survival claim: A survival claim is one that a decedent would have had prior to his or her death. The decedent’s executor or certain family members may bring the claim. The person bringing the lawsuit is seeking to recover damages suffered by the decedent on behalf of the estate.

Tort: A tort is negligent or wrongful conduct that causes injury to a person.

Traditional Jury Trial: A legal proceeding in which the case is presented to a jury of and the factual questions and the final judgment are determined by a jury.  The judge decides the legal issues of the case and instructs the jury in the law.

Wrongful death: A wrongful death claim is filed when someone’s death has been caused by the negligence or intentional act of another person or entity. For Iowa, an estate must first be opened, and only the duly appointed administrator (if there was no will) an executor (pursuant to designation in will) can file wrongful death claims to recover the damages surviving family members suffered by the loss of their loved one.

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