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Common Terms in Personal Injury Law

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As personal injury lawyers in New Orleans, we’ve dealt with hundreds of clients in a wide variety of cases. When communicating with our clients,  they sometimes don’t know what a specific legal term means, or don’t fully grasp its complete meaning. We’ve gathered below the most common terms we come across:


Adjudicate: When you bring your case to a judge for an official ruling to settle a dispute between two parties. An official judgment from a judge or an arbiter is to adjudicate. An adjudication from a judge will be a decision that determines the rights and obligations between the two parties involved in the judgment. It’s the formal, legal process of resolving a dispute.

Personal Injury Claim: Many people confuse the terms of personal injury case and personal injury claims as meaning the same. In actuality, they are separate and distinct from one another. In personal injury law, a claim is an open dispute between two parties that has not yet involved the court system. It involves the at-fault party and the aggrieved party and the insurance company as the aggrieved party tries to get compensation for wrongdoing against them, such as any bodily injury they have incurred.

Personal Injury Case or Lawsuit: Personal Injury cases are when you cannot reach an amicable agreement with the opposing party, or insurance company. If you cannot reach an agreement through a claim, you must bring your claim to court and it then becomes a lawsuit or case. Once a lawsuit is filed, the two parties are called “plaintiff” and “defendant”. 

Litigation: is the legal proceedings between two opposing parties involved in a lawsuit. It is all the steps and tasks that make up a personal injury lawsuit. Litigation begins the moment someone decides to formally file a lawsuit. There are various main stages of litigation: pre-suit, dispute resolution, discovery, pre-trial, trial, settlement, and appeal.

Plaintiff: If a settlement cannot be reached in a personal injury claim, a lawsuit is filed. The plaintiff is the person or party who initiates a lawsuit before a court of law. The plaintiff in a personal injury case seeks the court to pass judgment in their favor.

Defendant: The defendant in a personal injury law case is the person, party of institution being accused of wrongdoing in a court of law. The defendant is the person defending or denying an accusation or wrongdoing brought against them by the opposing party, the plaintiff. In every legal battle, there are two sides, a defendant and a plaintiff.

Tort and Intentional Torts: A tort in personal injury law is a wrongful act committed against another that causes harm or bodily injury. It can be intentional, accidental or negligent. Torts have three major categories: intentional torts, negligent torts, and strict liability torts. An intentional tort is wrongdoing that the defending party knew was wrong, such as hitting a person. Negligent torts are actions that can be seen as unreasonably unsafe, such as driving over and beyond the speed limit. Strict liability in tort law is being liable for something without being at fault. An example would be if you were visiting a zoo and a caged animal escaped and attacked you, the zoo would be held liable.

Civil Case: A civil case involves a dispute between two parties about the legal rights they owe each other. Resolutions of these disputes are solved through civil lawsuits. Civil cases generally have lighter terms of punishment, generally resulting in monetary compensation to the aggrieved party.

Criminal Case: Any person formally accused of a criminal act. A victim’s only compensation in a criminal case is seeing the perpetrator face jail time, fines or other penalties. In a criminal case, a government brings suit against a criminal whether it be state or federal. In a criminal case the burden or proof against the accused to find him guilty is generally higher than in a civil case.

Punitive Damages: Damages, monetary compensation for a wrongdoing done to a party, that are awarded to a plaintiff over simple compensation. Punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff to punish the defendant. They are awarded at the court’s discretion when a person’s behavior has been especially harmful to a plaintiff. They are meant to deter the defendant and others from doing the act they committed again.

Compensatory damages: When you get compensatory damages you are getting paid to compensate you for the amount of your loss. For instance, if your automobile window was destroyed due to negligence of another and you are awarded compensatory damages you would receive monies for the amount of the window.

Contingency Fee: Many lawyers will take a personal injury case base on contingency. Contingency means the lawyer gets paid only when the result is favorable for the plaintiff. They are usually agreed upon as a percentage of your winnings in a judgment. 

We’ve listed many of the words, terms, and phrases that are commonly used in personal injury law. Though we haven’t listed every single term here, it’s the main list that we’ve come across. If you have any questions about these phrases or need help with your personal injury law claim, contact Voorhies Personal Injury Law Firm now >