Personal Injury Legal Term Glossary
Brush up on legal terminology using our comprehensive glossary
An abstract of title summarizes and documents ownership events related to a specific piece of real estate. It will generally include records and information for at least the past 50 years of land ownership. An abstract will also set out limitations or claims to the property, including easements, loans, mortgages, liens, real property taxes, and more.
An accident investigator analyzes the scene of an accident to try and determine who was at fault. Accident investigators are usually hired by personal injury lawyers or insurance companies after an accident.
An accident report is a document that is often completed by law enforcement that includes vital details regarding an accident. Georgia defines an “accident” as a collision between a motor vehicle and another vehicle or with an object, as long as there has been injuries, fatalities, or property damage of at least $500. Every accident that meets that definition should be reported in Georgia.
In Georgia state law, an “act of God” is a concept in the insurance world that describes a natural event or disaster that causes harm, inconvenience, or damage. These events are outside of human control. It can also be used to describe a situation that makes performing the terms of a contract impossible.
Actual Cash Value is the market value of a property. It is used in determining how much an insurance company will pay to reimburse their insured (or someone else who has experienced a loss because of their insured) for their losses after a car accident.
Ad litem is a Latin phrase that literally means “for the suit.” It’s used in lawsuits where the court appoints someone else to bring legal action or help someone defend themselves. Usually, someone is named because the party is a child or an incapacitated adult.
Adjudicate means to hear or try an issue and determine it judicially. This is the process by which a judge or arbiter will review evidence and arguments and make a decision about a legal issue. The most common example of adjudication is going to trial before a judge or jury.
An adjuster is someone who works for an insurance company. This person investigates, settles, or “adjusts” claims that arise out of insurance contracts on behalf of an insurance company. Their role is to ensure that a claim falls within the policy and determine how to handle that claim if it does. Insurance adjusters get paid a fee, salary or commission by the insurance company.
“Admissibility of evidence” refers to evidence that is relevant and competent enough to be formally admitted in the courtroom. A judge will determine whether or not evidence can be used.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a method to settle legal disputes without involving litigation. Some of the most common examples of this process are mediation, negotiation, and arbitration. These are seen as a way to avoid a lawsuit, as well as make the process of resolving an issue (potentially) faster.
In law, an “answer” is a legal pleading. When one side of a case files a petition or complaint that sets out their allegations, the other side (the defendant) files an answer to show their side of what happened. The defendant required to file an answer or another similar pleading in every personal injury case. Failing to file an answer can lead to a default judgment—meaning the other side wins.
An appeal is a legal proceeding that requests that a court decision be reversed. It is always filed with a higher-level court than the court that made the original decision. In Georgia, most initial legal proceedings are decided by the State Court in your district. Any appeals from State Court go to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Cases may be appealed from there to the Supreme Court of Georgia as well.
Arbitration is an out-of-court claims resolution process, where an agreed upon decision maker (the arbitrator) hears both sides of the case and decides who’s right. Normally, arbitration is binding and the decision of the arbitrator is final.
An assignment of benefits is an authorization by an individual who is covered on an insurance policy (an insured) to an insurance company. This authorization allows the insurance company to pay a third party the benefits of an insurance contract directly. The most common example is when your health insurance company pays your doctor or another healthcare provider directly instead of paying money to you for your medical bills.
Assumption of the risk is a legal doctrine under Georgia law. It’s used as a defense to tort claims like car accidents and slip and fall incidents. It states that the accident victim (or plaintiff) knew about the risks of harm and took that course of action anyway.
A “fault state” or “at fault state” is a state where the driver who caused the accident pays for all the costs, such as Georgia. Normally the money comes from their insurance policy, not out of pocket.
Attorney-client privilege is a legal privilege that keeps statements and other communications between an attorney and their client secret. No one else can force the attorney to reveal what their client has confided in them, in most cases—not even the government, or the people on the other side of a lawsuit.
A bad drug or dangerous drug refers to a drug that is defective in any potentially dangerous way, including defects with manufacturing or labeling; dangerous side effects; or inappropriate and misleading marketing. If you are harmed by a bad drug, you have a right to sue for damages.
A bad faith claim is a claim that an insurance company failed to live up to its end of the insurance policy. Bad faith claims are usually filed when the insurer denied to pay a claim, even though it was a valid claim under the policy, or when the insurer failed to even properly investigate a claim. In other words, the insurer was acting in “bad faith.”
A bedsore is a skin sore that often develops because of pressure on the skin caused by lying in bed in one position.
Benefit is a catch-all legal term that describes any gain that someone receives from a specific activity or contract. For example, if someone’s business generated a profit, but their business partner was not paid his share, the partner could sue for the “benefit” he was deprived of. Benefit can refer to physical property or certain types of rights and advantages, not just to financial gain. It’s also often used to refer to the protections of an insurance policy, especially in workers compensation cases.
Bodily injury includes any kind of physical damage to a person’s body. It is used in law as a way to talk about physical injuries in general, and to distinguish them from other types of losses such as property damage, emotional trauma, or lost wages.
Bodily injury liability insurance pays for bodily injuries after a car accident. Because it is liability insurance, it applies to the other driver or passengers, not the individuals who are in your car.
The burden of proof defines the standard by which the plaintiff or the prosecution must show that certain events took place. It’s up to the plaintiff to show that they are entitled to money damages because of some action (or inaction) of the defendants involved. There are various levels of burdens of proof that apply to different types of cases.
Car accidents include any collision involving a vehicle, such as two vehicles hitting, a vehicle hitting a pedestrian, a vehicle running off the road and more. In Georgia you have the right to compensation for injuries in a car accident you did not cause.
Car accident lawyers typically work with the victims of the accident to help them get a fair payment for their injuries and damages.
In law, causation is a cause-effect relationship between the actions (or lack of action) of one person, and the damages or injury to another person. It is used in personal injury law as a way to determine whether someone’s negligent actions makes them responsible for the injury suffered by someone else
Circumstantial evidence includes any indirect evidence that suggests or implies what happened in an accident. It is allowed in court cases, but the jury must decide how to interpret it.
Civil Rights are the most basic rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. It includes freedom from discrimination and persecution based on a wide variety of protected attributes, including race, religion, sex, disability, and more.
A claim is a legal right you assert against another person or party. It can be for money, property, or for a certain type of action. Most claims are for money to address financial losses that someone has faced after an accident or similar incident.
A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit where many people have the same injury or the same types of damages, and they all join together to sue the party responsible as a group.
In car accident cases, a collision is any time a vehicle hits something else—such as a fence, utility pole or another vehicle.
A compensable injury means that the person who was injured has a right to compensation; they can receive money or benefits for their injury. It’s a term used primarily in workers compensation claims, where some workplace injuries are covered (compensable) and others are not.
Compensation is a general term that refers to the money paid by someone who caused an injury (or other damages) to the person who suffered it. This money can offset the costs and impacts of the injury, but in many cases, it can never truly make up for it.
Compensatory damages are money paid to the victim of an injury or loss. The goal of the damages is to make up for any harm that was caused.
A complaint is a legal pleading that puts forward a claim of an injury, loss or damage, and tells the court what kind of compensation is being sought. It is, essentially, the first document that starts off a lawsuit, and it is the one that the other side will respond do in their answer.
A compulsory medical examination is a medical exam carried out by a doctor hired by an insurance company, in order to prove that the injuries someone is claiming are real. Compulsory medical examinations are typically used in personal injury cases where a victim has injuries that the insurer thinks are exaggerated or falsified. It’s also called an independent medical examination, although it is not “independent”—it favors the insurer.
A concussion is a type of head injuries that temporarily affects the normal functioning of the brain. Not everyone who gets a concussion will lose consciousness, although many do. Note: All concussions are brain injuries. Even if they do not seem serious at first, concussions should be treated as a serious and the victim should be taken to the emergency room.
A consultation is a short meeting with a personal injury lawyer. They will listen to the basics of your case and help you decide if you have a claim worth pursuing.
Damages are losses that can be compensated in a personal injury case. They include concrete financial losses like car repairs or hospital bills, and human losses like pain, mental anguish or the loss of a loved one.
A deductible is an insurance term. It sets out a specific amount of minimum cost that you must incur before your insurance pays anything. You will see this term in a wide variety of insurance policies, from auto to health insurance.
The defendant in a personal injury case is the party that is responsible for the cost of the injury. Usually it is an insurance company, not an individual person.
Defenses to a personal injury case include claiming the victim was responsible for the accident or that the victim didn’t take basic steps to mitigate the damage.
A demand letter is a letter provided to a defendant or their insurance company (or both) stating the general facts of your legal claim and providing them with a money demand that you will accept to settle the case.
A diagnosis from a doctor is an essential part of your injury claim and shows hard proof of your injury. It’s important to find a doctor who understands the kind of injury you’ve sustained.
Direct examination is the process of an attorney questioning a witness (or you) who will be favorable to your case. This person’s testimony is included as part of your case-in-chief presented to a judge or jury.
Disability benefits provide an income to people who are unable to work because of a disease, injury or other disability.
A disabling condition is identified by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in their impairment listing manual, or “Blue Book,” as a condition that can be severe enough to qualify a person for Social Security Disability benefits. Additionally, the condition must be severe enough that it can interfere with the individual’s ability “to gain substantial employment.”
In personal injury law, disclosure means that both parties must share any crucial documents that may affect the case, as early in the case as possible.
Discovery is a phase of the civil lawsuit process. During discovery, both parties have a chance to request evidence and discover facts that they may need during trial.
A motion to dismiss is a formal request that the judge throw out your case. If your case is dismissed, you lose the right to recover money for your injury.
Distracted driving includes performing any activity while driving that could distract you from safely operating your vehicle. This can include talking hands-free on a cell phone, texting, checking the radio and much more.
In Georgia, the driver who is at fault for the accident is liable for all of the damages and costs.
Driving without a license is a punishable offense in all 50 states. In Georgia, it is a misdemeanor crime. You can receive a “driving without a license” charge for either not having a driver’s license at all or letting your license expire.
DUI is short for Driving Under the Influence. It is used in the context of the criminal charge for DUI or OWI (“Operating While Intoxicated”).
The term Eggshell Plaintiff means that the plaintiff has additional conditions or health problems that make the damages in a particular case even more severe for them. It’s used to stand for the fact that the defendant has to account for any damages caused by the accident, not just damages that a “normal” person would suffer.
Emotional distress damages are money recovered for any form of distress such as anxiety, sleep loss, humiliation and psychological trauma. Generally, you cannot recover money for emotional distress unless it is clearly related to a physical injury or financial loss.
Evidence includes any type of object, observation, document or testimony that helps prove who is right in a civil court case.
Fault refers to negligence or breach of duty causing injury to another. In personal injury law, fault establishes liability for the costs of an accident.
First party insurance benefits include those benefits that you can get from your own insurance company regardless of fault in the accident. These coverages are optional in Georgia, which means that you may or may not have them available as part of your auto insurance coverage.
When a driver is convicted of any traffic violation, the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) adds points to their driving history. If a certain number of points are accumulated with a period of time, the driver’s license can be suspended, revoked, or canceled. This is the Georgia DDS point system.
Hazardous exposure is exposure to any kind of hazardous chemical or substance, especially if it causes injury or some kind of medical condition. In some cases, the injury will be obvious immediately while in other cases of hazardous exposure they will only develop much later. Most hazardous exposure happens on the job.
Hearsay is information heard secondhand, or said by someone who’s not present as a witness at trial. In most cases hearsay is not allowed as evidence in court.
Indemnity generally means security or protection against loss or another financial burden. In the legal context, it means taking legal responsibility for one’s actions, often in the form of money damages for another person’s losses.
Insurance is a contract where one entity (the insurance company) agrees to “indemnify” (pay for) losses in specific types of situations—such as a car accident, house fire or medical bill.
Insurer is a term that refers to the insurance company that is providing insurance coverage for a specific situation. They are also the entity that will pay for losses associated with the accident or incident.
Jurisdiction refers to the types of cases a particular court is authorized to hear. A court cannot accept cases or make rulings outside its jurisdiction.
In Georgia, personal injury cases are decided by a jury of twelve members of the community, not by a judge.
Larceny refers to taking someone else’s property. In a civil larceny case, you can sue to recover the costs of stolen property.
A lawsuit means bringing a case in a court of law. It involves a legal claim or complaint against another party. A judge or jury will make a decision to end a disagreement between the parties involved.
A lawyer is someone who practices law. They are also known as attorneys. In Georgia, lawyers have to be licensed by the state to practice law, and that requires extensive schooling and testing—or a certain level of experience and licensure in another state.
The legal definition of injury is any harm or loss caused to someone’s body, their rights, their property or their reputation. The victim of the injury typically has a right to recover damages from the person who caused it.
Liability refers to being legally responsible for something. It also references the amount of money that one party owes another.
Litigation is used to describe the legal process of asserting a lawsuit. It is between two or more parties, and it involves enforcing a legal claim for money damages or another remedy or defending a legal right.
A long-term disability is a serious disability that prevents you from working for an extended period of time. Long-term disability benefits are typically paid through a long-term disability insurance policy or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Loss generally means the value placed on damages due to an accident by another person’s carelessness, wrongdoing, or inaction. This term is often used interchangeably with damages or injuries.
Loss of consortium is a type of damage that is available in many personal injury cases. “Loss of consortium” under Georgia law generally means the loss of one spouse for the other’s society, companionship, affection, and all other value that arises out of the marriage.
Lost wages include the money that you could have earned at work, but you were unable to do so because you were healing from your injuries after a personal injury, such as a car accident or slip and fall incident. It is a category of damages that you can claim in a legal case against an at-fault party.
Medical malpractice happens when a doctor, hospital, or other health care provider fails to take proper care of a patient—either by doing something they should have not have done or failing to do something they should have done—resulting in injury or death. Examples could be errors in treatment, diagnosis, or health management of the patient.
Medical malpractice caps are limits on the amount of money that can be received from a medical malpractice lawsuit, even if the lawsuit is successful. Most of these caps are placed only on non-economic damages like pain and suffering, but a few states have limits on all forms of damages in medical malpractice cases.
Mitigating circumstances refer to conditions, facts, or events that offset a person’s blame or responsibility. The courts use mitigating circumstances in reducing a defendant’s liability (in a lawsuit) or charges (in a criminal case). They often involve personal or family situations that make the person’s actions seem more reasonable, but don’t actually excuse them.
Modified comparative negligence allocates damages among the parties involved in a lawsuit. It limits those who can get damages to only those who are less than half at fault for the accident that occurred. It’s in contrast to pure comparative negligence states, which don’t have a similar limitation. Georgia uses modified comparative negligence in personal injury cases.
Motions are formal requests asking the court to issue a certain order, direction or ruling.
Negligence is a legal term for fault. When someone is careless and ends up causing an injury or property damage, they are “negligent” and they are liable for the cost of the accident.
Negligence per se is a legal term that means that an action or inaction is virtually automatically negligent because it violates a law that is specifically designed to protect the public.
A no-contact car accident occurs when one driver acts in a way that forces another driver to take evasive action or leave the road. The second driver runs into another vehicle or property, causing damage, injuries, or both. Although the two vehicles do not touch, the first vehicle is still often responsible for the damage associated with the crash.
An oath is a formal promise to tell the truth in court. Testimony given under oath is known as “sworn testimony” and is generally considered reliable evidence.
An occupational disease is a disease, illness, or other long-term health condition that is acquired in the course of a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease.
Pain and suffering refers to the mental and physical pain that you experience after an accident. Legally, it is defined as a type of damages that designed to compensate you for the unique pain and suffering that you have gone through after an accident and that you are likely to experience in the future.
Partial disability is a term used in Georgia workers’ compensation law. It accounts for the fact that you have a permanent disability that affects your ability to work or function. It doesn’t mean that you are permanently and totally disabled, but your injury will likely affect your function on a partial basis for the rest of your life.
In personal injury law, a “party” is any person, group or company involved in a lawsuit.
All passengers in a car accident have the right to compensation from the driver who caused the accident. This is true no matter which vehicle they were in.
A pedestrian is someone traveling on foot, or in an equivalent manner such as a wheelchair.
Personal injury is any damage or loss that affects a person’s body. This includes mental damages even though they may not have a physical side effect in some cases, as well.
The term phantom driver, or a phantom vehicle, is most commonly used to describe the missing party in a hit and run situation. But any time someone is unidentified and allegedly caused an accident, they can be considered a “phantom driver.”
The plaintiff in a personal injury case is the person who was injured or their family—it is the person bringing the complaint to court.
If a personal injury claim goes to trial, the jurors may have prejudices that affect the outcome. These include prejudices related to the injury victim’s personality or background.
Premises liability is a legal claim that’s asserted when you’re injured on someone else’s property because the property owner or manager failed to exercise ordinary care in keeping the property safe.
Preponderance of the evidence means the superior weight of evidence upon the issues involved, which, while not enough to free the mind wholly from reasonable doubt, is yet sufficient to incline a reasonable and impartial mind to one side of the issue rather than the other.
Process refers to the steps your lawsuit must go through. Personal injury lawsuits are often resolved by a settlement without going through the entire process.
Products liability is a legal claim that’s asserted when a manufacturer, seller, or other party has provided a defective product. People who were injured or harmed by the product, or suffered a loss because of it, have a valid legal claim against the manufacturer/seller.
Property damage liability insurance pays for damage to someone else’s car that you cause, up to the policy limits. It will also often cover property located in the vehicle as well, not just the car itself.
When a negligent action causes an injury, and a reasonable person could have expected the action to do so, the action is considered the “proximate cause” of the injury.
Reckless driving is a criminal charge that includes any kind of highly dangerous driving. If the driver who hit you is guilty of reckless driving, they will almost certainly be found at fault for the accident and may be forced to pay you extra damages.
Respondeat superior means that an employer is responsible for the actions of their workers, during the course of the workers’ job.
A settlement is an agreement that resolves a lawsuit without a court verdict. In a personal injury case, a settlement almost always means the victim is paid some amount of money.
Short-term disability is a type of insurance that provides benefits if you are unable to work for a short period of time. It is private insurance you must purchase in the State of Georgia. There is no state-run short term disability program in Georgia.
Social Security Disability (SSD) is a government program that provides benefits to people who used to work for a living, but can no longer work because of a medical condition. SSD is part of the federal Social Security Act, the same law that provides Social Security benefits for retirees.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to people who can’t work anymore because of a medical condition. SSDI is a government program, and its benefits are only available to people who have held jobs and paid Social Security taxes earlier in their lives.
Sovereign immunity means that the government cannot be sued unless it gives its consent. In practice, it means that there are special rules for filing a lawsuit against local, state or federal government
Under workers compensation law, a specific loss means the permanent loss of a specific body part—or the ability or use that body part—because of an injury or amputation resulting from work duties.
Speculation is giving an opinion or guess as to what happened. Speculation is not allowed as evidence in a personal injury case.
SR-22 insurance is actually a Certificate of Financial Responsibility (CFR) form. It is issued by your insurance company. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV or MVD) may require it to verify that you have auto insurance liability coverage.
Standard of care is the attention and cautiousness a reasonable person should exercise in a specific circumstance to prevent harm to others. If a person fails to meet their duty of care towards other people, they are failing to meet this standard of care, which is also known as negligence.
In civil law, statutes of limitations are laws that set deadlines for filing a claim. Most civil cases in Georgia have a two-year deadline.
In lawsuits, a stipulation is when both sides agree on certain facts in order to make the case simpler and faster.
Strict liability means that a party can be found responsible for injuries or damages without proving that they were negligent (careless) nor that they intended to do harm. In a sense, they are almost “automatically” liable for the results of an action, activity or product. It is only used in certain types of personal injury cases.
A subpoena is a legal, court-ordered written command for certain documents or for someone to appear in court. The information obtained from a subpoena request may be used to support facts in a case.
Subrogation is when a third party, like an insurance company, gets a share of your personal injury award because they paid part of the original cost of your injury.
A summons is the formal notification given to someone by the courts when you are suing them. It is the official start of the lawsuit.
Few people think of sunny weather as a hazardous condition, but there are cases where it can be. Every year, numerous accidents in Georgia happen because drivers are blinded by sunlight or sun glare. This can be very frustrating for everyone involved—the driver who was blinded feels like there was nothing they could do, and the victim worries that they will use the sun as an excuse to dodge liability. The reality is that the sun can almost never be used as an excuse in a car accident, even if it really was the cause. Instead, drivers are expected to take reasonable precautions not to be blinded by the sun.
In Georgia, a super speeder has been convicted of speeding at 75 mph or above on a two-lane road or at least 85 mph on a highway or road.
Witnesses are common in many personal injury lawsuits, such as car accident cases and faulty medical device claims. When a witness answers questions under oath, the information they provide is known as testimony. Testimony is considered a form of evidence and can be used to help decide cases. This is because there are rules and procedures that must be followed to gather testimony, in order to make sure it is as truthful and relevant as possible.
Third-party litigation is when a third-party funder invests money into a lawsuit between two parties in exchange for a certain percentage of the claim amount. Third-party litigation is also known as third-party funding, litigation funding, or legal financing.
A tort is any wrongful act that causes injury, damage or loss to someone else. Torts are the basis of personal injury law.
“Tortfeasor” is a technical term for the person or business that caused harm in a personal injury case. Tortfeasors can be held liable for the damage they caused.
Total disability means an injury that has impaired the physical and/or mental ability of a person so much that they can never again resume their normal occupational or non-occupational activities. This type of disability remains with the person even after they’ve healed as much as possible.
The term total loss or “totaled” is used in car accident claims where the cost of repairing a vehicle is more than the car is worth. Some insurance companies will also declare that a car is a total loss if the cost to repair the vehicle is a certain percentage of the value of the car, usually in the range of 70% and above.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an acute injury to the brain. It is often caused by a sudden, severe impact on the brain, such as in a car accident, sporting event, or other accident. It can affect your ability to process information, your personality, and your general functionality. TBIs often cause irreversible damage.
Personal injury claims can go to trial in a civil court. In Georgia, the trial is overseen by a judge and decided by a jury.
In accidents involving U-turns, the driver making the turn is often found to be at fault, but not always—especially if they made the turn legally and safely.
Uninsured motorist coverage will pay for your damages in an accident if the driver who caused the accident doesn’t have insurance, doesn’t have enough insurance, or cannot be identified. Insurance companies in Georgia are required to offer you this kind of insurance.
Vehicular manslaughter, also known as vehicular homicide, is the killing of a person through illegal driving of a vehicle, such as through drunk driving, speeding, or reckless driving.
Civil lawsuits must be filed in the correct venue, i.e, the correct state, county or city based on the specifics of the case. Courts in other venues cannot accept the case.
Vicarious liability means that an employer is the one who is ultimately responsible for any injuries or damages caused by their employees. It only comes into play if the damages were caused during the course of work duties — for example, if a store clerk causes an accident while stocking shelves, their employer is the ones liable for injuries.
Vocational rehabilitation (VR) services help individuals with physical, psychological, emotional, or cognitive disabilities or impairments prepare for, find, and maintain employment. VR programs also help employers recruit and retain employees with disabilities.
A waiver is a contract where you agree not to hold someone else liable for your injuries. Waivers are not always iron clad and you may still have a claim even if you signed one.
Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained in car accidents. Although it is sometimes considered controversial, whiplash is a real condition that can cause severe pain.
Workers compensation is a system that guarantees all workers will receive 100% coverage for any costs related to a workplace injury, no matter how the injury happened.