When you are preparing to file a lawsuit against a negligent driver, highly specific legal terms are likely to come up. Understanding legal terminology will save you time and help you avoid confusion. This article will introduce you to some of the basic phrases and concepts you should know. For more details and terms relevant to your case, consult with your auto accident attorney in Houston, TX.
14 Personal Injury Law Terms to Know Before You Go to Court
1. Personal Injury
The term “personal injury” can refer to the area of law that deals with the losses a person sustains as the result of another party’s negligence or to the specific injury that was incurred.
“Personal injury” encompasses the emotional, physical, and financial impact of an accident, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and psychological distress. Personal injury cases are handled in civil rather than criminal court.
A tort is a wrongful act that results in harm to a person or property. When individuals or organizations are found responsible for torts such as personal injuries, they incur liability for the damages.
3. At-Fault vs. No-Fault
“At-fault” and “no-fault” are terms that often come up in auto accident cases. They are usually used in conversations regarding liability, especially if the damages are to be paid through insurance. In “no-fault” states, each driver is responsible for covering his or her own damages, regardless of who was responsible. In an “at fault” state, the driver who caused the crash must pay for all of the damages.
While at-fault drivers can usually use an insurance policy to cover the damages, any driver who is uninsured faces the prospect of paying for any accident-related expenses out-of-pocket. Texas is an at-fault state.
4. Comparative Fault
Car accidents are complex incidents that often arise out of a combination of factors, including road conditions, vehicle defects, and negligent actions. Many times, multiple drivers commit errors that could be grounds for liability.
In comparative fault cases, plaintiffs have their compensation reduced by the percentage of fault they share. They can only collect compensation at if their percentage of blame is less than 50%.
The term damages is used to describe the financial obligation a negligent party owes the plaintiff after being found liable in a personal injury case. Most of the damages are likely to be compensatory, meaning they compensate the plaintiff for specific losses. However, the defendant may also incur additional liability in the form of punitive damages, which are intended as a punishment for acts of gross negligence.
Economic damages are losses that are financial in nature. Medical expenses and lost wages are the two most common types of economic damages in a personal injury case. Given the plaintiff’s medical bills and accounting records, economic damages are usually fairly straightforward to determine.
Noneconomic damages are subjective losses, such as physical pain and emotional distress. Disfigurement and the loss of quality of life can also factor into a plaintiff’s noneconomic damages. Because there is no way to repay a plaintiff for noneconomic damages in the form in which they were sustained, courts assign a monetary value to such losses after considering the severity of the injury.
6. Duty of Care
A person’s duty of care is his or her legal responsibility to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of others. A violation of one’s duty of care can be grounds for negligence, giving an injured party cause to take civil action in pursuit of damages.
You may also see the term “standard of care,” which refers to the actions a reasonable person would have taken to avoid causing injury given the same set of circumstances. The standard of care can be slightly different in every case. Driving according to the standard of care generally entails following the rules of the road, maintaining one’s vehicle, staying focused, and avoiding intoxication.
A liability is a legal obligation that one party owes another. In a personal injury case, liability usually refers to the amount of money the defendant must pay the plaintiff after being found responsible for causing injury through negligence.
8. Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the legally acceptable amount of time you have to take civil action against a party that injured you. In Texas, the statute of limitations is usually two years from the date of the injury. However, extensions can be granted for minors and individuals whose injuries were not immediately apparent.
Litigation is the act of filing a lawsuit and arguing one’s case in court. The object of litigation is to obtain a favorable verdict from a jury or a judge, usually ordering the defendant to pay damages.
The defendant is the party against whom the plaintiff takes civil action, such as filing a personal injury lawsuit. You may also see the term “the defense” in reference to the defendant and his or her legal team.
The plaintiff is the party who files a lawsuit against the defendant on the grounds of a personal injury or another type of tort. If you decide to go to court to seek damages after a car accident, you will be the plaintiff. After submitting a personal injury claim, you can also be referred to as a claimaint.
12. Preponderance of Evidence
The preponderance of evidence refers to the standard of proof needed to win a civil lawsuit. Unlike in a criminal trial, the plaintiffs do not need to prove that defendants are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Rather, they only need to present enough evidence to outweigh a defendant’s arguments.
13. Expert Witness
An expert witness is an individual whose professional knowledge qualifies him or her to give an official testimony on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant. To further your case, an auto accident attorney might call in physicians, accident reconstruction experts, and/or other expert witnesses.
A settlement is an agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant which resolves a legal dispute without the need for a verdict. Your personal injury law attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable settlement with the at-fault driver or his or her insurance company before a trial date is requested, saving all parties time and legal fees.
Learn More About the Legal Process From an Auto Accident Attorney
While legal terminology can feel overwhelming, it is in no way intended to deter injured individuals from seeking compensation. By meeting with an attorney, you can talk through your case, gain familiarity with the legal system, and build the confidence you need to seek a favorable outcome. Our firm offers free consultations during which you can ask questions about legal terminology and other aspects of pursuing compensation. We will also review your grounds for a settlement.
Find a Personal Injury Law Attorney In Houston, TX
Our attorneys have the expertise needed to tackle complex personal injury cases. We will take the time to make sure you feel well informed regarding your legal options, supporting you in whatever course of action you choose to take. To find a personal injury law attorney in Houston, TX, contact Houston Injury Lawyers PLLC.