A Comprehensive Legal Dictionary for Personal Injury Cases


  • Author Alex Cosenza
  • Published April 23, 2023
  • Word count 2,525

Personal injury cases can be intimidating to navigate, especially when it comes to car accidents, bus accidents, train accidents, pedestrian accidents, workplace accidents, and other injuries. The legal system is rife with intricate terms and concepts, which can be overwhelming for those who aren't familiar with the law. Understanding key terms like negligence and comparative fault is critical to building a robust case and securing fair compensation for your injuries.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive dictionary of personal injury legal terms that you need to know. Whether you are a victim of a car accident, a slip and fall incident, medical malpractice, or any other type of personal injury, understanding these terms can help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights. By familiarizing yourself with these key terms, you will be better equipped to communicate with your attorney, understand legal documents and proceedings, and ultimately obtain the compensation you deserve.


  1. Personal injury: Any injury or harm caused to a person's body, mind, or emotions because of someone else's negligence or intentional action.

Example: A person is walking on the sidewalk when they are hit by a car that ran a red light. The pedestrian suffers a broken leg, bruises, and emotional trauma because of the accident.

  1. Negligence: Failure to exercise reasonable care that results in harm or injury to another person.

Example: A driver is texting on their phone while driving, which is illegal in their state. They take their eyes off the road and rear-end another vehicle that had stopped at a red light.

  1. Duty of Care: A legal obligation to exercise reasonable care towards others to avoid foreseeable harm.

Example: A driver is traveling on a busy highway during rush hour. As they merge into a new lane, they fail to check their blind spot and collide with another vehicle, causing significant damage to both cars and injuring the other driver.

  1. Breach of Duty: Failure to meet the legal duty of care, resulting in harm or injury to another person.

Example: A doctor fails to properly diagnose a patient's illness and prescribes an incorrect medication, which causes the patient's condition to worsen.

  1. Causation: A link between a person's negligent actions and the harm or injury suffered by the plaintiff.

Example: A customer slips on a wet floor in a grocery store and suffers a broken arm. The store had failed to put up warning signs or clean up the spill promptly. The customer's injury was directly caused by the store's breach of its duty to keep its premises safe for customers.

  1. Damages: The monetary compensation awarded to a personal injury victim to compensate for their losses, such as medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.

Example: Damages may include compensation for medical bills, lost income, physical pain, emotional distress, and other expenses or losses resulting from the accident.

  1. Liability: Legal responsibility for an injury or harm caused to another person.

Example: A store owner fails to properly maintain the flooring in their store, resulting in a customer slipping and falling and suffering injuries. In this scenario, the store owner may be held liable for the customer's injuries, as they had a duty of care to maintain safe premises for their customers.

  1. Comparative Negligence: A legal doctrine that apportions fault between the plaintiff and defendant and reduces damages accordingly.

Example: Two drivers are involved in a car accident at an intersection. One driver had a red light, but the other driver was speeding and did not see the red light in time to stop. Both drivers were found to have contributed to the accident. The first driver, who had a redlight, was found to be 20% at fault for the accident, while the second driver, who was speeding and did not see the light, was found to be 80% at fault.

  1. Contributory Negligence: A legal doctrine that bars recovery for a plaintiff if they are found to have contributed to their own injury, even if the defendant was also negligent.

Example: A pedestrian is crossing the street outside of a crosswalk and is struck by a car that was exceeding the speed limit.

  1. Assumption of Risk: A legal doctrine that limits a defendant's liability when a plaintiff voluntarily engages in an activity that is known to be risky and acknowledges the risks involved.

Example: A skier signs a waiver acknowledging the risks of skiing and assuming those risks when they purchase a lift ticket at a ski resort.

  1. Statute of Limitations: A legal time limit for filing a personal injury claim. This varies by state and the type of injury, but generally ranges from one to six years.

Example: In Los Angeles, California, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is generally two years from the date of the injury or accident.

  1. Tort: A civil wrong that causes harm or injury to another person, for which the injured party may seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit.

Example: If a consumer is injured by a defective or dangerous product, they may file a lawsuit alleging that the manufacturer or seller committed the tort of product liability by selling a product that was not safe for its intended use.

  1. Vicarious Liability: A legal doctrine that holds an employer or principal liable for the actions of their employees or agents committed within the scope of their employment or agency.

Example: When an employee of a company causes harm to another person while on the job. If the employee is acting within the scope of their employment when the harm occurs, the employer may be held liable for the employee's actions.

  1. Informed Consent: A legal doctrine that requires medical professionals to obtain a patient's voluntary and informed agreement to undergo a medical procedure, after providing information about the risks, benefits, and alternatives.

Example: When a patient is presented with a consent form before undergoing a medical procedure. The form typically outlines the nature of the procedure, its risks and benefits, and any potential complications.

  1. Loss of Earnings Capacity: A type of damages awarded to a personal injury victim to compensate for a reduction in their future earning potential as a result of their injuries.

Example: A construction worker falls from scaffolding at a job site and suffers a serious injury to their back. As a result of the injury, the worker is unable to continue performing their job duties and is forced to take a lower-paying job that requires less physical labor. The worker's earning capacity has been significantly reduced due to the injury.

  1. Medical Malpractice: A type of personal injury claim that arises when a healthcare provider fails to provide treatment in accordance with accepted medical standards, resulting in harm to the patient.

Example: A patient is prescribed a medication for a medical condition, but the healthcare provider fails to check the patient's medical history to see if they are allergic to the medication. The patient suffers a severe allergic reaction as a result.

  1. Pain and Suffering: A type of damages awarded to a personal injury victim to compensate for physical and emotional pain, discomfort, and distress resulting from their injuries.

Example: A person slips and falls on a wet floor in a grocery store, suffering a broken arm and several bruises. As a result of the injury, the person experiences physical pain and emotional distress, such as anxiety related to their inability to perform daily tasks or engage in their usual activities.

  1. Product Liability: A type of personal injury claim that arises when a defective product causes harm to the user or consumer.

Example: A consumer purchases a new toaster and uses it to make breakfast. However, the toaster malfunctions and catches fire, causing the consumer's kitchen to catch on fire as well. The consumer suffers burns and smoke inhalation because of the fire and must be hospitalized.

  1. Strict Liability: A legal doctrine that holds a defendant liable for harm caused by their actions or products, regardless of their level of fault or negligence.

Example: A company produces and sells a new type of electric scooter that has a faulty battery. The company is aware of the battery issue but decides not to recall the scooters or warn consumers. As a result, several consumers are injured when the scooters malfunction and catch fire.

  1. Wrongful Death: A type of personal injury claim that arises when a person's death is caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional act of another person or entity.

Example: A driver is texting while driving and runs a red light, striking and killing a pedestrian who had the right of way. The pedestrian's family files a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver, alleging that the driver's negligence caused the pedestrian's death.

  1. Burden of Proof: The legal responsibility of the plaintiff to provide sufficient evidence to prove their case, typically by a preponderance of the evidence.

Example: A plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit against a defendant, alleging that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff's injuries in a car accident. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the evidence presented must be more convincing than the evidence presented by the defendant.

  1. Catastrophic Injury: A severe injury that results in permanent disability or impairment, such as paralysis, traumatic brain injury, or loss of a limb.

Example: A construction worker falls from abuilding while working on the 10th floor and suffers a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures. The worker requires extensive medical treatment, including surgery, rehabilitation, and ongoing care, and is unable to return to work due to the severity of the injuries.

  1. Compensatory Damages: The monetary compensation awarded to a personal injury victim to cover actual expenses and losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.

Example: A dog bites a person, causing injuries that require medical treatment and time off work. The injured person may seek compensatory damages from the dog's owner, such as medical bills and lost wages, to compensate for the harm caused by the dog bite.

  1. Deposition: A formal interview conducted by an attorney during the discovery phase of a personal injury case, in which a witness or party under oath provides testimony that can be used in court.

Example: In a dog bite case, the plaintiff's attorney schedules a deposition with a witness who saw the incident. During the deposition, the plaintiff's attorney asks the witness questions about what they saw, such as whether the dog was on a leash or whether the plaintiff provoked the dog.

  1. Discovery: The process in a personal injury lawsuit where each party gathers information from the other through written requests for information, depositions, and other methods.

Example: In a car accident case, the plaintiff's attorney initiates discovery by sending a written request for production of documents to the defendant driver. The request asks the defendant to provide copies of any police reports, medical records, and insurance policies related to the accident.

  1. Expert Witness: A witness who possesses specialized knowledge or training in a particular field relevant to a personal injury lawsuit and provides testimony in court.

Example: In a product liability case involving a defective medical device, the plaintiff's attorney hires an expert witness who is a biomedical engineer with experience in evaluating the safety and efficacy of medical devices. The expert witness reviews the product's design, manufacturing process, and safety testing procedures, and provides an opinion as to whether the device was defectively designed or manufactured.

  1. Loss of Consortium: A type of damages awarded to a spouse or family member of a personal injury victim to compensate for the loss of the injured person's love, companionship, and services.

Example: In a car accident case, the plaintiff is a married person who suffered severe injuries in the crash. The plaintiff's spouse files a separate claim for loss of consortium, stating that because of the injuries, they have lost the ability to enjoy the same level of companionship, intimacy, and emotional support from their spouse.

  1. Non-economic Damages: A type of damages awarded to a personal injury victim to compensate for losses that are not tangible, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Example: Injuries that cause chronic pain, emotional distress, and limits the plaintiff's ability to engage in activities they enjoyed prior to the injury.

  1. Punitive Damages: A type of damages awarded in addition to compensatory damages in cases where the defendant's conduct was particularly egregious, with the aim of punishing the defendant and deterring future similar conduct.

Example: In a car accident case, the defendant was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and caused a serious crash that resulted in severe injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff's attorney argues that the defendant's conduct was particularly egregious and reckless, and that punitive damages are warranted.

  1. Res Ipsa Loquitur: A legal doctrine that allows a plaintiff to establish a defendant's negligence by showing that the injury or harm would not have occurred in the absence of the defendant's negligence, without the need to prove specific acts of negligence.

Example: A passenger is traveling on a commercial airline and suddenly, without any apparent reason, a piece of the plane's engine falls off and strikes the passenger, causing serious injury. In this scenario, there’s no need to prove the negligence of how that specific airplane part fell and struck the passenger.

  1. Contingency: A fee arrangement commonly used in legal cases, where the attorney's fee is contingent upon the outcome of the case. In other words, the attorney agrees to represent the client without charging any upfront fees, and instead receives a percentage of the final settlement or judgment if the case is successful. If the case is unsuccessful, the attorney typically receives no fee or a reduced fee. This fee arrangement is often used in personal injury cases, where the client may not have the financial resources to pay for legal representation upfront, but still wants to pursue compensation for their injuries.

Example: In a contingency fee agreement, the attorney agrees to represent the client in exchange for a percentage of the compensation awarded in the case. The contingency in this agreement is that the attorney will only be paid if the case is successful, and the client receives compensation.


Having a thorough comprehension of legal jargon that pertains to personal injury cases is essential to safeguarding your legal rights and acquiring recompense for any harm inflicted by someone else's carelessness. To gain familiarity with the language used in personal injury cases, this legal glossary serves as a valuable tool. Each term is accompanied by an example to ensure that readers can fully comprehend its meaning in a given scenario. However, if you have any inquiries regarding your specific circumstances, it is crucial to seek the guidance of a qualified attorney. With this knowledge and the assistance of a proficient legal expert, you can navigate the intricate process of pursuing a personal injury claim and increase the likelihood of a favorable result. By keeping yourself informed and proactive, you can assert your rights and obtain the compensation that you are entitled to.

I'm Alex Cosenza, a professional journalist with years of experience in the legal industry. With an MBA focused on managerial powers, I've gained valuable insights into what clients look for when seeking legal representation.

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