We understand that legal jargon can be dense and, at times, difficult to understand. If you have suffered a personal injury, spending time sifting through terms and muddling your way from one convoluted website to another is most likely the last thing your schedule will allow. The Bennett Law Group is happy to explain any legal issues related to your accident and subsequent injury. Please feel free to contact us online or give us a call at 404.541.9330.
For your convenience, we have compiled a small glossary of terms to help you better understand the content you are hearing and reading with regard to your personal injury case.
Whenever you read about personal injury cases, you see the term—negligence—repeated. What is negligence, exactly? It is either the action or lack of action someone takes that results in the loss to or injury of another person. If someone fails to maintain an appropriate level of diligence—whether this is an irresponsible driver or a careless business owner—and injury is a result of the circumstances, these parties can be prosecuted under negligence laws.
Plaintiff and Defendant
In a personal injury case, if you are filing a claim against the guilty party, you are the plaintiff. The party you are filing a claim against is considered the defendant. In some cases, however, both the plaintiff and the defendant are at fault and contribute to the accident. If this is true of your accident, you may run across the terms comparative or contributory negligence.
Comparative Negligence/Contributory Negligence
These are legal terms used when both parties involved in an accident are at fault. When this occurs, the plaintiff’s compensation is typically reduced proportionately to the negligent behavior exhibited.
Contingency Cases/Contingent Fees
Contingency cases are cases where there are no upfront fees or expenses due from the client. A contingent fee arrangement has been agreed upon in advance by the clients and his or her personal injury attorney.
Contingent fees, therefore, are the fees the client is assessed for legal services rendered. The benefit of this arrangement is that payment is contingent upon the outcome of the case. If your case is not settled or you are not awarded compensation following litigation in a court room, you are not responsible for paying your attorney’s fees. Fees are taken out of the final settlement value to pay for your legal counsel.
If you are filing a personal injury or medical malpractice claim, your case would be considered a civil case. During civil cases, the defendant’s fate is not one of possible imprisonment, but one of required compensatory payments to the plaintiff.
Unlike criminal cases, the defendant in a civil case does not have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—he or she still may be ordered to pay.
Preponderance of Evidence
In a criminal case, the defendant must be judged wholly guilty or wholly innocent. In a civil case, the defendant’s actions are judged based on preponderance of evidence—did the defendant’s actions or lack of action most likely result in someone else’s grievance? If so, he or she can be held accountable and required to compensate the injured party.
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are damages compensated for that extend beyond the compensation needed to cover actual injuries. Punitive damages are designed as a deterrent. If someone’s behavior is particularly heinous or egregious, he or she may be forced to pay punitive damages because compensatory damages do not seem to be adequate recompense.
In some personal injury cases, a damage cap may be set. This will differ from state to state, but a damage cap is a limit, ceiling or maximum amount of compensation the court will require a defendant to pay. Legal professionals have differing opinions about damage caps—which are most commonly associated with medical malpractice cases—because some believe they inhibit the victims from receiving the full compensation they deserve.
In building a case against the party at fault, both parties’ lawyers may meet with the people involved and witnesses in the case to take their depositions. These are each individual’s recollection of the incident as they remember it, that will be transcribed and possibly put onto video. They are critical in helping your personal injury attorney discover the actual events of the accident, and they can also be helpful in court, should your case go to trial.
Some people confuse mediation with a settlement, but mediation is typically a more informal process. An unbiased mediator will meet with the parties involved and try to help them come to a mutual agreement on the best way to compensate for the damages done. It is recommended that you consult your personal injury lawyer (or even have him or her join you in an informal capacity) to ensure your rights are protected in the mediation process. While mediation is a great tool for helping both the plaintiff and defendant recognize and understand their options, there is still a valid place for legal counsel within the process.
These are just a few of the more common terms you may have encountered as you have either searched for a lawyer or tried to grapple with your personal injury case alone. Our attorneys here at the Bennett Law Group are happy to discuss in detail whatever terminology or legal jargon you may have questions about, so please feel free to reach us at 404.541.9330.