Common Legal Terms

Arraignment: Typically in a criminal case, once a defendant has had a preliminary hearing, and the charges have been bound over, the court sets the case for an Arraignment. At the arraignment, the defendant will be expected to enter a plea. If the defendant wishes to deny the charges, he would plead not guilty. If the defendant wishes to admit the charges or charge, typically by way of a plea agreement, he would plead guilty.

Arbitration: A method of dispute resolution involving one or more neutral third parties who are usually agreed to by the disputing parties and whose decision is binding.

Assumption of Risk: A voluntary encountering and acceptance of a known risk of damage or loss under circumstances where such risk is reasonable or probable. Many state ski statutes say that skiers assume certain risks by engaging in the sport, and therefore the ski area operators are not liable for injuries resulting from the voluntary and knowing choice to ski. For example, falling down while skiing is a known risk that is assumed. Ski areas are usually not liable when this happens. However, if the ski area creates a danger of risk that is not inherent to skiing, such as hitting someone with the groomer, the ski area would be liable.

Civil Action: A lawsuit seeking redress or an award of damages for a civil wrong, as opposed to criminal proceedings that are prosecuted by the government.

Comparative or Contributory Negligence: This type of negligence concerns the acts of the injured party, and asks to what extent the injured party was responsible for their own injury. The insurance company providing the defense for the wrongdoer will attempt to prove that the plaintiff contributed to his or her own injury in some way in order to reduce the amount of money the insurance company will have to pay on behalf of the wrongdoer.

Damages: An injured party may be entitled to compensation for certain kinds of damages. These types of damages can include: Economic damages, e.g. medical expenses incurred in the treatment of both past and future injuries; lost wages (both past and future); Non-economic damages, e.g. loss of ability to enjoy life, physical pain and mental suffering, loss of time; and Permanent Physical Impairment and Disfigurement, i.e. loss of full use or function of the body, loss of a limb, scarring. Other damages might include loss of services, loss of companionship and sexual relations for the spouse of the injured party.

Disposition Hearing: In a criminal case, the court may set your case for a disposition hearing. This is a hearing where you or your attorney has an opportunity to discuss a possible plea resolution with the government.

Discovery: Various pre-trial procedures including depositions, interrogatories and requests for production of documents, whereby parties obtain evidence to be used at trial. In a criminal case, discovery refers to the method of obtaining the evidence being used against you, whether it be police reports, witness statements or physical evidence such as fingerprint results.

Duty of Care: the legal obligations to be careful in conduct or care so that people are not injured by our actions or our failure to act.

Gross Negligence: A negligent act committed with a conscious or willful or wanton indifference to the consequences; recklessness.

Interrogatories: Written questions served on a party to a lawsuit to be answered under oath, as part of pre-trial discovery.

Liability: Legal responsibility for an accident; a person who is liable must pay for injuries and damages caused in the accident.

Lien: A legal right or interest that a creditor has in another’s property, lasting usually until a debt or duty that it secures is satisfied. Hospital, doctor’s and one’s own health insurance carrier may take a “lien” against proceeds to be recovered against the negligent party for the value of the service or payment made for the services.

Malpractice: Negligence by a professional such as a doctor, lawyer or engineer in the performance of professional duties; professional misconduct.

Motions hearing: In a criminal case, the court, at the request of the parties, may set the case for a motions hearing. This hearing is where your attorney or the government may be seeking to obtain the court’s permission to introduce certain evidence into trial or suppress evidence as well as litigate any other issues pertaining to the case.

Negligence: Negligence is a failure to act in accordance with the standard of care that society expects of its members. Individuals have a duty to act carefully and avoid causing injury to others. Individuals and companies are required to act as a “reasonable person” would act under similar circumstances in order to avoid the foreseeable adverse consequences of his actions or failure to act.

Negligence Per Se: The violation of a rule of law, regulation or statute, the violation of which means that the wrongdoer breached his duty and was negligent as a matter of law.

Pain and Suffering: An element of non-economic damages to which the plaintiff is entitled if injures as the result of the wrongdoing of another.

Plaintiff: The person who brings a lawsuit against the person causing injury or damages.

Preliminary Hearing: In a criminal case, a preliminary hearing is where a judge decides if there is probable cause to “bind the case over” to the next stage in court. Evidence is presented and the prosecutor must prove that it is more likely than not that a crime was committed, and that it was you that committed it.

Premises Liability: Premises liability refers to the duty of a property owner or person responsible for the condition of the property to maintain the “premises”, that is the land and buildings, in a reasonably safe condition. If the owner fails to do so, he may be liable for the injuries suffered by someone who comes onto the premises as a result of the unsafe or defective condition. The specific duty required as to a particular individual may be different depending on whether that person is an invited customer, a permissive user or guest, a trespasser, or child.

Products Liability: Products liability refers to the legal liability of manufacturers and sellers to compensate purchasers for damages or injuries caused by defects in the products purchase.

Proximate Cause: That which in natural sequences produces an injury.

Punitive Damages: Damages awarded to punish a party who committed a wrongful act rather than to compensate an injured party for actual damages; exemplary damages.
Restitution: Restitution is the term used by the courts and prosecutors to refer to monetary compensation to a victim in a criminal matter for damages caused by the Defendant.

Sentencing: After a loss at trial or a plea of guilty, the Defendant is sentenced by the court. This will typically occur six to eight weeks after a plea of guilty or conviction at trial. Before sentencing, the court typically orders that a presentence report be completed by the probation department. At sentencing, the court will consider the report in deciding how to sentence the defendant. The defendant should receive a copy of the presentence report prior to the sentencing hearing.

Slip and Fall Injuries: This refers to a type of negligence claim typically when a person falls and suffers an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence.

Statute of Limitations: A statute that fixes the time within which a lawsuit on a claim must be filed, and beyond which, it will be forever barred.

Strict Liability: Legal responsibility that attaches in certain circumstances, e.g. for injuries caused by a defective or dangerous product; the injured person is not required to show that the product maker or seller was negligent.

Subrogation: The right of an injured party’s own insurance company (i.e. health insurances), which has paid benefits to an injured party as a result of a third party’s wrongful action, to be reimbursed by the injured party upon the injured party’s receiving any compensation from the responsible party.

Third Party: One who is not a party to a lawsuit, agreement, or other transaction but who is somehow involved in the transaction; someone other than the principal parties.

Tort: A private or civil wrong that results in an injury; a breach of the duty of care causing damages; a negligent act.

Tortfeasor: One who commit a tort; a wrongdoer.

Trial: Trial is a court proceeding whereby a person’s claim is presented to either a jury or a judge for final determination.

Victim: Victim is typically how a person is referred to by the courts and government prosecutors when they have been injured or affected by a crime.

Waiver: The voluntary and intentional surrender of a right or privilege.

Wrongful Death: A wrongful death action is a type of lawsuit brought on behalf of the surviving family or beneficiaries of a person who died through the fault or negligence of another. The surviving spouse and children may seek compensation from the responsible party for the loss of the deceased person’s support and companionship, as well as their grief.