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Glossary of Legal Terms

A glossary of legal terms on a website serves as a valuable resource for visitors seeking to understand the complex language often found in legal documents, contracts, or discussions. The glossary breaks down legal jargon into clear, concise definitions, empowering users to navigate legal information with greater clarity and confidence. This is especially helpful for those without extensive legal backgrounds, ensuring that they can make informed decisions and better comprehend their rights and obligations.

This by no means substitutes for legal advice from an attorney. This section is for information purposes only and should not be used to make legal decisions.

Accident Report

An accident report is a formal document that records the details of an unexpected and usually harmful event. The type of accident report varies depending on the situation, but here’s what they generally include:

Key Elements

  • Type of Incident: Clearly states what occurred (car accident, workplace injury, slip and fall, etc.)
  • Location, Date, and Time: Where and when the incident happened.
  • Involved Parties: Names and contact details of people directly involved and any witnesses.
  • Description of the Event: A detailed, factual account of how the accident unfolded, including actions leading up to it.
  • Injuries and Damages: Documentation of any injuries sustained and property damage that occurred.
  • Contributing Factors: Analysis of what may have caused the accident (e.g., equipment failure, negligence, weather, etc.).
  • Investigator/Reporting Officer: Name and contact information of the person who prepared the report (often a police officer or workplace safety representative).

Purposes of Accident Reports

  1. Documentation: Creates an official record of the event for future reference.
  2. Insurance Claims: Provides crucial information to support insurance claims for medical expenses, property damage, or lost wages.
  3. Liability Determination: Helps establish who might be at fault for the accident.
  4. Legal Proceedings: May be used as evidence in lawsuits or court cases.
  5. Prevention: Analysis of accident reports can reveal patterns, helping to implement safety measures and prevent similar incidents in the future.

Types of Accident Reports

  • Police Accident Reports: Filed by law enforcement for motor vehicle accidents.
  • Workplace Incident Reports: Documents injuries or accidents in work environments.
  • General Accident Reports: May cover a broader range of accidents, such as slips, falls, or property damage incidents.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to a variety of methods used to resolve legal disputes outside of the traditional courtroom setting. These methods aim to provide faster, less expensive, and often more collaborative ways to reach a settlement compared to litigation.

Common Types of ADR

  • Negotiation: Direct discussions between the parties involved in the dispute, sometimes with the help of attorneys, to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Mediation: A neutral third party, the mediator, facilitates communication and guides the parties towards finding common ground and a resolution.
  • Arbitration: Similar to a trial, but less formal. An arbitrator hears evidence and arguments from both sides and issues a decision, which may be binding or non-binding.

Benefits of ADR

  • Cost-effectiveness: ADR processes are often less expensive than litigation.
  • Speed: ADR can resolve disputes much faster than going through the court system.
  • Flexibility: Parties have more control over the process and the outcome in ADR.
  • Confidentiality: ADR proceedings are generally private, unlike courtroom trials.
  • Preservation of Relationships: ADR can be less adversarial, helping preserve relationships between the parties involved.


A legal appeal is a formal request to a higher court to review and potentially overturn a decision made by a lower court. This process allows a party who disagrees with the outcome of a trial or other legal proceeding to challenge the ruling.

Grounds for Appeal

Appeals are not about retrying the whole case. They usually focus on these types of issues:

  • Errors of Law: The appellant (person filing the appeal) argues that the judge in the lower court made a mistake in applying or interpreting the law.
  • Procedural Errors: The appellant claims that there were mistakes in the procedures followed during the trial, impacting the fairness of the outcome.
  • Insufficient Evidence: The appellant argues that the verdict or judgment is not supported by the evidence presented at trial.

The Appeals Process

  1. Notice of Appeal: The appellant files a formal notice with the lower court indicating their intent to appeal.
  2. Appellate Briefs: Both sides prepare written arguments, citing legal precedents and reasons supporting their position.
  3. Oral Argument (Optional): Lawyers may present their arguments directly to a panel of appellate judges.
  4. Appellate Decision: The appellate court issues a decision that may:
    • Uphold the lower court’s ruling
    • Reverse the lower court’s ruling
    • Modify the ruling
    • Remand the case back to the lower court for further action

Important Note: Appeals can be complex and time-consuming. There are strict rules and deadlines involved. It’s generally recommended to consult with an attorney when considering an appeal.

Contingency Fee

A contingency fee is a type of payment agreement between a client and a personal injury lawyer where the lawyer’s fee is contingent upon the success of the case. This means:

  • No Upfront Costs: You don’t pay the lawyer any fees out-of-pocket when you hire them. This removes financial barriers to seeking legal help after an injury.
  • You Only Pay If You Win: If your lawyer successfully recovers compensation for you, either through a settlement or a court judgment, their fee is a previously agreed-upon percentage of that total amount.
  • No Win, No Fee: If your case is unsuccessful and no compensation is obtained, you owe the lawyer nothing for their services.


A deposition is a formal, out-of-court process where a witness or party to a lawsuit provides sworn testimony. It takes place before trial and is typically held in a lawyer’s office or conference room. Key elements include:

  • Participants:

    • The deponent: The person being questioned under oath.
    • Attorneys for both sides: Involved in asking questions and potentially objecting.
    • Court Reporter: Records the entire proceeding verbatim. They may also be a certified videographer to capture video testimony.
  • Oath: The deponent swears to tell the truth, just as they would on the witness stand in court. Lying during a deposition constitutes perjury.

  • Questioning: Attorneys take turns asking the deponent open-ended questions about their knowledge of the case, relevant events, and opinions (if they are an expert witness).


In the context of civil lawsuits, discovery is the formal pre-trial phase where parties exchange information and evidence relevant to the case. This process is governed by rules of civil procedure at both the state and federal levels.

Purposes of Discovery

  • Leveling the Playing Field: Discovery ensures that both sides have access to the same relevant information, preventing trial by ambush and promoting fairness.
  • Narrowing Issues: As facts are revealed, it helps pinpoint the areas of true disagreement, potentially streamlining the trial.
  • Encouraging Settlement: Discovery can give both parties a realistic assessment of their case’s strengths and weaknesses, often motivating them to negotiate a settlement out of court.

Federal Nursing Home Reform Act/OBRA

The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (OBRA), enacted in 1987 as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, was a significant piece of legislation that overhauled the regulation of nursing homes in the United States. Its primary focus is on ensuring residents of nursing homes receive high-quality care and are protected from abuse and neglect.

Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a key piece of U.S. legislation enacted in 1946 that allows private citizens to sue the federal government for most torts committed by its employees acting within the scope of their employment.


An interrogatory is a formal written question posed by one party in a lawsuit to the opposing party. Interrogatories are a key tool used during the discovery phase of litigation.

Key Points about Interrogatories

  • Must be answered under oath: The receiving party is obligated to provide written responses under oath within a specified timeframe.
  • Scope: Questions must be relevant to the subject matter of the lawsuit and can be quite broad.
  • Strategic Use: Lawyers use interrogatories to:
    • Pinpoint specific facts and details about the case
    • Identify potential witnesses
    • Clarify the opposing party’s legal positions and arguments
    • Gather evidence for further investigation or to use at trial

Jones Act

The Jones Act, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a landmark piece of U.S. federal legislation that focuses on maritime commerce and the rights of injured seamen.

The Jones Act provides injured seamen with a unique legal remedy. Seamen injured in the course of their employment due to negligence can sue their employer for damages. This is distinct from traditional workers’ compensation systems.


In legal terms, a judgment (often spelled “judgment” in American English) refers to the official decision or ruling made by a court of law at the conclusion of a legal proceeding. It represents the court’s final determination on the issues presented in the case and may include findings of fact, conclusions of law, and orders for relief or remedies.

Liability Insurance

Liability insurance is a type of insurance that provides financial protection against claims of legal responsibility for injuries or damage you cause to others. In essence, it covers you if you’re found liable for a covered incident.

Key Components of Liability Insurance

  • Policy Limits: The maximum amount the insurer will pay for a covered claim.
  • Deductible: The amount you pay out-of-pocket before your insurance coverage kicks in.
  • Covered Claims: Policies specifically detail what types of incidents and damages are included.


Litigation, in the context of personal injury cases, refers to the legal process of resolving disputes or claims arising from injuries caused by the negligent or wrongful actions of another party. Personal injury litigation typically involves a series of legal proceedings aimed at seeking compensation for the injured party (plaintiff) from the party allegedly at fault (defendant).


Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which a neutral third party, known as the mediator, assists disputing parties in reaching a mutually agreeable, out-of-court settlement. It’s a confidential, voluntary, and flexible process often used in a wide array of legal matters.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, hospital, or other medical professional, deviates from the accepted standard of care in their profession, and this deviation causes injury or harm to a patient.

Standard of Care

The “standard of care” refers to the level of treatment and skill that a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare provider in the same medical field would have provided under similar circumstances.

Personal Injury

Personal injury is a legal term describing harm to an individual’s body, mind, or emotions, as opposed to damage to property or reputation. In the realm of law, personal injury typically refers to cases where the harm results from someone else’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that grants another person the authority to act on your behalf in specified matters. It involves two key parties:

  • Principal: The person who grants the authority.
  • Agent (or Attorney-in-Fact): The person who receives the authority to act on the principal’s behalf.

Product Liability

Product liability is the area of law that holds manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and retailers of products responsible for injuries or damages caused by those products when they are defective or unreasonably dangerous.

Key Concepts

  • Defective Product: A product has a defect if it deviates from its intended design or contains flaws that make it unsafe.
  • Unreasonably Dangerous: A product can be considered dangerous if the risks associated with its design or use outweigh any potential benefits.

Settlement Mediation

Settlement mediation, also sometimes called conciliation, is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) where a neutral third party, the mediator, assists disputing parties in reaching a mutually agreeable, out-of-court settlement. It’s a voluntary and confidential process.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit or initiate legal proceedings after an alleged injury or wrongdoing has occurred. The specific time limits vary depending on the type of case and the jurisdiction (state or federal).  The statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two (2) years in most cases.

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is a legal term referring to a judgment entered by a court for one party and against another party summarily, or without a full trial. It is typically granted when there is no genuine dispute regarding material facts in the case and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, summary judgment is a decision made by a judge based on the evidence and legal arguments presented by the parties without the need for a full trial. This procedure is often used to dispose of cases efficiently when there is no need for a trial because the facts and applicable law are clear.


A summons is a legal document issued by a court, typically in civil cases, notifying a defendant that a lawsuit has been filed against them and directing them to appear in court or respond to the lawsuit within a specified period of time. It formally informs the defendant of the allegations against them and provides details such as the date, time, and location of any required court appearances. The summons is served to the defendant according to legal procedures, usually through personal delivery or by mail, to ensure they are aware of the legal proceedings and have an opportunity to respond.


Testimony refers to evidence or statements given by a witness under oath in a court of law or in a legal proceeding, such as a deposition. Testimony typically involves providing firsthand knowledge or observations related to the case at hand. Witnesses may testify about what they saw, heard, or experienced relevant to the issues being litigated. Testimony plays a crucial role in the legal process as it helps the trier of fact, such as a judge or jury, to understand the facts of the case and reach a decision. Witnesses are required to tell the truth during testimony, and providing false testimony can result in legal consequences for perjury.


A tort is a civil wrong (as opposed to a criminal wrong) that causes someone to suffer harm or loss, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the wrongful act. Essentially, a tort is a violation of a duty imposed by law.

Key Points About Torts

  • Basis for Lawsuits: Torts form the basis of many personal injury lawsuits and allow a victim to seek compensation for their losses.
  • Distinction from Criminal Law: While crimes are wrongs against society punishable by the state, tort law aims to compensate the injured person and make them whole. However, the same act can sometimes give rise to both criminal charges and a civil tort lawsuit.
  • Compensation: In a successful tort case, the wrongdoer may be ordered to pay damages, which can include medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and more.

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation is a form of no-fault insurance that provides benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. It’s a system mandated by state laws, with specific rules varying slightly across the U.S.

Key Purposes

  • Protects Employees: Workers’ compensation guarantees injured workers receive necessary medical treatment and partial wage replacement, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
  • Protects Employers: In exchange for providing these benefits, employees generally give up the right to sue their employer directly for negligence related to on-the-job injuries.
  • Maintains Workplace Safety: By incentivizing employers to invest in safety measures, the system aims to reduce workplace accidents.

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is a legal cause of action that allows surviving family members to file a lawsuit when someone’s death is caused by the wrongful act of another person or entity.

Key Elements of Wrongful Death

  • Death of a Person: A wrongful death claim arises from the death of an individual.
  • Wrongful Act: The death must be caused by the negligence, intentional misconduct, or other wrongful act of the defendant.
  • Survivors: There must be surviving family members who suffer damages as a result of the death (e.g., spouse, children, parents).
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