Personal Injury Glossary of Legal Terms

Adjuster: An insurance company employee whose responsibilities involve reviewing a claim to determine how much the company needs to pay in damages.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Methods of settling disputes without having to go to court, usually arbitration or mediation. Using ADR is usually faster and allows for more person-to-person discussion than litigating a case.

Arbitration: A process by which an arbitrator, an agreed-upon neutral party, makes a final decision after hearing both sides and examining all the evidence. Arbitration is done outside of court and is a form of ADR. To learn more about arbitration, read our blog post on mandatory arbitration.

Claim: A request for compensation from an insurance company for damages resulting from negligence of the insured.

Complaint: A document filed with a court of law that initiates a lawsuit, filed by the plaintiff against the defendant.

Contingency Fee: The share of the final settlement amount that gets allocated to an attorney as payment for services provided. Contingency fees are explained and agreed to before retaining an attorney.

Damages: Losses (economic and otherwise) incurred as a result of injury and/or the compensation for these losses.

Defendant: The party against which legal action like a lawsuit is being brought.

Demand Letter: Detailed written communication to an insurance company delineating damages and requesting a specific dollar amount, often sent as a starting point for settlement negotiations.

Deposition: The taking of witness testimony by a question-and-answer method, under oath, before a certified court reporter. If you are going to be deposed, read our blog post on how to prepare for your deposition.

Duty of Care: A responsibility of one party owed to another party to provide a certain level of safety from hazards.

Economic Damages: Concrete, quantifiable losses that the injured person incurred, like medical bills and lost wages.

Expert Witness: A witness who gives testimony or who consults based on extensive knowledge and expertise in a certain subject.

Interrogatories: A formal set of written questions submitted by one party’s attorney which the other party must respond to and answer.

Lay Witness: Any witness who testifies but who is not considered an expert witness.

Letter of Representation: A notice sent to an insurance company to make them aware of an attorney’s representation of a client, sent once the client retains the attorney.

Litigation: The process of resolving a dispute in a court of law upon filing a lawsuit.

Mediation: An ADR process by which a mediator, a professional neutral party, serves as a go-between and helps parties come to a settlement without having to file suit. Mediation is different than arbitration in that the mediator does not make the decision for the parties. Read more about mediation in our blog post.

Negligence: An action or failure to act that breaches a duty of care and causes injury or damage.

Non-Economic Damages: Damages that do not come with a dollar amount because they are not inherently monetary. Read our blog post on non-economic damages for more details on what falls under this category.

Pain and Suffering: An umbrella term used to refer to certain non-economic damages, including mental and emotional anguish, loss of consortium, and disfigurement.

Paralegal: A trained professional who assists an attorney by performing legal work, managing cases, record-keeping, and preparing documents.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP): Coverage that pays a certain amount of the medical expenses and wage loss of the insured regardless of who is found to be at fault. Read more about PIP coverage in our blog post about insurance coverages.

Plaintiff: The party bringing legal action like a lawsuit against the other party.

Premises Liability: A legal rule that the owner or occupant of a property is liable for injuries that occur on the property if their negligence caused the accident. See our post on premises liability and how it relates to homeowner’s insurance here.

Proximate Cause: The specific event or action that is recognized as directly responsible for causing the injury.

Settlement: A final agreement in a dispute that has been negotiated by both parties, decided outside of a court of law. It is important not to settle too early, as you can almost never re-open after you accept an offer. Read what to consider before settling in our blog post.

Slip-and-Fall: A term used to refer to premises liability cases in which a person is injured due to a fall. You may also hear the term “Trip-and-Fall.”

Statute of Limitations: A rule setting the time after the incident within which parties must initiate legal proceedings. In Washington, the statute of limitations for a negligence claim is three years. Read about what this means for your case in our blog post.

Subrogation: The principle of subrogation allows an entity (an individual or organization) to substitute for another when it comes to rights of recovery, such as for a debt or payment of benefits. Dive deeper into the complexities of subrogation in this blog post.

Sudden Emergency Doctrine: A piece of law that recognizes certain situations in which a person’s actions cause an accident, but the person is not considered negligent because they were faced with a sudden emergency. See some examples and learn how this can apply to personal injury cases in our blog post on the Sudden Emergency Doctrine.

Tort: A wrongdoing that causes injury to another, making the wrongdoer liable for damages.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM): Additional first-party coverage that can be claimed if the at-fault party has low liability coverage that is insufficient to compensate for the harms and losses caused by that person. Read more about UIM in our blog post.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM): First-party coverage that protects the insured in the event that an uninsured driver is at fault for a collision. Read more about UIM in our blog post.