Legal Jargon Cheat Sheet

Legal Jargon Cheat Sheet
Pianko Law Group 
July 12, 2021

Legal Jargon can be confusing to understand, especially when trying to wade through paperwork while dealing with the stressors of recovering from an accident. Pianko Law firm has put together a 'vocabulary list' to help you have a better grasp on what personal injury law is. This list is meant to help alleviate some of the confusion and help you feel like you understand your case. The attorneys here at Pianko Law want you to feel like you're involved throughout the process of your case, and the first step in doing so is making sure you understand a few of the technicalities that come with the legal world.


A plaintiff is the party or group of parties who are bringing the suit, this is often times you. For example if you were bitten by a dog and wanted to sue the dog owner for the injures that occurred due to the attack, you would be the plaintiff.


The defendant is the party or group of parties that are allegedly responsible or liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. In the case of someone being attacked by a dog, the owner would be the defendant as they were responsible for their dog and its behavior that caused the injuries to you, the plaintiff.

Civil lawsuit

A civil suit is when a plaintiff files a suit because they have been injured or wronged and are seeking damages to be awarded if they “win.”


This is how the plaintiff initiates a lawsuit. The plaintiff files a complaint with the appropriate court and in personal injury law, it is called a personal injury complaint. This document lets the court and the defendant know that the plaintiff intends to seek legal remedy for their losses.


Injuries can be both physical, such as a broken arm or a laceration and emotional, such as PTSD or consortium.

Prayer of relief

The complaint will include the prayer of relief, which means that the first document filed with the court will include the information on how much money you, the plaintiff wants for your injuries.


The answer is the response that the defendant will have to file with the court after they receive the complaint. This document is filed with the court and will go to the plaintiff. It includes the information of what position the defendant takes in regards to the allegations made against them.


A settlement is an agreement made between two parties in a lawsuit.


A judge’s decision on a case.

Statute of limitations

A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a specific time limit on how long after an injury you must file a lawsuit. This varies on a case by case basis depending on a multitude of circumstances. Personal injury cases are based off of negligence and usually range from two to three years. It is important to contact an attorney after your accident to ensure you bring your suit within the appropriate time frame, so you do not become barred from ever brining your suit to court.


All most all personal injury suits are torts. A tort is a wrongful act that is not a crime and not a breach of a contract. Torts can include anything from negligence to battery and even wrongful death.

A tort lawsuit seeks monetary damages that would help to make the victim as whole as possible after the injuries that ensued from an accident. Criminal cases do not provide damages, instead they are brought by the state with the sole intent to punish.

Intentional Tort

An intentional tort is a wrongful act that is committed on purpose and often times can also be a crime.


Negligence is an example of a tort that arises out of carelessness or the failure to act with reasonable care. In order to prove negligence it is the plaintiffs responsibility to prove:

  • the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, which means that the defendant had a legal duty to act in a reasonable way to avoid injuring another person. There are some other duties imposed by law for certain situations such as for common carriers AND;
  • The defendant breached the duty they were legally responsible to uphold, which means the defendant failed to act in accordance with the duty of care AND;
  • The breach caused the damage to the defendant AND;
  • The actual damages exist.

 Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is also known as willful negligence. This is the intentional failure to perform a standard of care by recklessly disregarding another person’s health or property. An example of gross negligence is when a driver drives drunk and hits someone. The driver intentionally got behind the wheel knowing that they are at a heightened risk for hitting someone and causing an injury.

 Burden of Proof

The burden of proof is on the plaintiff which means they need to prove that the complaint made is true. The threshold for burden of proof depends on the type of case, but in personal injury law the burden of proof is normally for a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable. So the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was MORE THAN likely at fault and their actions caused the injuries that you, the plaintiff, suffered.

Strict Liability

This is a legal theory that creates liability pertaining to particular acts or injuries that cause damages regardless of the fault or wrongdoing. This is often times applies to manufacturers who are liable for injuries caused as a result of their products. This type of liability shifts the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. For example if a plaintiff is using a chainsaw and they are injured while doing so, the defendant has to show proof that the plaintiff used the chainsaw incorrectly to show that they are not liable. This can be done by not following warning labels, dissembling the product and so forth. If the defendant cannot do this, then the defendant is liable and responsible for the injuries.


Damages are what a plaintiff is seeking to recover from the defendant as a result of the lawsuit. For personal injury suits this usually means monetary compensation. Compensation is awarded to help alleviate the costs and effects that arise from an accident where injury occurs. The two types of compensation for victims fall under the two main categories of economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages:

Economic damages take into account the financial losses you have suffered due to your injuries, medical bill expenses and lost wages while out of work. These damages are awarded to offset present and future costs, expenses and losses resulting from the accident. Examples of such damages include:

  • Immediate medical expenses such as hospitalization, ambulance and emergency room fees, surgery, medical devices and equipment, and medication
  • Future medical costs such as rehabilitation, nursing care or therapy
  • Property damage
    • Real Property: land and the objects permanently attached to the land [Ex: Houses, Trees, Fences, Crops, Buildings]
    • Personal Property (chattels}: other property, specifically property that is moveable [Car, Furniture, Backpack, Refrigerator]
  • Lost income
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Modifications to the home to accommodate a permanent disability
  • Funeral and burial expenses in cases of fatal accidents

What do you need to have to prove economic damages have occurred?

Documentation, such as receipt, bills, invoice, paystubs, medical documents, records from similar personal injury lawsuits

Non-Economic Damages:

These types of damages are personal, intangible damages that do not have a set value attached to them.

  • Pain and suffering
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Mental Anguish
  • Disfigurement
  • Scarring
  • Loss of quality or enjoyment of life

Loss of Consortium

A type of damage that is awarded to spouses of a deceased person for the loss of the companionship that individual provided.

Worker’s Compensation

Worker’s compensation is a form of mandatory insurance that all employers are required to hold in order to cover their employees for economic losses due to a job-related injury or illness.

Wrongful Death Action

A wrongful death action is a lawsuit filed for the death of a person due to negligent or wrongful behavior. These suits are filed by the surviving family who can then recover damages for the mental and physical suffering they are enduring. These damages can also apply to lost wages, funeral and medical expenses, lost income and much more.

PIANKO.LAW – Aggressive Personal Injury Lawyers

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