Glossary of Personal Injury Terms

Vietnamese is a difficult language for native English speakers to learn. Chinese is even more difficult. Perhaps the most difficult language of all, however, is ‘legalese” because this ‘language’ can easily trick you into thinking that you understand something that you really don’t. Following is an extremely abbreviated list of examples of legalese in personal injury law.

Counterintuitive or Misleading Use of Language

The following legal terms seem to mean something they don’t. Be very careful with them.

Act of God

An atheist lawyer can argue that a particular event constituted an ‘act of God” with no need for a religious conversion. An “act of God” is simply an unforeseeable event that nobody can control. You probably cannot assign fault to any defendant, for example, if you were injured by an earthquake – an earthquake is an “act of God.”


An answer is a formal legal document that a defendant files in a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury case. It is typically the first document the defendant files with the court. It is filed in response to the complaint (see below). 

Bad Faith

Accusing someone of bad faith doesn’t mean they don’t attend church often enough. It means they didn’t deal with you honestly and fairly. In a personal injury claim, it applies when the insurance company uses some form of trickery to deny or reduce the value of your claim.

Class Action Lawsuit

The term “class action lawsuit” does not specifically refer to lawsuits that students file against their teachers. It is a consolidated lawsuit where a large number of victims sue one or more defendants. A class action lawsuit might be appropriate, for example, if the citizens of an entire city sue the water company for providing contaminated drinking water that sickened the population.


A complaint is a document that the party who initiates a lawsuit submits to the court to get the lawsuit started. It states the party’s complaint against the defendant and asserts legal justification for it. A complaint must be very carefully worded.


In a personal injury lawsuit, your damages are your losses. They might be physical (a broken wrist), financial (lost earnings), or psychological (emotional distress). 


The pretrial discovery process, which lawyers often simply call ‘discovery,’ is the court-supervised collection of evidence by one party from the other party.


A formal request for a judge to do something during your case – for example, disallow the defendant’s evidence.


This term does not refer to a social gathering. Instead, it refers to either a natural person (a human being) or a legal person (a corporation, a limited partnership, and others). You sometimes need this term to refer to a general situation: “In Florida, you have two years to file a lawsuit against the party who is liable for the accident.” 

PIP Insurance

‘PIP’ refers to personal injury protection. PIP insurance is mandatory no-fault insurance that parties to traffic accidents use to pay for their own losses. 


A pleading is a document, statement, or request that a party files with the court. A motion to dismiss is a pleading, for example, as is a complaint.

Prayer for Relief

A request for compensation in a personal injury complaint. This term has no religious significance. 

The following legal terms tend to confuse rather than mislead. If you run into one, you will probably realize that you don’t understand its meaning rather than think you understand it even though you don’t.

Comparative Negligence

A set of principles, defined by law, that guide a court in distributing compensation when more than one party shares liability for an accident.


A deposition is a Q&A session, similar to a cross-examination, that takes place between an attorney and a hostile witness. A deposition takes place out of court but under oath. 


The plaintiff is the party that initiates a lawsuit. In Smith v. Jones, for example, Smith is the plaintiff while Jones is the defendant. The plaintiff files the complaint while the defendant files the answer. 


Written questions that each parity files with the other party. The receiving party must answer interrogatories in writing and under oath. They are part of the pretrial discovery process.

Letter of Protection

A letter that a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney writes to the plaintiff’s healthcare provider. The letter guarantees the payment of medical expenses by the plaintiff out of whatever amount the plaintiff wins in their personal injury claim. 


In a personal injury lawsuit, liability is the responsibility to pay for the victim’s injuries. Although the at-fault party usually bears ultimate liability, an insurance company usually ends up actually paying.


Litigation occurs when you settle a dispute in court instead of through private settlement.

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)

MMI is the point in your recovery where your medical condition has improved as much as it is ever going to. Normally, you should wait until you reach MMI before you file a lawsuit. The reason is that until you reach MMI, you will have to guess the final amount of your medical expenses.


Mediation occurs when a trained third-party mediator intervenes in a negotiation between two or more parties and attempts to help them reach a mutually satisfactory bargain. A mediator cannot force the parties to agree.


Negligence means something like “carelessness.” A negligence claim arises when someone injures someone else by breaching their duty of care to that person. Texting and driving is an example of negligence.

No-Fault Insurance

No-fault is auto accident insurance, available in some states that allows auto accident victims to pay for their own losses. PIP insurance, available in Florida, is an example of no-fault insurance.


A paralegal is someone trained in the law who performs certain legal duties. Paralegals cannot operate independently; a licensed attorney must sign off on all their work.

Premises Liability

Premises liability is the liability shouldered by the owner or occupier of premises towards guests and other people with a legal right to enter the property. A property owner should inspect their property for latent dangers and either repair them or warn others about them. 

Product Liability

Product liability is a form of personal injury law where you can sue a manufacturer (and perhaps a distributor) for a defect in a product that injured you.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause is present in a personal injury case if the plaintiff’s injury was foreseeable given the defendant’s negligence.


Settlement is a process through which two parties resolve their dispute through private negotiation outside of court. No lawsuit ever needs to be filed. 

Statute of Limitations

The deadline to file a lawsuit. In Florida, for example, it is usually two years after a personal injury accident.

Strict Liability

Liability without proving fault. If you injure someone by performing abnormally dangerous activities such as blasting, for example, you can bear liability for any resulting injuries no matter how careful you were.

Wrongful Death

A wrongful death is a death that arises from someone’s wrongful act. The death could be a murder, but it could also be the result of ordinary negligence. If it is the result of ordinary negligence (as opposed to criminal negligence), it might not even constitute a criminal offense. The at-fault party will have to pay compensation, however, if they lose a wrongful death lawsuit.

Free Initial Consultation

Free initial consultation is an important legal term if for no reason other than the fact that most Clearwater personal injury lawyers offer them. If you think you might have a valid personal injury claim, schedule a free initial consultation at (727) 787-2500 with a personal injury attorney at Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers ASAP. The longer you wait, the weaker your claim is likely to become.