Glossary of Legal Definitions & Law Terms
Addendum: An addition to a contract or completed written document, such as a detailed explanation of a contract clause or a proposed change to a contract. House purchase agreements often included addenda (plural of addendum), covering subjects such as payment schedules and other financing terms, what appliances are included in the sale, and date of transfer of title. An addendum should be signed separately and attached to the original agreement so that there will be no confusion as to what is included or intended.
Adjuster: A person hired by an insurance company to negotiate and settle an insurance claim.
Admiralty law: See: maritime law
Amphibole asbestos: A subgroup of asbestos characterized by crystals or straight fibers forming in a chain-like structure. Two common forms are amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue).
Analgesic: Generic term for medications that relieve pain. Some analgesics like aspirin have a low pain-relieving threshold, whereas others like oxycodone have a much higher ceiling.
Anesthesia injury: An injury sustained from incorrectly administered anesthetics.
Bad faith: The intentional refusal to fulfill a legal or contractual obligation, misleading another, or entering into an agreement without intending to or having the means to complete it. Most contracts come with an implied promise to act in good faith.
Breach of contract: A legal claim that one party failed to perform as required under a valid agreement (written or oral) with the other party.
Crocidolite: A fibrous, lavender-blue mineral, also called blue asbestos. Crocidolite is a member of the amphibole group of asbestos. Although used less in construction and industry than other forms of asbestos, crocidolite is more commonly associated with mesothelioma.
Culpable: Sufficiently responsible for criminal acts or negligence to be at fault and liable for the conduct.
Damages: 1) In a lawsuit, the harm caused to a party who is injured. 2) In a lawsuit, the money awarded to one party based on injury or loss caused by the other. For either definition, there are many different types or categories of damages.
District court: 1) in the federal court system, a trial court for federal cases in a court district, which is all or a portion of a state. Thus, if you file suit in federal court, your case will normally be heard in federal district court. 2) A local court in some states. States may also group their appellate courts into districts — for example, The First District Court of Appeal.
Emotional distress: Suffering in response to an experience caused by the negligence or intentional acts of another; a basis for a claim of damages in a lawsuit brought for such an injury. Originally damages for emotional distress were awardable only in conjunction with damages for actual physical harm, but recently some courts have recognized a right to an award of money damages for emotional distress without physical injury or contact. In sexual harassment and defamation claims, emotional distress can sometimes be the only harmful result. Professional testimony by a therapist or psychiatrist may be required to validate the existence and depth of the distress and place a dollar value upon it.
Fibrosis: The development of excessive scar-like fibrous tissue. Punctures caused by asbestos fibers can lead to fibrous scar tissue build-up in the lungs.
Final judgment: The final determination of a court case, put in writing by the judge who presided over the case.
Gross negligence: A lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, and can affect the amount of damages.
Hearing: Any proceeding before a judge or other qualified hearing officer without a jury, in which evidence and argument is presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law. The term usually refers to a brief court session that resolves a specific question before a full trial takes place, or to such specialized proceedings as administrative hearings. In criminal law, a “preliminary hearing” is held before a judge to determine whether the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence that the accused has committed a crime to hold him/her for trial.
Impute: 1) To attach or ascribe. 2) To place responsibility or blame on one person for acts of another person because of a particular relationship, such as mother to child, guardian to ward, employer to employee, or business associates. Example: a child’s negligence in driving a car without a license may be imputed to the parent. 3) To attribute knowledge to a person because of the person’s relationship to the one actually possessing the information. Example: if one partner in a business is informed of something, that knowledge is imputed to other partners. (See also: vicarious liability)
Joint tortfeasors: Two or more persons whose collective negligence in a single accident or event causes damages to another person. Joint tortfeasors may be held jointly and severally liable for damages, meaning that any of them can be responsible to pay the entire amount, no matter what proportion of responsibility each has.
Lamisil®: A medication for the treatment of toenail fungus. There are reports of dispensing errors involving Lamisil® and Lamictal®, an epilepsy medicine. Patients receiving Lamictal® instead of Lamisil® could experience adverse side effects.
Liability: 1) In law, the state of being liable — that is, legally accountable for an act or omission. 2) In business, money owed by a business to others, such as payroll taxes, a court judgment, an account payable, or a loan debt.
Loss: The monetary value assigned to an injury or damage in a personal injury claim, including: pain and suffering, past and future income, future medical care, current medical bills, and other expenses associated with an injury caused by negligence.
Malpractice: The delivery of substandard care or services by a lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant, or other professional. Generally, malpractice occurs when a professional fails to provide the quality of care that should reasonably be expected in the circumstances, with the result that a patient or client is harmed. Such an error or omission may be through negligence, ignorance (when the professional should have known), or intentional wrongdoing. In the area of legal malpractice, the claimant must prove two things to show harm: first, that the lawyer failed to meet the standard of professional competence; and second, that if the lawyer had handled the work properly, you would have won the original case.
Maritime law: The laws and regulations which exclusively govern activities at sea or in any navigable waters. In the United States, the federal courts have jurisdiction over maritime law. Also called admirality law.
Mesothelium: Tissue that forms a lining around the chest, abdominal cavity and other organs. This tissue produces a lubricant fluid that protects organs and allows them to move.
Negligence: Failure to exercise the care toward others that a reasonable or prudent person would use in the same circumstances, or taking action that such a reasonable person would not, resulting in unintentional harm to another. Negligence forms a common basis for civil litigation, with plaintiffs suing for damages based on a variety of injuries, from physical or property damage to business errors and miscalculations. The injured party (plaintiff) must prove: 1) that the allegedly negligent defendant had a duty to the injured party or to the general public, 2) that the defendant’s action (or failure to act) was not what a reasonably prudent person would have done, and 3) that the damages were directly (“proximately”) caused by the negligence. An added factor in the formula for determining negligence is whether the damages were “reasonably foreseeable” at the time of the alleged carelessness.
No-fault insurance: Car insurance laws that require the insurance companies of each person in an accident to pay for medical bills and lost wages of their insured, up to a certain amount, regardless of who was at fault.
Nursing home abuse: Any physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, or financial abuse perpetrated against residents of a residential care facility. Although nursing home abuse is a growing problem, many victims do not report violations because they are scared or ashamed.
Omnibus clause: 1) A clause in a vehicle insurance policy that provides coverage for anyone driving the car with the insured person’s express or implied consent. 2) A clause in a will or probate court order that disposes of property that was not otherwise specifically disposed of in the will. For example, it might say “I leave all other property not specifically mentioned in this will to Jane.”
Pain and suffering: The physical or emotional distress resulting from an injury. Though the concept is somewhat abstract, the injured person (the plaintiff) can seek compensation. How much the defendant owes for pain and suffering is calculated separately from the amount owing for more direct expenses, such as medical bills or time lost from work — although sometimes these amounts are considered to arrive at a logical figure.
Partial disability: The result of an injury that permanently reduces a worker’s ability to function, but still permits the worker to do some gainful activity.
Permanent disability: A physical or mental disability that indefinitely impairs a worker’s ability to perform the duties or normal activities that the worker performed before the accident or serious illness.
Personal injury: An injury not to property, but to the body, mind, or emotions. For example, if you slip and fall on a banana peel in the grocery store, personal injury covers any actual physical harm (broken leg and bruises) you suffered in the fall as well as the humiliation of falling in public, but not the harm of shattering your watch.
Personal injury recovery: The amount that comes from a lawsuit or insurance settlement to compensate someone for physical and mental suffering, including injury to body, injury to reputation, or both.
Polaris: A company that manufactures all-terrain vehicles. Polaris has recalled the 2000, 2001, and 2002 Xpedition 425 model ATVs due to a defect in the transmission that can cause accidents.
Product Liability: A situation where a manufacturer or seller is held liable for making or selling a defective product. Types of product defects can include design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects. If a person is injured by a defective product, the product manufacturer, a manufacturer of component parts, a party that assembles or installs the product, or the wholesaler/retail store may be held legally responsible.
Punitive damages: Damages awarded over and above special and general damages to punish a losing party’s willful or malicious misconduct. Sometimes called exemplary damages.
Reasonable care: The degree of caution and attention to possible dangers that an ordinarily prudent and rational person would use in similar circumstances. This is a subjective test of determining whether a person is negligent and therefore liable.
Recoverable: Capable of being recovered in a lawsuit. Refers to the amount of money to which a plaintiff (the party suing) is entitled. (See also: damages)
Res ipsa loquitur: (ray-sip-sah loh-quit-er) Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”; a legal presumption that a defendant acted negligently even though there may be no direct evidence of liability. For example, a construction company is presumed to be negligent if a load of bricks under its control falls off a roof and injures a pedestrian, even though nobody witnessed the accident. The presumption arises only if 1) the thing that caused the accident was under the defendant’s control, 2) the accident could happen only as a result of a careless act, and 3) the injured plaintiff’s behavior did not contribute to the accident. Lawyers also refer to this doctrine as “res ips” or “res ipsa.”
Settlement: 1) The resolution of a dispute or lawsuit. 2) Payment or adjustment. For example, a debtor might settle an account by paying the full amount owed, or an insurance company might settle a property damage claim by paying the insured for the covered damage. 3) The distribution of property and wrapping up of a decedent’s affairs by the executor. 4) The transfer of real property from the seller to the buyer (and new owner); closing.
Standard of care: The degree of care (watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence) that a reasonable person should exercise under the circumstances. If a person does not meet the standard of care, he or she may be liable to a third party for negligence.
Tort: An injury to one person for which the person who caused the injury is legally responsible. A tort can be intentional — for example, an angry punch in the nose — but is far more likely to result from carelessness (called “negligence”), such as riding your bicycle on the sidewalk and colliding with a pedestrian. While the injury that forms the basis of a tort is usually physical, this is not a requirement — libel, slander, and the “intentional infliction of mental distress” are on a good-sized list of torts not based on a physical injury. A tort is a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal wrong.
Tortfeasor: A person who commits a tort (civil wrong), either intentionally or through negligence.
Verdict: A jury’s decision after a trial, which becomes final when accepted by the judge.
Vicarious liability: Responsibility for a civil wrong that a supervisor bears when a subordinate or associate has actually committed the acts that give rise to the liability. For example, the owner of a residential rental may be vicariously liable if the manager discriminates against tenants on the basis of their religion.
Whiplash: A common neck or back injury, often suffered in automobile accidents in which the head and/or upper back is snapped back and forth suddenly and violently.