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  • 5 min
  • 07/11/2023

Personal Injury Terms Defined

by Jessica A. Rogers

Most people have never filed a personal injury lawsuit, which means they’re unfamiliar with the terms associated with these cases. This can make the process overwhelming at the time you’re already dealing with a lot of stress. To help make the process easier we’ve defined some of the most common personal injury terms, and what they could mean for your case.

Common Terms Used in Personal Injury Cases


Plaintiff refers to any person, group of people or organization that is pursuing a civil lawsuit. If you are the person suing someone in an injury claim, you are the plaintiff.


The defendant is the person, group of people, or organization allegedly responsible for causing injuries in a lawsuit. There can be one or multiple defendants depending on your personal injury claim and the type of case.

Torts and Intentional Torts

A tort is the legal term for any wrongful action that has hurt another person but is not considered to be a crime or a violation of a contract. If a tort is considered to be intentional – such as in the case of assault – it may cause the defendant to be both criminally and civilly liable. Torts are commonly the cause of action in a civil lawsuit, from negligence to wrongful death.


Negligence is the most common tort in personal injury cases. To prove negligence in an injury lawsuit, you must prove the defendant had a “duty of care” to act with care and caution but failed to meet this duty.

Negligence can look different case by case, however, here are some shared elements. Negligence cases involve all of the following:

  • Defendant had a duty or obligation to the plaintiff
  • Defendant violated their duty
  • Defendant caused damage to the plaintiff as a result
  • Defendant’s actions resulted in actual, specific damages

Duty or Standard of Care

Duty of care refers to the responsibility to protect other people from harm, as much as reasonably possible. When determining the duty of care, the court will ask whether the defendant had ample time, ability, and knowledge to inform you about a potential hazard to your safety. This is sometimes referred to standard of case, when cases involve professional liability. In such cases, the professional’s actions will be measured against the acceptable standard for their industry.

Statute of Limitation

This refers to the time limit an individual must file a personal injury lawsuit. The statute of limitations varies from state to state but is typically between 2 and 4 years from the date of the injury. Wrongful death torts may have a shorter statute of limitations.


Damages is the compensation being sought in a lawsuit. They are intended to “make the plaintiff whole,” usually in the form of a lump sum payment.

The two main types of damages are: economic and non-economic. Economic damages include lost wages, medical expenses, property damage, as well as other specific losses caused by your accident. Non-economic damages may include other factors, such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship.

There is a third type of damages known as “punitive damages.” These are awarded only in extreme cases of negligence, and in some states there are limits placed on them.


Many states observe a “fault” system when it comes to car accidents, however, a few have opted to apply a “no-fault” system. If you live in a no-fault state, every car owner must have a personal injury protection or PIP plan with their car insurance. In the event of an accident, they will collect from their own insurance provider. You can only pursue a personal injury lawsuit for car accidents if you have met the right conditions for your state.

Expert Witness

An expert witness is a person that is considered an authority in their field. This can be anyone from physicians to lawyers to economists. It’s common to need an expert witness for personal injury cases, as they can demonstrate to the court the value of your claim.

Accident Report

This is the official police report, or a detailed recording provided by a medical staff member.

Prayer for Relief

This is a complaint letter addressed by the plaintiff to the court, detailing the damages incurred during the accident. It will also include the amount of compensation you are seeking in a lawsuit.

It is also referred to as the “Demand for Relief”.


Defendants are required to submit a response to the prayer for relief, or complaint, within a certain period. The defendant’s answer can come in many different forms depending on your state. Their answer commonly allows them to deny the plaintiff’s allegations from the start, or to try and poke holes in the demands.

Strict Liability

In a personal injury case governed by strict liability, the plaintiff does not need to prove negligence or fault to recover damages. Strict liability only applies to actions that are obviously harmful.

Product liability cases often fall under strict liability doctrine. This means that you may not be required to show negligence if a company produced an obviously dangerous or hazardous product.

Preponderance of Evidence

In civil cases, you will be required to show that there is a “preponderance of the evidence.” What this means is that a jury or a judge does not need to be entirely certain that the defendant committed negligence. They just need to believe that the evidence is more likely to be true than not true.


A settlement is an agreed-upon amount of money given by the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for damages. Settlement negotiations can occur at any point in the case. Generally, it works out better for parties to secure a settlement than to go to court.

Contact Us Today for Assistance with Your Personal Injury Case

No matter what kind of injury you’ve suffered, the experienced personal injury team at Relevant Law can help secure a fair recovery for yourself and your family. Contact us today to learn more.

**Disclaimer: The content used in the article is not to be used as legal advice and is for illustration and general informational purposes only. If you have questions about your particular situation, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.

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