PERSONAL INJURY LEGAL GLOSSARY
Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms
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Calendar: List of cases scheduled for hearing in court.
Capacity Defense: Broadly, describes a defendant's lack of
some fundamental ability to be held accountable. For example, in
Pennsylvania, persons under 7 years of age are presumed incapable of
Capital crime: A crime punishable by death.
Caption: The heading on a legal document listing the
parties, the court, the case number, and related information.
Case Law: Law established by previous decisions of
appellate courts, particularly the Supreme Court.
Casualty: A loss of property due to fire, storm shipwreck or
other casualty, which is allowable as a deduction in computing
Cause: A lawsuit, litigation, or action. Any question,
civil or criminal, litigated or contested before a court of justice.
Causation: The act by which an effect is produced. See
also "legal cause" and "proximate cause."
Cause of Action: Fact or facts that give someone the right
to seek a remedy through the court because the facts of the case
apply to a certain law sought to be enforced.
Caveat: A warning; a note of caution.
Certification: 1. Written attestation. 2. Authorized
declaration verifying that an instrument is a true and correct copy
of the original.
Certiorari: (Latin: "To be informed of.") Writ issued by a
superior or higher court to a lower court requiring the lower court
to produce a certified record of a case tried there so that the
superior court can examine the lower court proceedings for errors.
Challenge: An objection, such as when an attorney objects
at a hearing to the seating of a particular person on a civil or
Challenge for Cause: Objection to the seating of a
particular juror for a stated reason (usually bias or prejudice for
or against one of the parties in the lawsuit). The judge has the
discretion to deny the challenge. This differs from peremptory
Chambers: A judge's private office. A hearing in chambers
takes place in the judge's office outside of the presence of the
jury and the public.
Change of Venue: Moving a lawsuit or criminal trial to
another place for trial.
Charge to the Jury: The judge's instructions to the jury
concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.
Chief Judge: Presiding or Administrative Judge in a court.
Circumstantial Evidence: Evidence not based on actual
personal knowledge or observation of the fact in dispute, but,
rather, evidence of other personal knowledge or observation which
allows a jury to infer the existence or nonexistence of the fact in
dispute. An example of direct evidence of who was at fault for a car
accident would be a witness who actually saw the accident. An
example of circumstantial evidence in this case, would be a witness
who drove by after the impact and saw the defendant's car in the
Citation: 1. A reference to a source of legal authority.
2. A direction to appear in court, as when a defendant is cited into
court, rather than arrested.
Civil Actions: Noncriminal cases in which one private
individual or business sues another to protect, enforce, or redress
private or civil rights.
Civil Action: Action brought to enforce private rights.
Generally, all actions except criminal actions.
Civil Law: Body of law concerned with private rights and
remedies, as contrasted with criminal law. Compare with criminal
Civil Procedure: The rules and process by which a civil case
is tried and appealed, including the preparations for trial, the
rules of evidence and trial conduct, and the procedure for pursuing
Claim Petition: In cases where a worker is injured on the
job, the injured employee files a claim petition to seek initial
compensation. This occurs when there has been a Notice of Denial -
no workers' compensation payments have been made or medical benefits
have not been paid.
Class Action: A means by which one or more individuals are
able to sue for themselves and as representatives of other people. A
class action requires: an identifiable group of people with a
well-defined interest in the facts and law of the suit; too many
people in the group for it to be practical to bring them all before
the court; and the individuals bringing suit are able to adequately
represent the entire group.
Clear and Convincing Evidence: Standard of proof commonly
used in civil lawsuits and in regulatory agency cases. It governs
the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff
to win the case.
Clemency or Executive Clemency: Act of grace or mercy by
the president or governor to ease the consequences of a criminal
act, accusation, or conviction. It may take the form of commutation
Closing Argument: The closing statement, by counsel, to
the trier of facts after all parties have concluded their
presentation of evidence.
Codicil (kod'i-sil): An amendment to a will.
Co- Defendant: A defendant joined together with one or more
other defendants in the same case.
Collateral Source Rule: The rule ensures that compensation
awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit will not be reduced if the
plaintiff receives compensation for the same injury from another
source, such as insurance. Under the rule, a defendant tort-feasor
is unable to benefit from the fact that the plaintiff received money
from another source, such as insurance, because of the defendant's
Commit: To send a person to prison, asylum, or reformatory
by a court order.
Common Law: Law deriving its authority from usage and
customs or judgments of courts recognizing and enforcing such usages
and customs. Generally, law made by judges rather than by
Commutation: The reduction of a sentence, as from death to
Comparative Negligence: Comparing the plaintiff's
contributory negligence to the defendant's negligence.
Pennsylvania's Comparative Negligence statute states that when a
plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence and that negligence
was not greater than the defendant's negligence, the plaintiff's
damages will be diminished in proportion to his negligence in
causing the accident.
Compensation: Something that makes up for a loss. In
workers' compensation cases, it refers to payment to unemployed or
injured workers or their dependents.
Complaint: In the legal sense, the document a plaintiff
files with the court which contains allegations and damages sought.
A complaint generally starts a lawsuit.
Complainant: The party who complains or sues; one who
applies to the court for legal redress. Also called the plaintiff.
Compromise and Release: In workers' compensation cases, this
occurs when a lump sum payment of money is paid by the insurance
carrier to an injured worker to resolve the case. This lump sum is
in lieu of the weekly compensation benefits the injured worker is
receiving and may or may not include future medical benefits.
Conciliation: A form of alternative dispute resolution in
which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who
helps lower tensions, improve communications, and explore possible
solutions. Conciliation is similar to mediation, but it may be less
Concurrent Sentences: Sentences for more than one crime
that are to be served at the same time, rather than one after the
other. See also cumulative sentences.
Condemnation: The legal process by which the government
takes private land for public use, paying the owners a fair price.
Consecutive Sentences: Successive sentences, one beginning
at the expiration of another, imposed against a person convicted of
two or more violations.
Conservatorship: Legal right given to a person to manage
the property and financial affairs of a person deemed incapable of
doing that for himself or herself. (See also guardianship.
Conservators have somewhat less responsibility than guardians.)
Contempt of Court: Willful disobedience of a judge's
command or of an official court order.
Continuance: Postponement of a legal proceeding to a later
Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between two or
more competent parties made either orally or in writing.
Contingent Fee Agreement: An agreement between an attorney
and his or her client whereby the attorney agrees to represent the
client for a percentage of the amount recovered. This fee agreement
is frequently used in personal injury actions.
Contributory Negligence: Broadly, carelessness on the
plaintiff's part. More precisely, conduct which falls below the
standard of care established by law for the protection of one's self
against unreasonable risk of harm.
Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal
Corpus Delicti: Body of the crime. The objective proof
that a crime has been committed. It sometimes refers to the body of
the victim of a homicide or to the charred shell of a burned house,
but the term has a broader meaning. For the state to introduce a
confession or to convict the accused, it must prove a corpus delicti,
that is, the occurrence of a specific injury or loss and a criminal
act as the source of that particular injury or loss.
Corroborating Evidence: Supplementary evidence that tends
to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence.
Counsel: Legal adviser; a term used to refer to lawyers in
Counterclaim: Claim brought by a defendant in a lawsuit
against the plaintiff.
Court Administrator/Clerk of court: An officer appointed
by the Court or elected to oversee the administrative, non-judicial
activities of the court.
Court: Refers to a specific court, such as The Supreme
Court of Pennsylvania, or may also refer to a judge.
Court Costs: The expenses of prosecuting or defending a
lawsuit, other than the attorneys' fees. An amount of money may be
awarded to the successful party (and may be recoverable from the
losing party) as reimbursement for court costs.
Court Reporter: The person who stenographically records
and transcribes testimony during court proceedings or related
proceedings such as depositions.
Criminal Law: Criminal law declares what conduct is criminal
and prescribes punishment to be imposed for criminal conduct. The
purpose of criminal law is to prevent harm to society.
Cross-Claim: Claim brought by a defendant in a lawsuit
against a co-defendant in the lawsuit.
Cross-Examination: The questioning of a witness produced
by the other side.
Cumulative Sentences: Sentences for two or more crimes to
run consecutively, rather than concurrently.
Custody: Detaining of a person by lawful process or
authority to assure his or her appearance to any hearing; the
jailing or imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime.