PERSONAL INJURY LEGAL GLOSSARY
Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms
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Damages: Money payment recovered in the courts for an injury
or loss caused by an unlawful act or omission or negligence of
Decedent: A deceased person.
Decision: The judgment reached or given by a court of law.
Declaratory Judgment: Judicial adjudication of the rights
of the parties in a lawsuit made to clarify the parties' legal
Decree: An order of the court. A final decree is one that
fully and finally disposes of the litigation. An interlocutory
decree is a preliminary order that often disposes of only part of a
Defamation: That which tends to injure a persons
reputation. Libel is published defamation, whereas slander is
Default: A failure to respond to a lawsuit within the
Default Judgment: A judgment entered against a party who
fails to appear in court or respond to the charges.
Defendant: In civil law, the party defending a lawsuit ;
the party against whom the plaintiff seeks to recover damages from.
Demurrer: Defendant's claim that even if the allegations
in a complaint are true, they are not sufficient to impose any
liability on the defendant.
De Novo: A new. A trial de novo is a new trial of a case.
Deposition: Testimony of a witness taken under oath, but
not in a courtroom. May be used to discover evidence prior to trial
or to preserve testimony for use in court at a later time.
Deponent: The person who testifies at a deposition.
Descent and Distribution Statutes: State laws that provide
for the distribution of estate property of a person who dies without
a will. Same as intestacy laws.
Dicta: Plural of "obiter dictum." A remark made by a judge in
a legal opinion that is irrelevant to the decision and does not
establish a precedent.
Directed Verdict: Now called Judgment as a matter of Law.
An instruction by the judge to the jury to return a specific
Direct Evidence: Generally, eyewitness evidence. Compare
with circumstantial evidence.
Direct Examination: The first questioning of witnesses by
the party on whose behalf they are called.
Disability: In the legal sense, lack of legal capacity to
perform some act. Used in a physical sense in connection with
workers' compensation acts and is a composite of (a) actual
incapacity to perform employment tasks and the wage loss resulting
therefrom and (b) physical bodily impairment which may or may not be
Disbarment: Form of discipline of a lawyer resulting in
the loss (often permanently) of that lawyer's right to practice law.
It differs from censure (an official reprimand or condemnation) and
from suspension (a temporary loss of the right to practice law).
Disclaim: To refuse a gift made in a will.
Discovery: The pretrial process by which one party
discovers the evidence that will be relied upon in the trial by the
Disfigurement: A technical term in workers' compensation
cases for a serious and permanent scar to the head, neck, or face.
Dismissal with Prejudice: Final judgment against the
plaintiff which prohibits bringing an action on the same cause of
action in the future. In contrast, "dismissal without prejudice"
allows the plaintiff to sue again for the same cause of action.
Dismissal: The termination of a lawsuit. A dismissal
without prejudice allows a lawsuit to be brought before the court
again at a later time. In contrast, a dismissal with prejudice
prevents the lawsuit from being brought before a court in the
Dissent: To disagree. An appellate court opinion setting
forth the minority view and outlining the disagreement of one or
more judges with the decision of the majority.
Diversion: The process of removing some minor criminal,
traffic, or juvenile cases from the full judicial process, on the
condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or
make restitution for damages.
Docket: A list of cases to be heard by a court or a log
containing brief entries of court proceedings.
Doctrine of avoidable consequences or mitigation of damages:
Imposes a duty on victims of a tort to take reasonable steps to
minimize their damages after an injury has been inflicted.
Domicile: The place where a person has his or her
permanent legal home. A person may have several residences, but only
Double Jeopardy: Putting a person on trial more than once
for the same crime. It is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the
Dram shop: A drinking establishment where alcoholic
beverages are served to be drunk on the premises.
Dram Shop Act: In Pennsylvania, this statute imposes
liability on drinking establishments, like bars and restaurants, for
harm resulting from the establishment's service of alcohol to
visibly intoxicated persons.
Due Process of Law: The right of all persons to receive
the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process.
It includes such constitutional requirements as adequate notice,
assistance of counsel. and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy
and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure
Duty: In negligence cases, a "duty" is an obligation to
conform to a particular standard of care. A failure to so conform
places the actor at risk of being liable to another to whom a duty
is owed for an injury sustained by the other of which the actor's
conduct is a legal cause. See reasonable man doctrine.