PERSONAL INJURY LEGAL GLOSSARY
Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms
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Search Warrant: A written order issued by a judge that
directs a law enforcement officer to search a specific area for a
particular piece of evidence.
Secured Debt: In bankruptcy proceedings, a debt is secured
if the debtor gave the creditor a right to repossess the property or
goods used as collateral.
Self-Defense: Claim that an act otherwise criminal was
legally justifiable because it was necessary to protect a person or
property from the threat or action of another.
Self-Incrimination, Privilege Against: The constitutional
right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves that
could subject them to criminal prosecution. The right is guaranteed
in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Asserting the right
is often referred to as taking the Fifth.
Self-Proving Will: A will whose validity does not have to
be testified to in court by the witnesses to it, since the witnesses
executed an affidavit reflecting proper execution of the will prior
to the maker's death.
Sentence: The punishment ordered by a court for a
defendant convicted of a crime. A concurrent sentence means that two
or more sentences would run at the same time. A consecutive sentence
means that two or more sentences would run one after another.
Sentence Report: A document containing background material
on a convicted person. It is prepared to guide the judge in the
imposition of a sentence. Sometimes called a presentence report.
Sequester: To separate. Sometimes juries are separated
from outside influences during their deliberations. For example,
this may occur during a highly publicized trial.
Sequestration of Witnesses: Keeping all witnesses (except
plaintiff and defendant) out of the courtroom except for their time
on the stand, and cautioning them not to discuss their testimony
with other witnesses. Also called separation of witnesses. This
prevents a witness from being influenced by the testimony of a prior
Service: The delivery of a legal document, such as a
complaint, summons, or subpoena, notifying a person of a lawsuit or
other legal action taken against him or her. Service, which
constitutes formal legal notice, must be made by an officially
authorized person in accordance with the formal requirements of the
Settlement: An agreement between the parties disposing of
Settlor: The person who sets up a trust. Also called the
Several Liability: Liability separate and distinct from the
liability of another which is sufficient to support a lawsuit
without reference to anyone else's liability.
Severance of Actions: Judicial proceeding separating the
claims of multiple parties and permitting separate actions on each
one or some combination of them.
Service of Process: Providing a formal notice to the
defendant that orders him to appear in court to answer plaintiff’s
Show Cause Order: Judicial direction to appear in court and
present reasons why the court should not take a proposed action.
Sidebar: A conference between the judge and lawyers,
usually in the courtroom, out of earshot of the jury and spectators.
Slander: False and defamatory spoken words tending to harm
another's reputation, business, or means of livelihood. Slander is
spoken defamation; libel is published.
Small Claims Court: A court that handles civil claims for
small amounts of money. People often represent themselves rather
than hire an attorney.
Social Host Liability: The liability of a person (the "social
host") who furnishes free alcoholic beverages to another (the
"guest"), when the guest subsequently sustains injuries or causes
injury to a third person because of his intoxication.
Sovereign Immunity: The doctrine that the government,
state or federal, is immune to lawsuit unless it gives its consent.
Special Jurisdiction: Power of a court to deal with only a
limited type of case.
Specific Loss: In a workers' compensation case, this is the
compensation payable for loss (amputation) or permanent loss of use
of members of the body, complete loss of hearing in one or both
ears, loss of vision in one or both eyes, and disfigurement.
Specific Performance: A remedy requiring a person who has
breached a contract to perform specifically what he or she has
agreed to do. Specific performance is ordered when damages would be
Spendthrift Trust: A trust set up for the benefit of
someone who the grantor believes would be incapable of managing his
or her own financial affairs.
Spoliation: Generally, the destruction of evidence.
Stack or Stacking: In Pennsylvania automobile insurance
law, purchasers of insurance have the option to "stack" uninsured
and underinsured motorist coverage. If you choose "stacking," this
means that you can add the coverage together for each vehicle you
have insured, at least under the policy. (An issue presently exists
as to whether you can "stack" coverages under separate policies of
insurance.) For example, if you have two vehicles, with
$100,000/$300,000 (meaning $100,000 available per person, and
$300,000 available per accident) in uninsured or underinsured
motorist coverage, you can "stack" the coverages and have available
$200,000/$600,000 in coverage.
Standard of Care: In the law of negligence, the degree of
care which a reasonable, prudent or careful person should exercise
under the same or similar circumstances. If the standard falls below
that established by law for the protection of others against
unreasonable risk of harm, the person may be liable for damages
resulting from such conduct.
Standard of Proof or Burden of Proof: Degree of proof
required in a specific kind of case to prevail. In the majority of
civil cases, it is proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
Standing: The legal right to bring a lawsuit. Only a
person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.
Stare Decisis: Policy of the courts to not overturn
precedents; adherence to precedents.
Status Offenders: Youths charged with the status of being
beyond the control of their legal guardian or are habitually
disobedient, truant from school, or having committed other acts that
would not be a crime if committed by an adult. They are not
delinquents (in that they have committed no crime), but rather are
persons in need of supervision, minors in need of supervision, or
children in need of supervision, depending on the state in which
they live. Status offenders are placed under the supervision of the
Statute: Generally, a law created by a legislature.
Statute of Limitations: The time prescribed by statute in
which a plaintiff can bring a lawsuit.
Statutory Construction: Process by which a court seeks to
interpret the meaning and scope of legislation.
Statutory Law: Law enacted by the legislative branch of
government, as distinguished from case law or common law.
Stay: Court-ordered suspension of a judicial proceeding.
Strict Construction: Judicial interpretation of the law
whereby the judge adheres to the literal meaning of the words.
Compare with liberal construction which expands the literal meaning
of the statute to meet cases that are clearly within the spirit or
reason of the law.
Strict Liability: Doctrine that holds defendants liable for
harm caused by their actions regardless of their intentions or lack
of negligence. Often applied to manufacturers or sellers of
defective products in products liability cases.
Stroke: Damage to a part of the brain when its blood
supply is suddenly reduced or stopped. This stoppage in blood flow
can occur as the result of a blood vessel becoming blocked or
bursting inside the brain. The part of the brain deprived of blood
dies and can no longer function.
Stipulation: An agreement by attorneys on both sides of a
civil or criminal case about some aspect of the case; e.g., to
extend the time to answer, to adjourn the trial date, or to admit
certain facts at the trial.
Strike: Highlighting in the record of a case, evidence
that has been improperly offered and will not be relied upon.
Sua Sponte: A Latin phrase which means on one's own
behalf. Voluntary, without prompting or suggestion.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction: The court's power to deal with
the general subject matter involved in a case. For example, a
bankruptcy court judge has no subject matter jurisdiction to hear a
Subornation of Perjury: Procuring someone to make a false
statement under oath.
Subpoena: Command to appear at a certain place and time to
give testimony on a matter.
Subpoena Duces Tecum: Command to produce some document or
Subrogation: Substitution of one person for another,
giving the substitute the same legal rights as the original party.
For example, an insurance company may have a right of subrogation to
sue anyone whom the person it compensated had a right to sue.
Substantive law. The body of law that creates, defines and
regulates right. Compare with procedural law which prescribes the
manner to enforce rights or obtaining redress for invasion of
Sue: The act of bringing a lawsuit.
Suit or Lawsuit: Generally, a court action
brought by one person, the plaintiff, against another, the defendant
, seeking compensation for some injury or enforcement of a right.
Summary Judgment: A decision made on the basis of
statements and evidence presented for the record without a trial. It
is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case, and
one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Summons: Formal document beginning a civil action or
special proceeding which is a means to gain jurisdiction over a
party. Also, a document directed to a sheriff or other authorized
person ordering him to serve the person named on the summons who
must appear at a certain place and time to respond to the action.
Supplier of Goods: In products liability law, all parties in
the chain of supply of a product for profit, including
manufacturers, sellers, and dealers.
Supplemental Agreement: In a workers' compensation case,
this is the form signed by the injured employee when there has been
a change in disability status.
Support Trust: A trust that instructs the trustee to spend
only as much income and principal (the assets held in the trust) as
needed for the beneficiary's support.
Suppress: To forbid the use of evidence at a trial because
it is improper or was improperly obtained. See also exclusionary
Surety Bond: A bond purchased at the expense of the estate
to insure the executor's proper performance. Often called a fidelity
Survival Action: A survival action is brought by the
administrator of a deceased person's estate in order to recover loss
to the estate resulting from a tort. A survival action continues in
the decedent's personal representative a right of action which
accrued to the decedent at common law because of a tort. A survival
action, unlike a wrongful death action, is not a new cause of
action. Where death is caused by negligence, both a survival action
and a wrongful death action may be brought.
Survival Statutes: Statutory law that provides for a legal
action to continue after the death of a person involved in the
Survivorship: Another name for joint tenancy.
Sustain: A court ruling upholding an objection or a