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Car Accident Legal Definitions and Terminology


January 13, 2022

Car Accident Case Terminology “A”

It is important that claimants in car accident cases understand some of the general terms that will be used during their claims and negotiations processes. This knowledge allows claimants to follow the steps involved in their cases. If at any time during your case you do not understand a term, ask your Montlick Injury Attorney to define it for you. 

Some general terms commonly used in car accident cases, starting with the beginning of the alphabet include:

Accident Report – The term “accident report” refers to the official, written documentation regarding your car accident. It is usually completed by a police officer or officers who responded to the scene and performed an investigation at the time of the crash.

Act of God – When someone uses the term “act of God,” they are referring to something that occurred as a result of unavoidable and natural events. Acts of God are not caused by humans and include things like floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – Alternative dispute resolution, commonly abbreviated “ADR,” is a means of resolving a legal conflict outside of court. A court might still need to approve the resolution, but it is agreed upon by the parties outside of a courtroom. Examples of ADR include mediation and arbitration.

Attorney-Client Privilege – You have probably heard of this term but might not know to what situations it applies. Attorney-client privilege means the information that you share with your attorney cannot be shared with other parties. It exists to encourage free and open communication between clients and lawyers.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “B”

We continue our defining common terms used in car accident cases with the letter “B.”  As always, your attorney can clarify terms that you do not understand.

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Bad-Faith – The term “bad faith” refers to something said or done without performing due diligence or with negative intentions. For instance, if someone makes a bad-faith claim to an insurance company, the person is alleging that his or her accident claim was denied without due justification.

Benefit – In the context of personal injury and car accident claims in general, a “benefit” is a financial sum paid to a person by his or her employer, an insurance carrier, or a government program. When someone receives payments from Social Security, those are referred to as social security benefits.

Bodily Injury – This term is a little more self-explanatory and includes the physical injuries from a car accident, as opposed to mental, emotional, or financial injuries. Car accidents usually involve bodily injury in the form of lacerations, broken bones, blunt trauma, sprains, soft tissue injuries, head trauma and more.

Burden of Proof – “Burden of proof” refers to the responsibility of proving a claim in court. In a car accident case, the person bringing the lawsuit (called the “plaintiff”) has the responsibility of proving to the court that he or she was injured because of the actions of the other driver.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “C”

We continue to define car accident case common terminology with the letter “C.” Knowing what these terms mean will help you more easily follow along with your case.

More terms frequently used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Causation – Causation is one of the elements all claimants in negligence cases must prove. The term means a showing that one or more actions or omissions caused something else to happen. In the case of a car accident, injured persons will show that their damages were caused by the failures of an at-fault driver.

Concussion – A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. It results from a forceful impact to a person’s head, like when someone hits his head against a part of a vehicle during a car accident. Many victims of car accidents do not know they have concussions right after an accident, then may develop unusual symptoms afterward, like dizziness, nausea, vision disturbances, and sleep disturbances.

Contingency Fee – Your car accident attorney will likely contract to assist on your case on a contingency fee basis. This type of fee means your lawyer will only receive attorney fees from your case if your case is successful and results in an award, judgement or settlement. 

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “D”

We continue defining common car accident case terminology with the letter “D.”

Additional terms used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Damages – In car accident cases, and civil cases, the term “damages” generally refers to the plaintiff’s injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering and sometimes other damages involved in a specific case. Which damages can be claimed in a personal injury case are subject to the specific case, facts as well as the jurisdiction in which the claim is able to exist. Damages generally include physical injuries, as well as emotional and financial injuries. Most car accident cases are based on laws of negligence, under which damages are part of proving your case to the court. Damages might include medical bills, lost income, out-of-pocket costs, physical pain, emotional distress, and mental suffering.

Defendant – The defendant is the person against whom you are filing your legal claim. In a car accident case, this will usually be the at-fault driver. Think of the defendant as the opposing party.

Deposition – A deposition is part of the evidence-gathering process. During a deposition, a witness or expert answers questions in the presence of a court reporter. This is sworn testimony that can be used in your case.

Discovery – “Discovery” refers to the stage of a case that is in litigation in which the parties exchange information and gather information from each other. Depositions are part of discovery, as are written questions and answers. The plaintiff and defendant also exchange documents, photos and tangible items during discovery that may allow each other to understand their cases. It is important to note that not everything that is discoverable is admissible.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “E”

We continue to define some terms commonly used in car accident cases with the letter “E.” 

Additional car accident case terms, in alphabetical order, include:

Emergency Medical Condition – An emergency medical condition is a type of medical event that is serious enough to require immediate, emergency medical care. If a person is not treated immediately for an emergency medical condition, he or she could experience extreme complications, including permanent injury or death. Car accidents can often result in emergency medical conditions.

Excess Judgment – “Excess judgment” refers to an award in an accident case that rises above the policy limits of the insurance applicable in the case. 

Expert Witness – Almost all personal injury cases will require experts to testify. Experts serve to prove certain aspects of a claim by explaining the science or technical aspects of the case to the judge or jury. For instance, in a car accident case, your attorney might hire a medical specialist to testify about your injuries or an accident scene investigator to testify about the crash events. Experts are qualified professionals who help to establish your case.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “F”

We continue our definitions of common terms used in car accident cases with the letter “F.” 

Fault – In car accident cases, attorneys use the term “fault” a lot. The person who was at-fault in an accident is the person or entity that caused the accident or was negligent or reckless in the events leading up to the accident. 

First-Party Claim – A “first-party claim” is one in which the claimant is making a claim with his or her own insurance carrier. This is a different type of claim than one you would submit against the other driver’s insurance company or against the at-fault driver in court.  

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “G”

We are continuing our list of common car accident terms with the letter “G.” 

Additional terminology commonly associated with car accident cases, in alphabetical order, includes:

General Damages – General damages include subjective components that make up your accident injuries. This usually involves pain and suffering on a physical and mental level, disfigurement, emotional distress, lost future opportunities, effects of the injuries during your lifetime, and the effects of your injuries on your relationships. These damages are considered difficult to quantify and may require the help of experts and professionals to present a number to the judge or jury in your case.

Good Faith – In accident claims, we might say that the parties are negotiating in good faith, which means they are engaging in settlement negotiations with the honest intent of trying to arrive at a fair settlement.

Gross Negligence – The term “gross negligence” means that the at-fault party acted with an extreme lack of care. This rises above general negligence and falls slightly below the level of an intentional act. It is a conscious disregard for someone else’s safety.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “H”

We are continuing to define common car accident case terms with the letter “H.” 

Some general terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Hazard – A hazard is something that can cause injury to someone else under a particular set of circumstances. The term is often used in other types of accident cases, like slip-and-fall cases, construction accidents cases, and premises liability cases. However, a hazard might exist in your car accident case, as well. Perhaps the other driver created a hazard through his or her actions, or a hazard/object was left in the road by a commercial truck or road worker. These hazards might play a role in your case and your chances for recovery.

Health Care Expenses – Your health care expenses in your car accident case will include the bills you received for medical treatment associated with your accident injuries. This will likely include emergency room bills and individual bills for doctors in the emergency room, but will also include physical therapy, medications, and specialty physicians.

HIPAA – The term “HIPAA” stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This act was passed to protect the privacy of medical patients, and the law disallows medical providers from discussing patient care or sharing patient records without authorization from the patient. When you hire a lawyer for your car accident case, your lawyer will have you fill out a HIPAA authorization that allows your lawyer to request and view your medical records associated with your case.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “I”

We continue our defining common terms used in car accident cases with the letter “I.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Independent Medical Examination – An independent medical examination is kind of like a second opinion. It is an appointment with a medical doctor in which a plaintiff will receive an evaluation regarding his or her injuries. Lawyers often refer to this by the acronym “IME.” Defendants usually are the parties requesting these examinations in order to receive an opinion outside of the plaintiff’s expert testimony. However, there are some circumstances under which the plaintiff’s lawyer might want his or her client to undergo an IME, as well.

Insurer – The “insurer” is generally an insurance company who provides coverage benefits.  Sometimes no insurance company is involved if an entity is self-insured, meaning they provide coverage through their own assets.  

Insured – The “insured” is the person who is covered by an insurance policy.

Interrogatories – Interrogatories are part of the discovery process when a case is in litigation. Parties will have the opportunity to ask the other named parties questions in writing, which are called interrogatories. 

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “J”

We continue to define common terminology used in car accident litigation with the letter “J.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Judgment – The judgment in a case refers to what the jury or a judge has awarded in a case in litigation.  

Jury Instructions – The jury instructions in a case are the directions that the judge on the case will deliver to the jury members before the jury will start deliberating on the case. The instructions are based on state law, and they inform that jurors about what to consider or not to consider when arriving at a verdict. 

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “K”

We continue presenting definitions of common terminology used in car accident cases with the letter “K.” 

Known Loss Rule – The “known loss rule” is a concept that means people cannot secure insurance coverage for losses they have already incurred. This includes losses that the insured (the person covered by the insurance) knows about at the time he or she obtains insurance. The rule prohibits people from trying to receive an insurance payment for something that was previously lost or damaged or for injuries they suffered prior to obtaining insurance.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “L”

We continue to define terms commonly used in car accident cases with the letter “L."

Letter of Protection – A letter of protection is a document that a medical provider may have a patient and the patient's lawyer sign when the provider is treating someone without billing health insurance in a third party claim. This is an assurance that sometimes allows people to receive treatment they cannot otherwise afford.  The medical treatment then becomes a lien to the person's personal injury case so that the provider must also be paid out of any personal injury settlement for medical treatment obtained under the letter of protection.

Liability – The word “liability” refers to someone’s fault or responsibility for a given event. In a car accident case, the at-fault driver is considered liable for the victim’s injuries, and insurance companies can be liable for payments.

Loss – In the context of a car accident claim, the term “loss” refers to the damages the victim has suffered. The victim’s losses include not only physical injuries, but also injuries associated with emotional and mental distress, financial hardship and property damage. Car accidents can cause significant financial strain on victims because of medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning potential. These are all losses that can be claimed as damages in the case.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “M”

We continue to define common terms used in car accident cases with the letter “M.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) – This term refers to when a doctor believes a patient has reached maximum medical improvement after treatment. At the point of maximum medical improvement, the injured person is not expected to get any better than that person is at that moment. The term is most commonly used in workers’ compensation cases but also might appear in car accident cases.

Mediation – Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. It is a process whereby the parties to a legal action can come to an agreement outside of court. Mediation will involve one or several out-of-court meetings in which the parties discuss their positions and attempt to reach a resolution that parties agree upon.

Motion – A motion is a way of asking a court for relief. Motions can be written or be argued orally in court, and they ask the court to do something in favor of one of the parties. The lawyer you hire for your car accident case might file numerous motions throughout your litigation. Each time, your lawyer is asking for relief on your behalf. Motions can be adversarial in nature, or they can be agreed upon between the parties.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “N”

We continue defining some common car accident case terminology with the letter “N.” Car accident claimants should understand the terms and phrases their attorneys and the other parties to their cases are using during the claims processes.

Additional terms used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Negligence – “Negligence” refers to a failure to take proper care in completing a task, this can also include an omission. When someone is negligent, he or she has failed to use the basic, reasonable care one would expect in the situation at hand.

Negotiation – This is the process during which the parties discuss a possible settlement. Negotiations can take a long time or a short time depending on the case and the facts. If both parties come to the table with realistic amounts in mind, the process could come to a quick resolution. 

No-Fault – The term “no-fault” can refer to a type of auto insurance or to a law regarding car accidents in a state. A person can have no-fault insurance to cover his or her financial damages in the event of an accident while still being able to make a claim against a negligent driver or person for an incident. This type of insurance may help pay medical bills regardless of which driver was to blame for the accident. Many states also have no-fault laws that require car accident victims to submit claims to their own insurance companies before pursuing actions against the other drivers.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “O”

We continue to define numerous terms commonly used in car accident claims with the letter “O.” 

Additional terms used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Opening Statement –  If your car accident claim goes to trial, after the jury is selected, the trial will officially begin with opening statements by attorneys who represent the parties involved. 

Out-of-Court Resolution – An out-of-court resolution is an agreement between the parties to a claim that fully resolves the case. It involves a settlement between the parties that they reach outside of the courtroom. Depending on the nature of the case and the stage of litigation, these agreements may or may not need approval of a judge.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses – A party’s out-of-pocket expenses in a car accident case include the money that the victim has had to pay on his or her own as a result of accident related injuries or expenses. This refers to money spent on medical bills and prescriptions, as well as money spent traveling to doctors or specialists. It may also include any devices the victim needed to buy because of the car accident injuries (crutches, etc.)  

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “P”

We continue defining common terminology used in car accident claims with the letter “P.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Paralegal – Your lawyer will likely introduce you to the firm's paralegal very early in your claim. Paralegals are an integral part of lawyers’ staff, and they assist lawyers in litigation processes of car accident claims. Paralegals will often perform research, obtain records, and work with clients throughout various stages of a case in litigation. 

Plaintiff – The plaintiff in any action in the injured party seeking relief against an alleged negligent party.  The person filing any civil lawsuit is called the plaintiff, both in pleadings and in other steps involved in the litigation.

Pleading – A pleading is a written document that is filed with the court that states a party's position and may outline damages.  A pleading includes the initial complaint, an answer and a motion. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – When people experience something traumatic like a vehicle wreck, they often suffer from nightmares, depression, anxiety, or feelings of helplessness. These are signs of a serious medical disorder that needs immediate attention from a qualified professional. 

Precedent – Precedent refers to case law formed during lawsuits that came prior to yours. The decisions that courts make form a basis for other claimants to plead, allege, or argue a case in a certain way. The precedent set by past cases in a certain jurisdiction usually has a strong effect on the cases that come after. 

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “R”

We continue to define numerous terms commonly used in car accident claims with the letter “R.” 

Reasonable Care – Reasonable care refers to the level of care that a person should show another person in a given situation. The level of care necessary can change depending on the situation and specific fact pattern of a case.  

Rehabilitation –  Sometimes this will involve in-patient care at a nursing facility. It can also involve physical therapy sessions and appointments with specialists.

Requests for Admissions – In civil liability cases, lawyers will sometimes send the other party what are called “Requests for Admissions.” This is seeking to gain admissions from the other party to the case about certain facts. While these often result in blanket denials, they can sometimes be helpful tools in a claimant’s case.

Requests for Production of Documents – Your lawyer will likely send the other party to your case a Request for Production of Documents (often shortened to “Requests for Production” or “RFPs”). This is part of the discovery process in your case and is a tool for gaining information and documents that help you investigate your case.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “S”

We continue to define commonly used terminology in car accident cases with the letter “S.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Settlement – A settlement is an agreement reached between the parties to a case in which one party likely agrees to pay the other a sum of money, and the other party agrees to release his or her claims. The settlement resolves the case before a trial takes place (or sometimes before the trial concludes).

Standard of Care –  This is most commonly used in the setting of a medical malpractice case, in which the standard of care can vary depending on the treatment involved. Plaintiffs and their attorneys use experts to establish the applicable standard of care. The standard of care in an emergency room is different than the standard of care in the rest of a hospital, as an example.

Statute of Limitations – The statute of limitations is the deadline for either settling your case or filing a lawsuit. Every state has its own statute of limitations, and if that deadline passes, you can be completely prohibited from pursuing any recovery.

Subpoena – A subpoena is a tool that can be used in a case to compel someone to appear in court or to testify outside of court. The court overseeing the case will issue the subpoena, and consequences can be placed upon the subject of the subpoena if he or she does not appear at the stated place at the stated time. 

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “T”

We continue with definitions of common terminology in car accident cases with the letter “T.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Third-Party Claims – Third-party claims are those pursued against another person’s insurance carrier. If you are injured in a car accident, and you pursue a claim against the other driver’s insurance, rather than submitting a claim to your own insurance, you are making a third-party claim. The other driver is considered the first party to the claim, the driver’s insurance company is considered the second party, and you are considered the third party.

Tort – Car accident cases are part of what is called “tort law.” A tort is a wrongdoing, and tort law exists for pursuing cases that stem from other people’s wrongdoings. Torts can be intentional or negligent. There are many types of tort cases, and all are part of the civil justice system.

Traumatic Brain Injury – A traumatic brain injury is one type of injury that can potentially happen during a car accident. These injuries occur during a forceful impact to the head, such as the head hitting an object within the car or the head hitting the ground. These injuries can cause headaches and dizziness and can be extremely serious.

Trier of Fact – The trier of fact is the person or persons hearing evidence in a case in order to eventually make a determination in the case. Depending on the type of trial in a car accident claim, the trier of fact could be the judge or the jury.  

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “U”

Montlick Injury Attorneys continues its car accident legal definitions for common terms used in auto accident claims that start with the letter “U.” 

Uninsured – An individual who is not covered by any accident insurance company.  

Underinsured – An individual who does not have enough insurance coverage.  

Underride – A motor vehicle accident in which one of the vehicles slides underneath another vehicle.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “V”

We continue spelling out definitions for common terms used in car accident claims with the letter “V.” 

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Verdict – The verdict in a case is the decision that a judge or a jury makes after deliberation and upon hearing all of the evidence. The jury or judge will find in favor of one party or the other, and the judge will then enter the verdict.

Verdict Director – A verdict director is a set of instructions given to the jury for deliberation. Depending on the jurisdiction your case is in, these instructions might be called verdict directors or might simply be called jury instructions. The instructions tell the jury what elements of the law need to be present for them to find in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant in the case.

Voir Dire – Voir dire is the process through which the lawyers for both sides choose a jury. It is also commonly referred to as jury selection. During the process, the lawyers will ask questions of groups of jurors and will choose a full panel to sit for the case. The lawyers will have the opportunity to disqualify jurors that they believe have biases that cannot be overcome.

Car Accident Case Terminology Continued “W”

We continue defining frequent terminology used in car accident cases with the letter “W.” This is the last letter of our definitions glossary.

Additional terms commonly used in car accident cases, in alphabetical order, include:

Witness – A witness is any person who either saw how an incident took place, may have treated the injured persons involved, investigated the scene, reviewed the case, or otherwise has helpful information to share about the case. Each side will have a set of witnesses that can potentially help that side’s case. Witnesses can also be experts who have been hired by either side. Witnesses help to establish the facts for a case.

Wrongful death – Wrongful death is a type of civil claim pursued by family members or a personal representative on behalf of a person who has died at the hands of another in an actionable claim. The claimants will allege that the decedent died because of the negligent actions of another person or entity. In the case of a car accident, surviving family members might bring a wrongful death action against the at-fault driver and/or an insurance carrier, stating their loved one’s death was due to the negligent conduct that led to the accident.

Injured In An Accident? 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that 37,461 people died in vehicle accidents in the United States in 2016. This was an increase of almost 6 percent from the prior year (2015). National figures from 2017 show that even more people died in motor vehicle accidents that year. The National Safety Council estimates that more than 40,000 people died in traffic crashes across the country in 2017.  

We Know What It Takes To Win!™ 

If you have been injured or lost a family member due to an accident, contact Montlick & Associates, Injury Attorneys, for your free consultation today. Our law firm has been representing those who suffer serious injuries or lost a loved one in an accident for over 38 years.  Our trial attorneys have recovered billions of dollars for our personal injury clients through negotiated settlements, litigation/lawsuits, settlement of lawsuits, jury verdicts, mediation, and arbitration awards.

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Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.