Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms
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 negligence.
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 taxable income.
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. See record.
Challenge: An objection, such as when an attorney objects at a hearing to the seating of a particular person on a civil or criminal jury.
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 challenge.
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 wrong lane.
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 law.
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 appeals.
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 or pardon.
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 tort.
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 legislatures.
Commutation: The reduction of a sentence, as from death to life imprisonment.
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 formal.
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 date.
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 defendant.
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 a case.
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.