Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms
Damages: Money payment recovered in the courts for an injury or loss caused by an unlawful act or omission or negligence of another.
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 positions.
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 lawsuit.
Defamation: That which tends to injure a persons reputation. Libel is published defamation, whereas slander is spoken.
Default: A failure to respond to a lawsuit within the specified time.
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 verdict.
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 incapacitating.
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 opposing party.
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 future.
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 one domicile.
Double Jeopardy: Putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime. It is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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 witnesses.
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.