Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms
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 witness.
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 applicable laws.
Settlement: An agreement between the parties disposing of a lawsuit.
Settlor: The person who sets up a trust. Also called the grantor.
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 allegations.
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 inadequate compensation.
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 juvenile court.
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 divorce case.
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 paper.
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 rights.
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 rule.
Surety Bond: A bond purchased at the expense of the estate to insure the executor’s proper performance. Often called a fidelity bond.
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 action.
Survivorship: Another name for joint tenancy.
Sustain: A court ruling upholding an objection or a motion.