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Abels & Annes, P.C. Personal Injury Blog

Defining Basic Personal Injury Terms

Defining Basic Personal Injury Terms - Abels and Annes

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A

Accident Report – An official record of an incident documented by a figure of authority, such as a police officer, at the scene of the incident. These often serve as important evidence in personal injury cases, including car accidents.

Alternative Dispute Resolution – Legal processes meant to help parties resolve a claim without going to trial. Examples of alternative dispute resolution include arbitration and mediation.

Arbitration – The hearing and resolution of a personal injury settlement dispute overseen by a neutral third party, often a lawyer or judge. The third party’s decision is final and legally binding.

At-Fault Party – A person or entity determined to be partially or fully responsible for an incident and its resulting injuries.

Attorney-Client Privilege – A legal benefit that protects confidentiality between attorneys and their clients. Neither a client nor their attorney can be forced to share their private conversations.

B

Bodily Injury – Physical damage to a person’s body caused by an accident, negligence, or criminal intent. 

Burden of Proof – The claimant’s obligation to demonstrate that the other party is at-fault in a personal injury claim.

C

Causation – The cause-and-effect relationship between the at-fault party’s behavior and the resulting injuries. It has to be proved that the other party’s negligence or intent directly caused the injuries.

Claim (personal injury) – A request made to an insurance company in an effort to recover compensation for damages. A complaint against another party that is filed with the court by an injured victim.

Claims Adjuster – An agent of an insurance company who investigates and evaluates property damage and bodily injuries in order to assign a value to a claim. A claim adjuster works directly for the insurance company and negotiates with the attorney.

Comparative Negligence – A legal doctrine that assigns percentages of fault to multiple parties depending on how much they contributed to an incident. For example, an injury victim may be considered 20% at fault for their own injuries. The available compensation is then reduced by the amount the injured victim is found to be at fault.

Compensation – Money that is awarded to a plaintiff or claimant meant to remedy the injuries or illness that resulted from another party’s negligent actions. Compensation is meant to make the injured victim “whole” again.

Complaint – The initial document or lawsuit that one party files with a court to establish a legal dispute against another party. A complaint alleges what the accused party did wrong. 

Concussion – A traumatic brain injury that develops when a person’s head sustains a bump, blow, or jolt that violently throws their head and brain back-and-forth. A concussion disrupts brain function and can cause headaches, nausea, and disorientation. Sustaining multiple concussions has serious medical consequences and can be fatal.

Contingency Fee – A predetermined percentage that a client must pay a lawyer only when the lawyer recovers compensation on the client’s behalf. This allows clients with limited financial resources to hire representation since no money is required upfront. 

Contusion – A bruise. Contusions develop when blood capillaries rupture, leaking blood to local skin and tissue. Contusions can also occur internally, like on the brain.

CT Scan – A diagnostic tool that medical professionals use to detect internal damage to bones, tissue, and organs. CT Scans are often used to prove the extent of a personal injury. Short for Computed Tomography, this creates images similar to 3D x-rays.

D

Damages – Payment that is awarded to a plaintiff for physical, mental, and/or bodily injuries. Damages are paid by or on behalf of the at-fault party. There are multiple types of damages in a personal injury case, including:

  • General Damages – Damages that do not have a specific value, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment in life. A dollar amount will be assigned to these losses within a personal injury case. 
  • Special Damages – Damages associated with a specific dollar amount, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property repair expenses. 
  • Punitive Damages – Damages designed to punish an at-fault party, usually for an egregious act. Punitive damages are meant to dissuade other parties from doing something similar. Usually awarded for major offenses. 

Deductible – The amount an insurance policyholder has to pay toward a claim before the insurance company will begin to cover the remaining costs.

Defective Medication – Prescription or over-the-counter drugs that are harmful to users. This includes harm due to undisclosed side effects, manufacturing errors, or insufficient warning labels.

Defendant – A party who is being sued. In a personal injury case, this term typically refers to the person or entity accused of causing an injury.

Demand Letter – A formal letter from one party to another that requests payment or action to address a legal dispute. The recipient sometimes has a limited amount of time to respond to a demand letter.

Deposition – An out-of-court testimony given by a party based on questions asked by the opposing lawyer. Depositions are official, recorded accounts given under oath. The person answering the questions will usually have their lawyer present and the deposing attorney will bring a court reporter.

Discovery – The legal process during which opposing parties request and exchange evidence with each other. Evidence may include witness statements, depositions, interrogatories, photos of the accident scene, etc.

Disability – A physical or mental impairment that significantly limits what a person is able to do.

Distracted Driving – Operating a vehicle while negligently not paying attention. Texting, grooming, eating, and using one’s phone are common forms of distracted driving.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) – Operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. In Illinois and most other states, driving with a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher is illegal.

Duty of Care – A person or entity’s responsibility to take reasonable actions to prevent others from becoming harmed. For instance, drivers have a duty of care to obey traffic laws and landowners have a duty of care to provide a safe premises for invitees.

E

Exhaustion of Benefits – The full use of all available funds from an insurance policy or other resource, leaving no remaining assistance.

Expert Witness – A person who provides a testimony using their professional knowledge on a subject. For example, a licensed semi-truck mechanic may serve as an expert witness in a truck accident case.

F

Fault – Failure to uphold a duty of care or failure to act reasonably to prevent injuring another person.

First-Party Claims – An insurance claim against one’s own insurance company. For example, making a claim against your auto insurance company to use your uninsured motorist benefits.

G

General Damages – See Damages

Gross Negligence – Excessive recklessness or intentional disregard for the safety of others. For example, a manufacturer knowingly allowing a defective product to be distributed may be held grossly negligent. 

H

Hazard – A danger that increases the chances of an injury occurring. For example, loose handrails in a staircase pose a greater risk of someone slipping and falling. 

HIPAA Act – A law created to protect patient privacy by requiring a patient’s consent to disclose medical records. Stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

I

Independent Medical Examination – A third party’s evaluation of an injured person to provide an unbiased interpretation of a plaintiff’s injuries. These are most common for workers’ compensation cases and aren’t usually unbiased since insurance companies and employers pick the evaluator.

Insurance – An agreement between a company and an individual that provides a guarantee of compensation for certain loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a monthly premium.

Insurer – The company or entity who provides coverage through an insurance policy.

Insured – The individual protected under an insurance policy.

Interrogatories – Written questions created by one party’s attorney for the opposing party to answer. 

J

Judgment – A final decision that determines the outcome of a legal dispute. 

Jury – A selection of people who listen to both sides of a court case in order to impartially determine the case’s outcome. Members of a jury are selected by both sides’ attorneys. In an injury case, juries can decide the amount of fault and the amount that should be awarded.

K

Known Loss Rule – A rule that prohibits a person or entity from obtaining insurance coverage for a pre-existing loss or injury.

L

Lawsuit – A claim or dispute that is lodged against an accused party and is overseen in a court of law. This step occurs in the personal injury claim process when a settlement cannot be reached out of court.

Letter of Protection – Written communication between an attorney and a healthcare provider allowing a patient to receive medical care they need now with the agreement that the services will be paid for in the future when the patient is awarded compensation for their injury claim or lawsuit. These are not common in Illinois.

Liability – A legal obligation that holds a person or entity responsible for their actions.

Litigation – The process of taking legal action in court.

Loss of consortium – The deprivation of affection, intimacy, or sexual relations resulting from the death or injury of a partner.

Lost Income – The wages a personal injury victim would have earned had they not been injured or made ill.

M

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) – The stage at which an injured party has recovered as much as possible after receiving medical treatment. At this point, further treatment will not help to improve the condition. 

Mediation – A process during which a neutral party meets with both sides of a personal injury claim in an attempt to resolve a dispute out of court. 

Medical Malpractice – A healthcare provider’s failure to provide a proper standard of care, leading to the injury or death of a patient.

Motion – A formal request that a judge make a ruling or take some action. The judge will either deny or grant the request.

MRI – A medical diagnostic tool used to detect various illnesses and injuries like spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. Short for magnetic resonance imaging.

N

Named Insured – A person whose name is on an insurance policy. As opposed to an individual who may only be covered by that policy.

Negligence – Failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another person.

Negotiation – Back and forth communication between an injured party or their personal injury attorney and an insurance adjuster with the goal of coming to an agreement on a settlement amount without a lawsuit.

O

Occupational Disease – A health condition that develops due to a work environment or working conditions. 

Out-of-Pocket Expenses – Money that an injured party spends to cover injury-related costs such as doctors’ fees, the cost of replacement services, and travel expenses. 

P

Paralegal – A certified professional who assists an attorney with legal duties such as research, investigations, and recordkeeping.

Parties – An individual, business, or other entity who initiates a lawsuit or has a lawsuit filed against them.

Plaintiff – The party in a lawsuit who has lodged a dispute against another party (the defendant). 

Precedent – An outcome of a previous case that influences how similar cases are decided in the future. 

Premises Liability – The laws and regulations that hold landowners, landlords, and tenants responsible for maintaining reasonably safe conditions to protect those who enter a property. 

Product Liability – The responsibility that a manufacturer, service provider, or retailer has if someone is injured as a result of their products or services (including defective tires or defective medical devices).

Prognosis – A medical professional’s calculated prediction about a patient’s expected level of recovery.

Punitive Damages – See Damages

Q

Quality of Life – The standard of health and well-being a person previously had or would’ve likely achieved had they not become injured or ill.

R

Reasonable Care – A level of care and caution that a reasonable person would expect from an individual, business, professional, or other entity.

S

Settlement – A financial amount that opposing parties agree upon before a court determines the outcome.

Sexual Assault Claim – A claim filed against a party who is accused of initiating sexual contact or behavior without the claimant’s express consent.

Slip and Fall – A type of personal injury accident in which a person slips or trips on someone else’s property due to the property owner’s or manager’s negligence. 

Special Damages – See Damages

Standard of Care – The level of quality that the average, reasonable medical provider would deliver in a given situation. 

Statute of Limitations – A law that imposes time constraints on when a personal injury lawsuit can be filed. In most cases, injured parties have two years from the date they became injured to file a personal injury lawsuit. 

T

Third-Party Claims – Claims that injured parties file with an insured party’s insurance company. 

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – An injury to the head that disrupts brain function. TBIs are caused by a jolt or blow to the head. They can also develop when an object penetrates the skull.

Trip and Fall – See Slip and Fall

U

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM) – Insurance that a policyholder obtains to protect themselves if the other driver’s coverage is not enough to cover the cost of injuries.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) – Insurance that a policyholder obtains to protect themselves if the other driver does not have insurance or if a driver is not identified after a hit and run accident.

V

Verdict – A court’s final decision about the outcome of a case.

W

Whiplash – A neck injury that develops from quick, forceful movement. Whiplash is common in car accidents.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits – Coverage provided to employees for injuries or illnesses that occur in the workplace.

Wrongful Death – A claim made by a deceased person’s surviving relatives for compensation of damages that resulted from the decedent’s untimely death. Damages may include medical expenses before death, funeral expenses, loss of income relatives relied on, loss of consortium, and loss of parental guidance.

X

X-ray – A medical diagnostic tool that produces images of the inside of the body to discover, treat, and monitor injuries and diseases.

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