- Must-Know Legal Terms for Every Accident Survivor
Must-Know Legal Terms for Every Accident Survivor
This week we’re putting our many years of law school education and extensive courtroom experience to work – to define some key terms that frequently come into play during the personal injury cases we deal with every day. If you or someone you love are ever injured and become involved in a personal injury lawsuit, you’ll want to know these legal concepts in detail. Knowledge is power… which is how we’ve helped our clients win settlements totaling over $1 billion! Speaking of settlements, let’s start with that very term!
- Settlement: An agreement that ends part or all of a dispute and results in the voluntary dismissal of any related litigation. Usually these include the defendant paying a sum of money to the plaintiff to satisfy (at least partially) the claims for damages being levied against the defendant. Generally, settlements are offered by defendants without admitting guilt, and reaching a settlement takes place before a case even goes to a formal trial. Settlements provide the legal system with a way to prioritize valuable courtroom time for cases where the disputing parties can’t come to a pre-trial agreement and must go through further litigation to seek resolution for their differences.
- Defendant: The person defending or denying; the party against whom relief or recovery is sought in an action or suit. In an auto accident case there will often be multiple defendants. You can sue your insurance company for coverage of your medical expenses and some other economic losses (i.e. wage loss, transportation, home modifications, etc.). However, you can also sue the negligent driver and/or owner for pain and suffering, disfigurement, and other damages.
- Plaintiff: A person who brings an action. In personal injury cases, the plaintiff is the injured person who is seeking to compensation for damages, typically in the form of financial payment for medical costs, repairs to damaged property, and the pain and suffering they experienced because of the defendant’s bad actions or negligence.
- Damages: In civil cases, a remedy in the form of monetary compensation to the harmed party. Essentially, these arefinancial payments made by the defendant to a plaintiff.
- Litigation: A contest in a court of justice, for the purpose of enforcing a right. Or, put more simply, the formal, legal proceedings that take place to help disagreeing parties reach a settlement or trial. Taking a case to a courtroom trial (the most extreme example of litigation) involves attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendant presenting their respective sides of the legal dispute in front of a judge and jury who listen to the arguments, determine liability, and assign penalties as needed.
- Lawsuit: A legal action by one person or entity (the “plaintiff”) against another person or entity (the “defendant”), to be decided in a court. This can be understood as a legal filing in civil court where the plaintiff ascribes specific blame towards a defendant for causing their injuries and asks the court to decide upon fair and just compensation.
- Negligence: The failure to use care which a reasonable and prudent person would use under similar circumstances. Common examples of negligence include running a red light, texting while driving, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Liability: legal responsibility or accountability for the acts and/or omissions of a party. A negligent driver is held liable for the damages they caused through their negligence and must compensate the injured parties monetarily.
- No-Fault Insurance: Auto insurance which requires the insurance company to compensate its policyholder for certain losses resulting from an automobile accident regardless of who caused the accident. An important element of no-fault coverage is therefore Personal Injury Protection, a benefit of your no-fault insurance policy that’s intended to cover many of your costs regardless of who was to blame for the accident. For more background, Michigan Public Radio has produced a thorough and somewhat scathing two-part explanation of recent negative changes to the state’s no-fault insurance laws, which we encourage you to review for more details.
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP): The financial coverage provided by a car insurance policy, designed to pay medical bills, loss of income, and other costs one may incur following an accident. In Michigan, you have several choices when it comes to PIP coverage, ranging from unlimited benefits (which we always recommend) to relatively small dollar limits (which could leave you financially vulnerable or even needing to file bankruptcy due to medical bills). For more information, check the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services website which explains your choices for PIP coverage.
- Benefit: Something positive that happens as the result of something else; a profit or gain. More specifically, a dollar amount specified by your insurance policy which defines the compensation you can receive for injuries you experience (or damage to your property that occurs) in an accident. As noted above, in Michigan you can choose unlimited PIP benefits, which we consider the best and safest option, or you can opt for lower benefit limits to save on insurance premiums.
- Loss – A decrease in a person’s physical, emotional, legal, or pecuniary (financial) situation. Losses can be economic or non-economic (which includes among other things “pain, suffering, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of society or companionship.”) Lawsuits seek to compensate accident victims for any losses they experience due to someone else’s negligence or bad actions.
- Pain and Suffering: The physical discomfort and emotional distress that are compensable as non-economic damages. This is considered a form of non-economic loss, but you can be compensated for it financially as part of a legal settlement or court-ordered payment. For example, in one notable case, a Mike Morse Law Firm client received $2 million for her past and present pain and suffering, (as well as for economic losses, including payments of $131,000 annually for the rest of the client’s life) caused by a defendant’s negligence in running a red light. Important to know about this kind of compensation in Michigan is that if you are found to be more than 50 percent responsible for any injury you experienced in an accident, you will not be permitted to collect damages for pain and suffering.
- Contingency Fee: Funds paid to an attorney only if the case is won or a settlement is agreed upon by the disputing parties. Mike Morse Law Firm operates under a contingency fee policy, which is why we always say you pay no fees until we win. Anything paid to us for legal services we undertake – including filing costs, investigation charges, expert witness research and travel expenses, and much more – comes from the settlement funds, not from your own pocket.
- Deposition: An out-of-court statement given under oath by any person involved in the case. It is to be used at trial or in preparation for trial and may be in the form of a written transcript, a videotape, or both. Depositions are often given by key witnesses or injury victims.
- Subpoena: A written order compelling a witness to testify in court, submit documents or other evidence, or participate in a deposition. Receiving a subpoena isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can provide a security blanket of sorts for individuals who might be uncomfortable testifying in a trial without being required by the court to do so.
- Summons: a form prepared by the plaintiff and issued by a court that informs the defendant they are being sued or are required to appear in court. It may be served by a sheriff or other authorized person, such as the process server. Being served with a summons is usually not good news. If you choose to ignore a summons, you’re putting yourself at risk, since you won’t have the opportunity to defend yourself in court.
There you have it — a comprehensive glossary of legal terms that we hope you’ll find interesting and useful. However, we know there may be other court-related terminology or phrases you could someday encounter that aren’t defined here. If that happens, you can always call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) for an instant response to your legal questions or concerns. We’re ready day or night to take your call.