Legal Glossary

paralegals personal injury

Glossary of Personal Injury Law Terms

A

  • Abstract of Title: A chronological summary of all official records and recorded documents affecting the title to a parcel of real property.
  • Accomplice: 1. A partner in a crime. 2. A person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal activity.
  • Acknowledgment: 1. A statement of acceptance of responsibility. 2. The short declaration at the end of a legal paper showing that the paper was duly executed and acknowledged.
  • Acquit: To find a defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.
  • Action. In the legal sense, a formal complaint or a suit brought in court.
  • Additur: An increase by a judge in the amount of damages awarded by a jury.
  • Adjudication: Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree. Also the judgment given.
  • Ad Litem: A Latin term meaning for the purposes of the lawsuit. For example, a guardian “ad litem” is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor or legally incompetent person in a lawsuit.
  • Administrative Agency: Governmental body responsible for administering and implementing a particular legislation, such as laws governing traffic safety or workers’ compensation. These agencies may have rulemaking power and judge-like authority to decide disputes.
  • Administrative Hearing: Proceeding before an administrative agency which consists of an argument, a trial, or both. Rules governing the proceeding, including rules of evidence, are generally less strict than in civil or criminal trials.
  • Administrator: Person appointed by a court to administer a deceased person’s estate. The person may be male (in which case, he would be referred to as the “administrator”) or female (in which case, she would be referred to as the “administratrix”).
  • Admissible evidence: Evidence that can be legally and properly introduced in a civil or criminal trial.
  • Adversary Proceeding: Legal proceeding involving parties with opposing interests, with one party seeking legal relief and the other opposing it.
  • Affiant: A person who makes and signs an affidavit.
  • Affidavit: A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it, before a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths. For example, in criminal cases, affidavits are often used by police officers seeking to convince courts to grant a warrant to make an arrest or a search. In civil cases, affidavits of witnesses are often used to support motions for summary judgment.
  • Agreement: Mutual assent between two or more parties; normally leads to a contract; may be verbal or written.
  • Aid and Abet: To actively, knowingly or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.
  • Allegation. The claim made in a pleading by a party to an action setting out what he or she expects to prove.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution: Settling a dispute without a full, formal trial. Methods include mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and settlement, among others.
  • Amicus Curiae. (Latin: “friend of the court.”) Person or organization that files a legal brief with the court expressing its views on a case involving other parties because it has a strong interest in the subject matter of the action.
  • Appeal. Request to a superior or higher court to review and change the result in a case decided by an inferior or lower court or administrative agency.
  • Appearance: 1. The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court. 2. A written notification to the plaintiff by an attorney stating that he or she is representing the defendant.
  • Appellate Court. A court having jurisdiction to hear an appeal and review the decisions of a lower or inferior court.
  • Arbitration: A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by his or her decision. In arbitration there is a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.
  • Arbitrator: A person who conducts an arbitration.
  • Arraignment: A proceeding in which an individual who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Sometimes called a preliminary hearing or initial appearance.
  • Arrest: To take into custody by legal authority.
  • Assault. A willful attempt or threat to harm another person, coupled with the present ability to inflict injury on that person, which causes apprehension in that person. Although the term “assault” is frequently used to describe the use of illegal force, the correct legal term for use of illegal force is “battery .”
  • Assumption of the Risk. When a person voluntarily and knowingly proceeds in the face of an obvious and known danger, she assumes the risk. A person found to have assumed the risk cannot make out the duty element of a negligence cause of action. The theory behind the rule is that a person who chooses to take a risk cannot later complain that she was injured by the risk that she chose to take. Therefore, she will not be permitted to seek money damages from those who might have otherwise been responsible.
  • Attorney-Client Privilege. Client’s privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and his or her attorney.
  • Attorney-in-Fact: A private person (who is not necessarily a lawyer) authorized by another to act in his or her place, either for some particular purpose, as to do a specific act, or for the transaction of business in general, not of legal character. This authority is conferred by an instrument in writing, called a letter of attorney, or more commonly a power of attorney.
  • Attorney of Record: The principal attorney in a lawsuit, who signs all formal documents relating to the suit.

B

  • Bad faith: Intention to mislead or deceive; conscious refusal to fulfill some duty. Implies active ill will, as opposed to negligence. Bad faith is not bad judgment; it requires conscious wrongdoing.
  • Bail: Money or other security (such as a bail bond) provided to the court to temporarily allow a person’s release from jail and assure their appearance in court. “Bail” and “bond” are often used interchangeably.
  • Bail Bond: An obligation signed by the accused to secure his or her presence at the trial. This obligation means that the accused may lose money by not properly appearing for the trial. Often referred to simply as bond.
  • Bailiff: Court officer responsible for keeping order in the court, custody of the jury, and custody of prisoners while in court.
  • Bankruptcy: Refers to statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and seek the assistance of the court in getting a fresh start. Under the protection of the bankruptcy court, debtors may be released from or “discharged” from their debts, perhaps by paying a portion of each debt. Bankruptcy judges preside over these proceedings. The person with the debts is called the debtor and the people or companies to whom the debtor owes money to are called creditors.
  • Bar: 1. Historically, the partition separating the general public from the space occupied by the judges, lawyers, and other participants in a trial. 2. More commonly, the term means the whole body of lawyers.
  • Bar Examination: A state examination taken by prospective lawyers in order to be admitted and licensed to practice law.
  • Battery: The unlawful use of force resulting in the injury of another. Battery always includes assault. See assault.
  • Bench: The seat occupied by the judge. More broadly, the court itself.
  • Bench Trial or Non-jury Trial: Trial before a judge and without a jury. In a bench trial, the judge decides questions of law and questions of fact.
  • Bench Warrant: An order issued by a judge for the arrest of a person.
  • Beneficiary: Someone named to receive property or benefits in a will. In a trust, a person who is to receive benefits from the trust.
  • Bequeath: To give a gift to someone through a will.
  • Bequests: Gifts made in a will.
  • Best Evidence: The most direct evidence possible, such as producing an original document to prove that the document exists and what it states. A copy of a document or testimony by a witness would be “secondary evidence.” The best evidence rule prohibits the introduction of secondary evidence unless best evidence cannot be obtained, so long as the party seeking to introduce the secondary evidence is not at fault in making the best evidence incapable of being obtained.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The standard in a criminal case requiring that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution. This standard of proof does not require that the state establish absolute certainty by eliminating all doubt, but it does require that the evidence be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of the ordinary person.
  • Bill of Particulars: A statement of the details of the charge made against the defendant.
  • Binding Authority: Law that controls the outcome of a case. For example, a decision on the same point of law by a higher court in the same state must be followed by a lower court in that state. See precedent.
  • Bind Over: To hold a person for trial on bond (bail) or in jail. If the judicial official conducting a hearing finds probable cause to believe the accused committed a crime, the official will bind over the accused, normally by setting bail for the accused’s appearance at trial.
  • Booking: The process of photographing, fingerprinting, and recording identifying data of a suspect. This process follows the arrest.
  • Breach of Contract: Failure, without legal excuse, to perform all or some of the promises made in a contract.
  • Brief: Written document, usually prepared by an attorney, submitted to the court about a case, containing summaries of the facts of the case, relevant laws, and an argument showing how the laws support that party’s position.
  • Burden of Proof or Standard 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.
  • Bystander: In products liability law, a person who neither buys nor uses a product, but who nevertheless is injured by the product and may have a cause of action.

C

  • 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.

D

  • 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.

E

  • Elements of a Crime: Specific factors that define a crime which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. The elements that must be proven are (1) that a crime has actually occurred, (2) that the accused intended the crime to happen, and (3) a timely relationship between the first two factors.
  • Eminent Domain: The power of the government to take private property for public use through condemnation.
  • Emotional Distress: Mental anguish.
  • Employee Verification Form: In a workers’ compensation case, it’s a bi-annual report of earnings to be completed by the injured employee. The form is required to be returned to the insurance carrier within 30 days of receipt or benefits may be stopped.
  • En Banc: All the judges of a court sitting together. Appellate courts can consist of a dozen or more judges, but often they hear cases in panels of three judges. If a case is heard or reheard by the full court, it is heard en banc.
  • Enjoining: An order by the court telling a person to stop performing a specific act.
  • Entrapment: A defense to criminal charges alleging that agents of the government induced a person to commit a crime he or she otherwise would not have committed.
  • Equal Protection of the Law: The guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that all persons be treated equally by the law. Court decisions have established that this guarantee requires that courts be open to all persons on the same conditions, with like rules of evidence and modes of procedure; that persons be subject to no restrictions in the acquisition of property, the enjoyment of personal liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which do not generally affect others; that persons are liable to no other or greater burdens than such as are laid upon others, and that no different or greater punishment is enforced against them for a violation of the laws.
  • Equitable Remedies: Remedies that do not include monetary settlements. Examples include injunctions and restraining orders.
  • Equity: Generally, justice or fairness. Historically, equity refers to a separate body of law developed in England in reaction to the inability of the common-law courts, in their strict adherence to rigid writs and forms of action, to consider or provide a remedy for every injury. The king therefore established the court of chancery, to do justice between parties in cases where the common law would give inadequate redress. The principle of this system of law is  that equity will find a way to achieve a lawful result when legal procedure is inadequate. Equity and law courts are now merged in most jurisdictions.
  • Error: In the legal sense, a mistaken interpretation of facts or application of the law that can prove grounds for an appeal.
  • Escheat (es-chet): The process by which a deceased person’s property goes to the state if no heir can be found.
  • Escrow: Money or a written instrument such as a deed that, by agreement between two parties, is held by a neutral third party (held in escrow) until all conditions of the agreement are met.
  • Estate: An estate consists of personal property (car, household items, and other tangible items), real property, and intangible property, such as stock certificates and bank accounts, owned in the individual name of a person at the time of the persons death. It does not include life insurance proceeds unless the estate was made the beneficiary) or other assets that pass outside the estate (like joint tenancy asset).
  • Estate Tax: Generally, a tax on the privilege of transferring property to others after a person’s death. In addition to federal estate taxes, many states have their own estate taxes.
  • Estoppel: A person’s own act, or acceptance of facts, which preclude his or her later making claims to the contrary.
  • Et al: And others.
  • Evidence: Proof of a probative matter presented at trial for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the jury or judge. Evidence comes in a variety of forms, including testimony, writings, tangible objects, and exhibits.
  • Exemplary Damages or Punitive Damages: Compensation greater than is necessary to pay a plaintiff for a loss. These damages are awarded because the loss was aggravated by violence, oppression, malice, fraud or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant. Such damages are intended to punish the defendant for his evil behavior or make an example of him or her.
  • Exempt Property: In bankruptcy proceedings, this refers to certain property protected by law from the reach of creditors.
  • Exceptions: Declarations by either side in a civil or criminal case reserving the right to appeal a judge’s ruling upon a motion. Also, in regulatory cases, objections by either side to points made by the other side or to rulings by the agency or one of its hearing officers.
  • Exclusionary Rule: The rule preventing illegally obtained evidence to be used in any trial.
  • Execute: To complete the legal requirements (such as signing before witnesses) that make a will valid. Also, to execute a judgment or decree means to put the final judgment of the court into effect.
  • Executor: A personal representative, named in a will, who administers an estate.
  • Exhibit: A document or other item introduced as evidence during a trial or hearing.
  • Exonerate: Removal of a charge, responsibility or duty.
  • Expert: A witness who may give an opinion in court based on the particular competence of that witness.
  • Ex Parte: On behalf of only one party, without notice to any other party. For example, a request for a search warrant is an ex parte proceeding, since the person subject to the search is not notified of the proceeding and is not present at the hearing.
  • Ex Parte Proceeding: The legal procedure in which only one side is represented. It differs from adversary system or adversary proceeding.
  • Ex Post Facto: After the fact. The Constitution prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws. These are laws that permit conviction and punishment for a lawful act performed before the law was changed and the act made illegal.
  • Extenuating Circumstances: Circumstances which render a crime less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it would otherwise be.
  • Expungement: Official and formal erasure of a record or partial contents of a record.
  • Extradition: The process by which one state or country surrenders to another state, a person accused or convicted of a crime in the other state.

F

  • Fact Question: Issues in a trial or hearing concerning facts and how they occurred, as opposed to questions of law. Fact questions are for the jury to decide, unless the issues are presented in a non-jury or bench trial, in which case the judge would decide fact questions. Questions of law are decided by a judge. Findings of fact are generally non-appealable, while rulings on questions of law are subject to appeal.
  • Family Allowance: A small amount of money set aside from the estate of the deceased. Its purpose is to provide for the surviving family members during the administration of the estate.
  • Family Practitioner: A physician who has a general health care practice and no specialization.
  • Felony: Crimes of a graver or more serious nature than misdemeanors.
  • Fiduciary: A person having a legal relationship of trust and confidence to another and having a duty to act primarily for the others benefit, e.g., a guardian, trustee, or executor.
  • File: To place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of court/court administrator to enter into the files or records of a case.
  • Final Receipt: In a workers’ compensation case, it’s the form presented by the insurance carrier for the injured employee’s signature so that benefits will stop upon return to work.
  • Final Judgment: The written ruling on a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial. This completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court. Also called a final decree or final decision.
  • Finding: Formal conclusion by a judge or regulatory agency on issues of fact. Also, a conclusion by a jury regarding a fact.
  • First Appearance: The initial appearance of an arrested person before a judge to determine whether or not there is probable cause for his or her arrest. Generally the person comes before a judge within hours of the arrest. Also called initial appearance.
  • First Party Benefits: In insurance law, first party benefits include medical benefits, income loss benefits, accidental death benefit, funeral benefit, and extraordinary medical benefits. In Pennsylvania, the only required coverage is $5,000 in medical benefits.
  • Fracture: A break or crack in a bone.
  • Fraud: False and deceptive statement of fact intended to induce another person to rely upon and, in reliance thereof, give up a valuable thing he or she owns or a legal right he or she is entitled to.
  • Full Tort Option: In Pennsylvania, purchasers of motor vehicle insurance can choose “full tort,” which gives the insured the unrestricted right to seek money damages for all injuries sustained in an accident caused by another driver, including economic loss, pain and suffering and other non-monetary damages. Compare with limited tort option.

G

  • Garnishment: A legal proceeding in which a debtor’s money, in the possession of another (called the garnishee), is applied to the debts of the debtor, such as when an employer garnishes a debtor’s wages.
  • General Jurisdiction: Refers to courts that have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear.
  • Good Time: A reduction in sentenced time in prison as a reward for good behavior. It usually is one third to one half off the maximum sentence.
  • Grand Jury: A body of persons sworn to inquire into crime and if appropriate, bring accusations (indictments) against the suspected criminals.
  • Grantor or Settlor: The person who sets up a trust.
  • Gross Negligence: Intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences to another person’s life or property. There is no clear distinction between gross negligence and willful negligence.
  • Guardian: A person appointed by will or by law to assume responsibility for incompetent adults or minor children. If a parent dies, this will usually be the other parent. If both die, it probably will be a close relative.
  • Guardianship: Legal right given to a person to be responsible for the food, housing, health care, and other necessities of a person deemed incapable of providing these necessities for himself or herself. A guardian also may be given responsibility for the person’s financial affairs, and thus perform additionally as a conservator. (See also conservatorship.)

H

  • Harmless Error: An error committed during a trial that was corrected or was not serious enough to affect the outcome of a trial and therefore was not sufficiently harmful (prejudicial) to be reversed on appeal.
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO): A type of managed health care system that contracts with medical facilities, physicians, employers, and sometimes individuals to provide medical care to a group of people known as “members.” Generally, members of HMOs don’t have any significant “out-of-pocket” expenses because the medical care is most often paid for by an employer at a fixed price per patient.
  • Hearing: A proceeding usually without a jury.
  • Hearsay: Statements by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court.
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke: Occurs when an artery in the brain tears or bursts, causing blood to spill out.
  • Homeowner’s Insurance: Policy that insures individuals against any, some, or all of the risks of loss to personal dwellings or the contents of personal dwellings or the personal liability pertaining to personal dwellings.
  • Hostile Witness: A witness whose testimony is not favorable to the party who calls him or her as a witness. A hostile witness may be asked leading questions and may be cross-examined by the party who calls him or her to the stand.
  • Hung Jury: A jury whose members cannot agree upon a verdict.
  • Hurt on the Job: In order to establish a right to workers’ compensation benefits, there must be an employment relationship during which an accident or an injury arises in the course of employment and is related thereto, and includes aggravation, reactivation, acceleration or death resulting from the injury.

I

  • Immunity: Grant by the court, which assures someone will not face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.
  • Impaneling: Selecting a jury from the list of potential jurors.
  • Impeach: Attacking the credibility of a witness.
  • Impeachment of a Witness: An attack on the credibility (believability) of a witness, through evidence introduced for that purpose.
  • Incarcerate: To confine in jail.
  • Inadmissible: That which, under the rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received as evidence.
  • In Camera: In a judge’s chambers; in private.
  • In Camera Inspection: Judge’s private inspection of a document prior to his or her ruling on its admissibility or use at trial.
  • In Camera Proceedings. Trial or proceeding in a place not open to the public, usually in a judge’s chambers.
  • Indemnify: To restore the victim of a loss, either in whole or in part, by payment of money or repair or replacement of the thing lost.
  • Independent Executor: A special kind of executor, permitted by the laws of certain states, who performs the duties of an executor without intervention by the court.
  • Indeterminate Sentence: A sentence of imprisonment to a specified minimum and maximum period of time, specifically authorized by statute, subject to termination by a parole board or other authorized agency after the prisoner has served the minimum term.
  • Indictment: A written accusation by a grand jury charging a person with a crime.
  • Indigent: Needy or impoverished. A defendant who can demonstrate his or her indigence to the court may be assigned a court- appointed attorney at public expense.
  • Information: Accusatory document, filed by the prosecutor, detailing the charges against the defendant. An alternative to an indictment, it serves to bring a defendant to trial.
  • Informed Consent: Person’s agreement to allow something to happen, such as a medical procedure, that is based on full disclosure of the facts necessary to make an intelligent decision.
  • In Forma Pauperis: In the manner of a pauper. Permission given to a person to sue without payment of court fees on claim of indigence or poverty.
  • Infraction: A violation of law not punishable by imprisonment. Minor traffic offenses generally are considered infractions.
  • Inheritance Tax: A state tax on property that an heir or beneficiary under a will receives from a deceased person’s estate. The heir or beneficiary pays this tax.
  • Initial Appearance: In criminal law, the hearing at which a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence against a person charged with a crime to hold him or her for trial. The Constitution bans secret accusations, so initial appearances are public unless the defendant asks otherwise; the accused must be present, though he or she usually does not offer evidence. Also called first appearance.
  • Injunction: Writ or order by a court prohibiting a specific action from being carried out by a person or group. A preliminary injunction is granted provisionally, until a full hearing can be held to determine if it should be made permanent.
  • In Propria Persona: In court’s it refers to persons who present their own case without lawyers. See Pro Se.
  • Instructions: Judge’s explanation to the jury before it begins deliberations of the questions it must answer and the applicable law governing the case. Also called charge.
  • Intangible Assets: Nonphysical items such as stock certificates, bonds, bank accounts, and pension benefits that have value and must be taken into account in estate planning.
  • Intentional Inflication of Emotional Distress: – Intentionally causing severe emotional distress by extreme or outrageous conduct.
  • Interlocutory: Provisional; not final. An interlocutory order or an interlocutory appeal concerns only a part of the issues raised in a lawsuit.
  • Interrogatories: Written questions asked by one party in a lawsuit for which the opposing party must provide written answers.
  • Intervention: An action by which a third person who may be affected by a lawsuit is permitted to become a party to the suit. Differs from the process of becoming an amicus curiae.
  • Inter Vivos Gift: A gift made during the giver’s life.
  • Inter Vivos Trust: Another name for a living trust.
  • Intestacy Laws: See descent and distribution statutes.
  • Intestate: Dying without a will.
  • Intestate Succession: The process by which the property of a person who has died without a will passes on to others according to the state’s descent and distribution statutes. If someone dies without a will, and the court uses the state’s interstate succession laws, an heir who receives some of the deceased’s property is an intestate heir.
  • Invitee: A person is an invitee on land if he enters land by invitation; his entry is connected with business being conducted on the land by the possessor of land; and the possessor of land is benefited by the entry.
  • Irrevocable Trust: A trust that, once set up, the grantor may not revoke.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A condition of abnormally increased spontaneous movement (motility) of the small and large intestine, generally stress can contribute to this condition.
  • Ischemic Colitis: An inflammation caused by interference with the blood flow to the large intestine. This lack of blood flow leads to death of tissue.
  • Issue: (1) The disputed point in a disagreement between parties in a lawsuit. (2) To send out officially, as in to issue an order.

J

  • Joint and Several Liability: Refers to a plaintiff’s ability to sue one or more defendants separately or all together at his or her option. Permits a group of defendants to be held both individually and collectively liable for all damages suffered by the plaintiff. The plaintiff can recover the entire amount of damages from one defendant, even if all of the defendants are liable. For incidents arising after August 17, 2002: Due to a new Pennsylvania law, joint and several liability has been changed so that a plaintiff may no longer be able to collect all his damages from one defendant, even if more than one defendant is found responsible. A percentage of fault will be assessed against each defendant and, unless a defendant’s negligence is 60% or greater, an at fault defendant will be responsible for only its percentage of fault.
  • Joint Tenancy: A form of legal co-ownership of property (also known as survivorship). At the death of one co-owner, the surviving co-owner becomes sole owner of the property. Tenancy by the entirety is a special form of joint tenancy between a husband and wife.
  • Judge: Workers’ compensation judges are appointed and are representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. They conduct hearings in an administrative proceeding for workers’ compensation cases.
  • Judgment: Official decision of a court resolving the issues in a legal action and stating the rights and obligations of the parties. See also decree, order.
  • Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (n.o.v.): An order by the trial judge entering a judgment in a man