Legal Definitions


Affidavit:  A statement of facts in writing and signed before a notary public by the person making the statement of facts.

Ad Litem:  A Latin term meaning something necessary to a legal proceeding such as a guardian ad litem required in certain situations to protect the interests of someone who is incompetent or a minor.

Alternative Dispute Resolution:  One of several processes, usually mediation or arbitration, used to settle a dispute over who is responsible for the injuries and the dollar amount to be paid for those injuries without the use of a judge or jury.

 Arbitration:  The parties to a dispute can elect to have their dispute heard and decided by a panel of one or more knowledgeable, experienced individuals without going to court and without the use of a judge or jury.  Arbitration is usually “binding” — meaning that the decision of the panel is final and that decision is accepted by the courts in place of a decision of a judge or jury.  Arbitration is used, many times, because the hearing and decision most often faster than going to court and the costs can be less.

Assumption Of The Risk:  A defense to a claim for negligence which says that when a person knows that there is a hazardous condition that he or she is facing and that person voluntarily proceeds into the danger despite that knowledge, he or she assumes the risk of being injured.

Bench Trial:  This is when a court trial over a dispute between two or more parties is heard and decided by a judge without the input of a jury.  See also jury trial.

Burden Of Proof:  The obligation of a party to a lawsuit to show that enough facts exist to support her position in the case.

Cause Of Action:  Facts that support a person’s claim against another when those facts are applied to the law.

Charge To The Jury:  The judge’s explanation to the jury about the law to be applied to the facts heard by the jury.

Civil Action:  A lawsuit seeking a decision by a judge or jury in which criminal liability does not have to be considered.

 Common Law:  The body of law which comes from the decisions of judges and juries rather than from the laws written by the legislature such as the Constitution and statutes.

Comparative Negligence:  If you are injured in Georgia and are found to be 50% or more responsible for those injuries, then you cannot receive compensation for your injuries in a negligence lawsuit.  If you are found to be less than 50% responsible, the amount that you are said to be at fault will be taken in to consideration in deciding how much money you can recover.

Compensatory Damages:  Damages sought in a negligence action to make the injured person whole.  Compensatory Damages are made up of Special Damages plus General Damages plus Consequential Damages.  See also Punitive Damages.

Consequential Damages:  A type of Compensatory Damages that do not come directly from the negligent act, but can still be recovered because they are indirectly related to the negligent act.  See also Special Damages, Compensatory Damages, General Damages, and Punitive Damages.

Defendant:  A person or business entity being sued.

Deposition:  A session of questions in person and under oath before a court reporter seeking information regarding the facts and evidence related to a lawsuit.

Discovery:  The collection of documents and information by both parties to a lawsuit.

Evidence:  Facts used to support one or the other side’s position at trial and subject to specific rules of what is or is not allowed to be heard by the jury.

Expert Witness:  Individuals with special education, training and experience in specific topics, such as engineering, accident reconstruction, and medicine, who offer an opinion of fault and cause based on the facts in a dispute.

Federal Tort Claims Act:  A set of laws under which a person is personally injured or that person’s property is damaged by the actions of a federal employee may set compensation from the government.

Foreseeability:  In tort law, the reasonable anticipation by a person or company that an injury might occur as a result of a condition, action or inaction within that person’s or company’s control.

General Damages:  Damages being sought in a negligence claim usually for pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of consortium.  See also Special Damages, Compensatory Damages, Consequential Damages, and Punitive Damages.


Heirs:  A person who is entitled to inherit property either when a will does or does not exist.

Insurance Claim:  When you hire a personal injury attorney to recover for your personal injuries, the first thing your attorney will do is send a letter with specific content to those insurance companies that insure the at-fault person(s) putting the insurance companies on notice of your personal injuries and other damages and that responsibility for your injuries lies with the insurance companies’ insured(s).

 Intentional Tort:  A tort committed because a person or company acted willfully and intent to cause the injury or damage.

 Interrogatory:  A written question submitted to a party or non-party in a lawsuit seeking a written response.

 Jury Trial:  This is when a court trial over a dispute is overseen and heard by a judge and jury and the decision of which party or parties are responsible for the injuries and how much is to be paid in compensation for those injuries.  See also bench trial.

 Liability Insurance:  Insurance which normally provides coverage when, by accident, a person or company causes personal injury of or property damage to another.

 Litigation:  The process of carrying on a lawsuit.

Loss Of Consortium:  The loss of love, affection, and companionship, including decrease in sexual relations, incurred by the spouse of the person injured in an accident.

 Mediation:  A way of trying to resolve a dispute between one or more parties where a neutral person listens to both sides in a dispute, in confidence, to help them find a resolution.  Mediation proceedings are held without a judge or jury, and if no agreement to settle the dispute is reached, the parties can still be heard before a judge or jury.

 Negligence:  A legal concept against which to measure the reasonableness of a person’s or company’s conduct in a specific situation.  A person or company can be considered negligent by a judge or jury because of carelessness in taking an action or failing to act when a reasonable person would have acted differently under the same circumstances.

 Negligence per se:  When conduct is so obviously negligent, the fact that it is negligent is found in the law as written, and a judge or jury does not need to decide if the conduct is negligent.

 Pain And Suffering:  Money damages to compensate a person for the physical pain and discomfort as well as the mental and emotional anguish (worry, distress, apprehension) related to the injuries received in an accident.

 Personal Injury:  Damage to one’s body, emotional state, and/or mental state.

 Plaintiff:  A person or business entity bringing a lawsuit.

 Punitive Damages:  Damages sought in a negligence action, in addition to compensatory damages (special damages and general damages), solely to punish the defendant(s) for extreme behavior and to deter them and others from such extreme behavior in the future.  See also Special Damages, General Damages, and Compensatory Damages.

 Settlement:  The term “settlement” refers to resolving a dispute between parties, by voluntary agreement, before a judge or jury voices a decision based on the facts and applying the law.

 Sovereign Immunity:  When a government agency or employee is involved in causing injury to another, the agency or employee can be protected against liability depending on the facts of the event resulting in the injury.

 Special Damages (also called Specials):  Being one type of “compensatory damages”, these are money damages to be recovered in a negligence action that are related to medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and other similar damages.  See also General Damages, Compensatory Damages, and Punitive Damages.

 Statute:  A law written by the legislature of the state or federal government.

 Statute of Limitations:  A period of time, beginning on the date of injury in a personal injury situation, in which a lawsuit is allowed to be filed in a court of law.  After this period of time has expired, a lawsuit can no longer be filed and an injured person then forever loses the right sue for compensation.  Each state has its own laws for “limitations of actions” and length of each limitation of action period in the law depends on the type of claim a person or company wants to make.

 Subrogation:  The concept, in personal injury situations where insurance companies are involved and have paid out money for medical treatment, whereby those insurance companies may seek reimbursement for all or part of that money paid as may be allowed by law.

 Tort:  A “tort” is an action or failure to act that damages or injures another.  Torts can be the result of intentional conduct or negligent conduct.  See Negligence and Intentional Tort.

 Tortfeasor:  The person or company committing a tort.

 Vicarious Liability:  When one person or company is responsible for the negligent actions of another person or company even though the first person or company did not directly commit the negligent act or failure to act.

Wrongful Death:  If a person dies due to the negligent or intentional act or failure to act of another, a claim for “wrongful death” can exist under the laws of the state.  The heirs that have survived the person who has died can bring a lawsuit to recover for damages they have suffered due to the person’s death.  Representatives of the deceased person’s estate can bring a separate legal action for damages suffered by the deceased person before the time of death as a result of the negligent or intentional act.  Both of these separate types of legal actions are often referred to together as a “wrongful death action.”