Legal Dictionary

A

  • AffidavitA written statement sworn to be true. The individual providing the affidavit must sign the document and swear under oath before a notary public or make a declaration under penalty of perjury.
  • American Bar Association (ABA)The ABA is the predominant professional association for attorneys practicing in the United States. The ABA actively influences legal policy, lobbies for the legal profession, and evaluates legal professionals.
  • ArbitrationArbitration is a method for disposing of legal disputes without a formal court trial. All parties to the dispute consent to having their case heard before a panel of independent experts. The parties must also agree to be subject to the panel’s rulings.
  • Asbestos LawsuitA claim alleging injury, typically arising from a cancer called mesothelioma, stemming from exposure to asbestos. Asbestos lawsuits include personal injury suits brought directly by the party exposed to asbestos and wrongful death suits brought by the families of those who have died from exposure.
  • AttorneyAny individual authorized by a state or federal court to practice law.
B

  • Bar ExaminationA state examination that is prerequisite to practicing law in the state.
  • BeneficiaryAn individual entitled to receive property or benefits in a will or trust.
  • Bill of ParticularsA statement of the details of the charge made against the defendant.
  • Breach of ContractThe failure to perform a duty when performance is due.
  • BriefA party’s written argument, or memorandum of law, in a case that typically contains a summary of the facts, pertinent laws, and an argument of how the law favors the party under the particular circumstances.
C

  • CasualityAn accident, especially one involving serious injury or loss of life.
  • Civil LawLaw involving non-criminal cases. Personal injury claims, family law disputes, and contract disputes are civil law matters.
  • Co-DefendantOne of multiple parties defending against a claim in a lawsuit.
  • Common LawA body of law developed in the doctrine of the judicial branch of government. The common law system is rooted in the medieval English court system and is still very much a part of modern American jurisprudence.
  • Comparative NegligenceA method of assigning negligence among multiple parties. Comparative negligence considers all parties whose negligence contributed to a tort. The negligence is then allocated among the parties at fault and damages are assigned proportionately.
  • ComplaintThe legal document, also called a claim, which is filed with a court that formally initiates a lawsuit.
  • Contingent FeeAn agreement between a lawyer and a client whereby the lawyer is paid a percentage of the damages awarded if the client is awarded damages in the lawsuit.
  • Contributory NegligenceA method for assigning negligence that considers behavior by the plaintiff that contributes to the resulting harm. At common law, any degree of contributory negligence bars the plaintiff from collecting damages.
  • Court TrialA trial heard before a judge, as opposed to a jury trial that is heard before a judge and a jury.
  • Criminal LawThe body of law involving cases where the defendant faces criminal sanctions such as incarceration.
D

  • DamagesMonetary awards ordered to be paid as compensation for injury or loss.
  • Default JudgmentA ruling issued in the plaintiff’s favor when the defendant fails to respond to a complaint in a timely manner.
  • DefendantThe person alleged to have caused the injury.
  • DepositionA discovery procedure in which the lawyers representing the parties in a lawsuit question the opposing parties and witnesses.
  • DiscoveryFormal procedures that allow the parties in a lawsuit to obtain information and evidence from one another and from witnesses. Deposing witnesses, drafting interrogatories, making requests for production of documents, and demanding independent medical examinations are common discovery procedures.
  • Drunk DrivingReferred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), operating under the influence (OUI). DWI, DUI, and OUI laws are aimed to prevent motorists from operating vehicles while they are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. A motorist is considered unlawfully “intoxicated” when they exhibit a blood alcohol concentration above a limit set in statute.
E

  • Emotional DistressMental or psychological pain that may give rise to damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
  • EvidenceTestimony, documents, and physical proof presented at a trial aimed to convince or persuade the court of facts asserted in the case.
  • Expert WitnessA specialist in a subject area who is called to present their opinion to the court. The judge maintains the authority to determine that a prospective witness cannot be considered an expert.
F

  • FiduciaryA person or institution who manages another’s money or property who is required to exercise a standard care imposed by law. Personal representatives, attorneys, executors, and trustees commonly act as fiduciaries.
  • FileTo submit documents to the official custody of the court administrator to be entered into the appropriate case file or record.
  • Filing FeeThe charge required by courts when submitting various documents.
  • FindingA court’s formal conclusion on issues of fact in a case.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)The federal agency that establishes safety and quality standards for food, drugs, cosmetics, and household substances.
G

  • General CounselA corporation’s leading attorney.
  • GrievanceA complaint filed by an employee regarding working conditions. A grievance may also refer to an alleged injury or injustice giving rise to a complaint.
  • Gross NegligenceFault characterized by extreme carelessness showing willful or reckless disregard for the consequences to the safety or property of another. Gross negligence may give rise to punitive damages above and beyond general damage awards.
H

  • HarassmentSystematic, annoying and continued actions which include threats and demands. Harassment in the workplace may subject the employer to a lawsuit for failure to protect the employee being harassed.
  • Harmless ErrorA mistake occurring at trial that is considered not sufficiently harmful or prejudicial to merit the reversal of the outcome of a trial.
  • HearingA formal proceeding to hear specific issues of law or of fact before a court, legislature, or agency.
  • HearsaySecond-hand information that usually constitutes inadmissible evidence; hearsay evidence includes statements by a witness recalling events related to the witness by someone else.
  • Hostile WitnessA witness, also called an adverse witness, whose relationship to the opposing party is such that his or her testimony may be prejudicial to the opposing party.
I

  • ImpanelingSelecting a jury from the list of potential jurors.
  • Impeachment of a WitnessThe presentation of evidence intended to attack a witness’s credibility.
  • Implied ContractA contract, also called an implicit contract, not expressed in writing but inferred by law. A product manufacturer has an implied contract with the product’s consumers that the product will serve its intended purpose.
  • InstructionsThe judge’s explanation of the applicable law, also referred to as jury instructions or jury charge, as expressed to the jury prior to deliberations.
  • Intentional TortA wrong perpetrated deliberately.
J

  • Joint and Several LiabilityLegal doctrine by which each party responsible for an injury is liable for the total damage award where the other responsible parties cannot pay.
  • JudgementA court’s final ruling in a lawsuit.
  • JudgmentA court’s final ruling in a lawsuit.
  • JurisdictionThe court’s authority to hear a case; the geographic area in which a court maintains authority to hear cases.
  • JurisprudenceThe study of law.
  • JuryA group of citizens selected according to law and assigned to try a question of fact or indict a person for an offense.
  • Jury TrialA trial heard before a judge and a jury, as opposed to a court trial that is heard before a judge alone.
  • Justice of the PeaceA judge who handles minor legal issues such as traffic offenses. A justice of the peace may be an attorney, though some states allow citizens to act as justice of the peace upon passing a test.
K

  • Kangaroo CourtA court with no legal basis, also slang for a court of law in which violations of legal processes are so bad that justice is denied.
  • KidnappingThe unlawful removal of a human being by force and against his or her will.
  • KnowinglyWith knowledge, willfully, or intentionally with respect to a material element of an offense.
L

  • Law ClerkCommonly a lawyer or law school student employed by a court or law firm to do legal research.
  • LawsuitA dispute between two people or entities that is decided in a court of law. Also called a suit.
  • LiableLegally responsible.
  • LibelPublished material regarding a person that harms the person or their reputation. Libel is a tort.
  • LienAn encumbrance or legal burden on property.
  • Limited JurisdictionRestricted as to the types of criminal and civil cases that may be heard. Family courts are court of limited jurisdiction. They do not maintain the authority to hear a variety of matters unrelated to family law.
  • LitigantA party in a lawsuit.
  • LitigationA legal action, lawsuit, and all related proceedings.
M

  • Material EvidenceTestimony, documents, and physical proof relevant to the issues in a case.
  • MediationA form of dispute resolution that does not require a formal court trial. In mediation, the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party to reach a settlement.
  • Medical MalpracticeA form of negligence where an injury results from a medical professional’s or medical facility’s failure to exercise adequate care, skill or diligence in performing a duty.
  • Mental AnguishEmotional suffering that may be considered in awarding damages.
  • MesotheliomaA type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
  • MotionA formal request of a court or judge.
  • Motion in LimineA party’s request that allegedly prejudicial information be disallowed in a case. This is done before trial or in the judge’s chambers, outside the hearing of the jurors.
N

  • NegligenceFailure to use reasonable due care to avoid a foreseeable harm to a person, place, or thing.
  • No-Fault ProceedingsA civil case in which parties may resolve their dispute without a formal finding of error or fault.
  • Non-Jury TrialProceedings before a judge without a jury.
  • NonfeasanceFailure to perform an act which should be performed.
  • Notary PublicOne who assumes the function of administering oaths and certifying documents.
  • NoticeFormal caution to a defendant in a civil case that the lawsuit has been filed; any form of notification of a legal proceeding.
O

  • OathIn a trial, a solemn pledge made in attestation of the truth of a statement or in verification of a statement made.
  • ObjectionThe process of taking exception to a statement or procedure. The presiding judge maintains the authority to sustain or overrule, allow or disallow, a party’s objection.
  • Occupational DiseaseWork-related illness; ailment arising from workplace conditions.
  • Opening StatementAn attorney’s initial statement at trial outlining their intended arguments.
  • OpinionA judge’s written explanation of his or her decision or the decision of the court as determined by a majority of judges. A dissenting opinion may be written when one judge on a court disagrees with the majority opinion. A concurring opinion agrees with the decision of the court but offers further comment.
  • OrderA court’s or a judge’s express mandate regarding a legal matter.
P

  • Personal InjuryAn injury to a person or a person’s reputation.
  • Personal PropertyAn individual’s property other than real estate.
  • PetitionerThe person filing an action or an appeal.
  • PlaintiffThe party who formally initiates a lawsuit.
  • PleadingsThe documents drafted by the parties to a lawsuit and filed with the court.
  • Power of AttorneyA formal instrument authorizing another to act as one’s agent.
  • Process ServerA person certified to deliver paperwork in a lawsuit.
  • Products LiabilityThe liability arising from the design, manufacture, and marketing of a product for damages caused by the product.
Q

  • Quantum MeruitA Latin expression meaning, “as much as he deserves.”
  • Quasi-ContractA legal obligation imposed in the absence of an express agreement or contract.
  • Quid Pro QuoA Latin expression meaning “something for something,” or the exchange of one item of value for another.
R

  • Real PropertyReal estate, land, buildings, and items attached to land.
  • Reasonable PersonA hypothetical individual who exercises an ordinary degree of reason, prudence, care, foresight, or intelligence whose conduct, conclusion, or expectation in relation to a particular circumstance or fact is used as an objective standard.
  • RecoveryThe amount of compensation paid as a result of a lawsuit or insurance settlement.
  • Repondeat SuperiorA Latin expression meaning “a superior must answer” that provides that employers are responsible for the acts and omissions of their employees and agents when those acts or omissions occur within the scope of the employees’ duties.
  • RespondeatThe person against whom an appeal is taken.
S

  • Service of ProcessThe delivering of writs, summonses, and subpoenas by delivering them to the party named in the document.
  • SettlementAn agreement stipulated between the parties to reconcile a dispute.
  • StandingThe legal right to bring a lawsuit. As a general rule, only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.
  • Stare DecisisThe legal doctrine providing that courts should adhere to the legal principles established by courts deciding similar cases in the past.
  • StatuteA legislative enactment; it may be a single act of a legislature or a body of acts which are collected and arranged for a session of a legislature.
  • Statute of FraudsA statutory requirement that certain contracts are in writing.
  • Statute of LimitationsA statutory requirement establishing the period of time in which a lawsuit must be filed.
  • SubpoenaA legal document served upon a person to compel them to produce evidence in their possession or to appear at a deposition or proceeding.
T

  • Taxable IncomeThe income against which taxes are applied. This typically includes gross income for businesses and adjusted gross income for individuals less deductions and exemptions.
  • Temporary ReliefAny court action or order that serves to protect a party’s interest pending further action by the court.
  • TestimonyThe evidence that a witness provides under oath.
  • Tort LawThe body of law that allows one to be compensated in the event that someone’s carelessness, recklessness or intentional misconduct injures or damages you or your personal belongings. There are three main classes of torts: intentional torts; negligent torts; and strict liability torts.
  • TranscriptA verbatim, written record of what was said. Transcripts are commonly available to document events at a deposition, trial, hearing, or other proceeding.
U

  • Uniform Commercial Code (UCC)Law governing commercial transactions, provisions of which have been adopted by an overwhelming majority of U.S. jurisdictions.
  • United States AttorneyA federal lawyer appointed by the President to prosecute all criminal offenses or civil actions committed against the US and to defend the government in all civil actions in which it is brought as a defendant.
  • United States Bankruptcy CourtThe judicial body that oversees matters pertaining to bankruptcy and reorganization.
  • United States Court of AppealsThe judicial body that hears contested decisions from federal district courts, bankruptcy courts, and tax courts.
  • United States District CourtsThe federal judicial body that tries both criminal and civil actions and admiralty cases.
  • United States Supreme CourtThe highest court in the land, established by U.S. Constitution.
  • Unjust EnrichmentLegal doctrine providing that one person should be required to make restitution for the property or benefit received when that benefit or property was unfairly obtained at the expense of another.
  • Unsecured DebtsAmounts outstanding for which the debtor has not pledged collateral to guarantee repayment.
V

  • VacateTo set aside, to dismiss.
  • VenueAuthority of a court to hear a matter based on geographical location.
  • VerdictA legal or factual conclusion that forms the basis for the court’s judgment.
  • Vicarious LiabilityWhen a person who did not actually cause an injury is held for the injury. Sometimes called imputed liability,
  • Voir DireAn Anglo-French term meaning “to speak the truth,” voir dire is the preliminary process of determining whether a witness or jury is competent.
W

  • WitnessA person who saw the events that are the subject of a lawsuit. If the witness is not associated with the defendant or plaintiff then they are called an independent witness. Witnesses are questioned by a lawyer, or by a private investigator hired by the lawyer.
  • Workers’ CompensationA state program overseeing the claims of workers who suffer work-related injury or occupational disease.
  • Writ of CertiorariA Supreme Court order granting or denying an appeal from a ruling in a lower court. If the Supreme Court grants a writ of certiorari, then it will hear the appeal.
  • Wrongful DeathA death occurring as a result of another’s negligence.
X

  • XYY SyndromeAn atypical phenomenon whereby a male possesses an extra Y chromosome. XYY syndrome has been attributed to aggressive and antisocial behavior.
Y

  • Yellow-Dog Contract An employment agreement prohibiting membership in a labor union.
  • YieldTo surrender, give up, or relinquish.
Z

  • Zealous AdvocateThe role that many attorneys believe is their ethical duty to perform in order to adequately represent their clients.
  • Zone-Of-Danger ruleA legal doctrine that may give rise to the recovery of damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress if the individual was fearful of personal harm and in the dangerous area created by the defendant’s negligence.