Jim’s Guide to Legal Terms
A: absolute liability-automobile insurance
absolute liability: absolute legal responsibility for an injury attributed to the wrongdoer without proof of carelessness or fault, also known as liability without regard to fault or strict liability . Absolute liability is imposed when actions of an individual or business are contrary to public policy, even though an action may not have been intentional or negligent. It applies when the activity that caused the injury is inherently very dangerous and in product liability cases.
action: a proceeding in a court of law; a case, suit, lawsuit.
affidavit: a written statement affirmed or sworn under oath before a notary public to be used as evidence in court.
affirm: an appellate court’s decision that an order or decision by a lower court is valid and will stand.
age of majority: the age when a person acquires all the rights and responsibilities of an adult. In Florida and most other states, the age of majority is 18.
aggregate products liability limit: the total amount of money an insurer will pay during the term of a policy for all product liability claims it covers.
allegation: something that someone claims to have happened; a statement of a party to a lawsuit, made in a pleading, stating what that party intends to prove.
alleged: stated or claimed.
alternative dispute resolution: a means to resolve a dispute without going to court.
amicus curiae: (Latin for “friend of the court):” a party not directly involved in the case that is allowed to submit a legal brief to the court.
analgesic: any pain-relieving medication.
answer: a defendant’s written response to the plaintiff’s complaint in a civil case. In Florida, the answer must be filed within 20 days and either admits or denies each allegation listed in the complaint.
appeal: a request to a supervisory court, usually composed of a panel of judges, to overturn a ruling of a lower court.
appellate: pertaining to appeals. An appellate court has the power to review the judgment of a lower court or tribunal and reverse or affirm it.
arbitration: A method of alternative dispute resolution in which the disputing parties agree to be bound by the decision of an arbitrator.
assigned risk: a risk not ordinarily acceptable to insurers. If an insurance company wants to do business in Florida, they must, by law, accept anyone with a valid license. The state insurance department sets the rate and assigns the applicant to an insurance company.
assignment: the transfer of legal rights from one person to another.
assumption of risk: doing something with knowledge of the danger involved: a defense in personal injury lawsuits that the plaintiff knew a particular activity was dangerous and thus bears full responsibility for any injury (or death) that resulted.
at fault: found responsible or negligent Sometimes fault is shared between parties, depending on the facts of the case.
at issue: in a lawsuit, when the complaining party has stated his claim, and the other side has responded with a denial, and the matter is ready to be tried.
attorney-client privilege: communications between attorneys and their clients by law may not be disclosed to anyone. Most documents produced by attorneys and their staffs pertaining to the client’s case are also privileged. This is called the attorney work-product privilege.
automobile insurance: a form of insurance that protects against losses involving automobiles, including bodily injury liability, property damage liability, lost earnings, medical payments, and collision and comprehensive coverage for damage to the insured’s vehicle.
B: bad faith-bystander
bad faith: intention to mislead or deceive; conscious refusal to fulfill some duty, implying deliberate ill will, as opposed to negligence; conscious wrongdoing.
bailiff: court officer responsible for keeping order in the court, custody of the jury, and custody of witnesses or prisoners while in court.
bankruptcy: statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and seek the assistance of the court for debt relief to allow them to get a fresh start. Under the protection of the bankruptcy court, debtors may be released from their debts and given a period of time to reorganize.
bar: 1.) the partition separating the general public from the space occupied by the judges, lawyers, and other participants in a trial. 2.) the whole body of lawyers admitted to practice in the courts.
bar examination: a state examination taken by prospective lawyers in order to be admitted to the bar and licensed to practice law.
basic limits of liability: the smallest amount of liability coverage that can be purchased by law.
bench: the seat occupied by the judge, or, more broadly, the court itself.
bench trial or non-jury trial: a trial before a judge, without a jury, in which the judge decides questions of law and of fact.
beneficiary: someone named to receive property or benefits.
bequeath: to give a gift to someone through a will.
bequests: gifts made in a will.
best evidence: the most direct evidence possible, for example 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, if the party seeking to introduce the secondary evidence is not at fault in making the best evidence unavailable.
bill of particulars: a statement of the details of the charge made by the plaintiff 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 creates a precedent that must be followed by a lower court in that state.
bodily injury liability: legal liability for causing physical injury or death to another.
breach of contract: failure to perform all or some of the terms of a contract.
brief: a 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 legal arguments showing how the law supports the party’s position.
burden of proof or standard of proof: degree of proof required to prevail in the specific type of case. In most 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.
calendar: the list of cases scheduled for hearing in court.
capacity defense: a defense that alleges a defendant’s lack of some fundamental ability to be held accountable. For example, in Florida, persons under 6 years of age are presumed to lack the capacity for negligence.
caption: the heading on a legal document listing the parties, the court, the case number, and related information.
case: a proceeding, action, cause, lawsuit, or controversy initiated through the court system by filing a complaint or petition.
case law: law established by precedent, i.e. previous decisions of appellate courts, particularly the Supreme Court.
caseload: the number of cases handled in a specific time period.
casualty: a person or thing injured or damaged.
casualty insurance: coverage against loss of property, damage, or other liabilities, including automobile insurance, liability insurance, theft insurance, and so forth.
cause: A lawsuit, litigation, or action. Any question litigated in a court of justice.
causation: the act that produces an effect.
cause of action: occurrence that give someone the right to seek a legal remedy through the courts.
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”): a writ issued by an appellate or higher court to a lower court requiring production of a certified record of a case so the superior or appellate court can examine the lower court proceedings for errors.
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, which requires no reason.
chambers: a judge’s private office. A hearing in chambers takes place in the judge’s office outside the presence of the jury.
change of venue: transfer of a lawsuit or criminal trial to another place for trial.
charge to the jury: a 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 (direct evidence), but, rather on evidence of other personal knowledge or observation that allows a jury to make an inference regarding 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 summons to appear in court.
civil action: noncriminal case in which a private individual or business sues another to protect or enforce, private or civil rights or to receive compensation for damages caused by someone’s negligence.
civil law: body of law concerned with private rights and remedies, as contrasted with criminal law.
civil procedure: the rules governing the process of trying a civil case, including trial preparation, procedure for conducting trials, rules of evidence, and procedure for appealing decisions.
claim: an assertion of a right to money or property.
class action: a means by which one or more individual plaintiffs are able to sue for themselves and as representatives of a group people with the same interest in the wrongdoing that is being alleged.
clear and convincing evidence: standard of proof for the plaintiff to win a case, commonly used in civil cases where stakes are high for the defendant and in the probate of a will. It is a higher standard than preponderance of evidence.
clerk of the court: in Florida, an elected officer who oversees the administrative, non-judicial activities of the court and whose staff maintains court records and preserves evidence presented during a trial.
closing argument: the closing statement by lawyers to the trier of facts (judge or jury) after all parties have presented their evidence.
code: a written system of laws created and enforced by a legislature.
codefendant: each party sued when more than one defendant is being sued in a single lawsuit.
collateral source rule: the rule in civil law 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 an insurance policy. Under the collateral source rule, a defendant is not allowed to benefit from the fact that the plaintiff received money from another source because of the defendant’s wrongdoing.
common law: law deriving its authority from legal precedent; law made by rulings of judges and courts, rather than by statutes.
comparative negligence: consideration of an injured party’s own negligence in an accident. Under Florida law, if the injured party’s own negligence contributed to the accident, the damages will be reduced in proportion that party’s negligence in causing the accident.
compensation: in a civil suit, monetary recovery to make up for a loss.
competency: in the law of evidence, legal capacity to give testimony.
complaint: the document a plaintiff files with the court to initiate a lawsuit stating allegations and damages sought. The complaint is also served on the defendant (s).
complainant: the plaintiff; the party who is bringing the lawsuit.
contempt of court: deliberate disobedience of a judge’s 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 attorney and client in which the attorney agrees to represent the client for a percentage of the amount recovered. A contingency fee agreement is typical in personal injury cases.
corroborating evidence: supplementary evidence that tends to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence.
counsel: legal adviser; lawyer.
counterclaim: claim made in a lawsuit by a defendant against the plaintiff.
court: a judicial tribunal charged with administering justice.
court costs: the expenses incurred in prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than the attorneys’ fees. An amount of money may be awarded to the successful party, recoverable from the losing party, to reimburse that party for the costs incurred in a lawsuit.
court reporter: a person who records and transcribes testimony during court proceedings or related legal proceedings such as depositions.
cross claim: claim brought by a defendant in a lawsuit against a co-defendant in a lawsuit.
cross-examination: the questioning of a witness produced by the opposing side.
damages: monetary recovery in a court for an injury or loss caused by a negligent act or omission by another.
decedent: a person who has died.
decision: a judgment given by a court of law.
declaratory judgment: judicial adjudication of the rights of the respective parties in a lawsuit, made to clarify the parties’ legal positions.
decree: an order of the court; a legal disposition.
deductible: the amount an insured person must pay before the insurance company pays on a covered loss, up to the policy limits.
defamation: that which may injure a person’s reputation. Libel is published defamation; slander is spoken.
default: a failure to respond to a lawsuit within the legally 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 from whom the plaintiff seeks to recover damages.
defense attorney: the attorney representing the defendant.
de novo: (Latin for “anew”): a retrying of a case.
deposition: testimony of a witness taken under oath outside of the courtroom. A deposition may be used as a means of discovery of evidence prior to trial or to preserve testimony for later use in court.
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.
dicta (plural of “obiter dictum” ): remarks made by a judge in a legal opinion that is not directly relevant to the decision and does not establish a precedent.
directed verdict (judgment as a matter of law): an instruction to a jury by a judge to return a specific verdict.
direct evidence: evidence, which, if it can be believed, proves something without requiring inference or presumption.
direct examination: the first questioning of witnesses by the party who produces them.
disability: 1.) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities 2.) a lack of legal capacity.
disbarment: the permanent loss of a lawyer’s right to practice law, different from censure (an official reprimand or condemnation) and from suspension (a temporary loss of the right to practice law).
discovery: the pretrial process in which the parties to an action are given access to the evidence that will be relied upon in the trial by the opposing party.
disfigurement: a serious and permanent scar to the head, neck, or face.
dismissal: the termination of a lawsuit.
dismissal with prejudice: final judgment against the plaintiff that prohibits bringing a lawsuit on the same cause of action in the future. “Dismissal without prejudice,” allows the plaintiff to sue at a later time for the same cause of action.
disposition: determination of a charge, terminating a legal action.
dissent: stated disagreement; an appellate court opinion that articulates the minority view and outlines the points where one or more judges disagree with the decision of the majority.
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: doctrine that imposes a duty on victims of a tort to take reasonable steps to minimize the damages after an injury has been inflicted.
domicile: the place where a person maintains a legal address. (A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.)
dram shop: a drinking establishment, such as a bar or tavern, where alcoholic beverages are served to be consumed on the premises,.
Dram Shop Act: a statute that makes it possible to sue a drinking establishment, such as a bar or restaurant, for damages resulting from the establishment’s service of alcohol to a.) those under the legal drinking age of 21, or b.) habitual drunks (in Florida).
due process of law: the right of all persons to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process, articulated in the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. including such constitutional provisions as the rights to adequate notice, the assistance of counsel, to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.
duty: in personal injury law, an obligation to conform to a particular standard of care when failure to conform may cause a person to be found liable for negligence in causing damages to another to whom a duty is owed.
E: emotional distress-ex parte
emotional distress: mental anguish.
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.
equitable remedies: remedies other than monetary settlements, such as injunctions and restraining orders.
equity: justice or fairness; historically, a separate body of law developed in England to do justice between parties in cases where the common law would be inadequate to achieve a just solution; a way to achieve a lawful result when legal procedure is insufficient.
error: in the legal sense, a mistaken interpretation of facts or application of the law that can provide grounds for an appeal.
estate: personal property, real property, and intangible property, such as stock certificates and bank accounts, owned by a person at the time of the person’s death, not including life insurance proceeds unless the estate is a named beneficiary, or other assets that pass outside the estate, such as a joint tenancy.
estate tax: a tax on the privilege of transferring property to others after a person’s death.
et al: and others.
evidence: anything, including testimony, writings, tangible objects, and exhibits, legally submitted to a court at trial to induce belief in the minds of the jury or judge.
execute: 1.) to complete the legal requirements (such as signing before witnesses) that make a will valid. 2.) to put the final judgment of the court into effect.
exception: a formal objection to an action of the court by either side in a trial reserving the right to appeal a judge’s ruling.
exclusionary rule: the rule preventing evidence obtained illegally from being used in any trial.
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: to free from blame; to remove a charge, responsibility, or duty.
expert: a witness who may give an opinion in court, based on that person’s particular area of expertise.
expert evidence: testimony given by witnesses qualified to speak with authority regarding scientific, technical, or professional matter.
ex parte: On behalf of only one party, without notice to any other party. A request for a search warrant is an ex parte proceeding, because the subject of the search is not notified of the proceeding and is not present at the hearing.
F: fact-finding hearing-fraud
fact-finding hearing: a proceeding to determine facts relevant to deciding a controversy.
family practitioner: a physician who has a general health care practice.
fiduciary: a person having a legal relationship of trust and confidence to another entailing a duty to act for the other’s benefit, for example a guardian, trustee, or executor.
file: to place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of the court to enter into the file or record of a case.
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 an issue of fact or a determination by a jury.
first party benefits: in Florida, benefits paid by an insurance company to compensate its own policyholders including car insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, and homeowners’ insurance.
fracture: a break or crack in a bone.
fraud: false and deceptive statements of fact intended to induce another person to rely upon and give up something of value.
G: gross negligence-guardianship
gross negligence: intentional failure to perform a duty, in reckless disregard for consequences to another person’s life or property.
guardian: a person appointed by will or by law to assume responsibility for incompetent adults or minor children.
guardianship: legal right given to a person to be responsible for the food, housing, health care, and other necessities of a person judged incapable of providing these necessities for himself or herself.
H: harmless error-hung jury
harmless error: an error committed during a trial that either 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.
hearing: a legal proceeding without a jury.
hearsay: statement by a witness who did not personally see or hear the incident in question but heard of it from someone else. Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court.
hit and run: an accident caused by someone who flees the scene, not stopping to render aid or provide necessary information as required by law. Hit and run is a third degree felony in Florida if a person has been injured by the accident, or a first degree felony if the accident has resulted in a death.
homeowner’s insurance: a policy that insures individuals against risk of loss of personal dwelling or its contents or against personal liability pertaining to a personal dwelling.
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 reach a unanimous verdict.
impanel: to enroll in a panel or group from which a selection is to be made, such as a pool of potential jurors.
impeach: introducing evidence to attack the credibility of a witness.
inadmissible evidence: evidence which, under the rules of evidence, cannot be admitted as evidence.
in camera: in a judge’s chambers.
in camera inspection: judge’s private inspection of a document to make a decision on a ruling on its admissibility at trial.
in camera proceedings: trial or proceeding 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 by repair or replacement of that which has been lost.
informed consent: a person’s agreement to allow something to happen, such as a medical procedure, based on full disclosure of the facts necessary to make an intelligent decision.
infraction: a violation of law not punishable by imprisonment, such as a minor traffic offense.
inheritance tax: a tax on a bequest that an heir or beneficiary receives under a will from a deceased person’s estate.
injunction: writ or order by a court prohibiting a specific action. A preliminary injunction is granted provisionally until a full hearing can be held to determine if it should be made permanent.
injure: to hurt or harm; to violate the legal rights of another person.
instructions: a 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 infliction of emotional distress: intentionally causing severe emotional distress by extreme or outrageous conduct.
interlocutory: provisional; not final. An interlocutory order or an interlocutory appeal addresses only a part of the issues raised in a lawsuit.
interrogatories: written questions asked by one party in a lawsuit to which the opposing party must provide written answers as part of discovery proceedings.
intervention: an action by which a third person who may be affected by a lawsuit is permitted to become a party to the suit.
intestate: 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.
invitee: a person who enters land by invitation of the possessor of land in connection with business being conducted on the land for the possessor’s benefit.
issue: 1.) the disputed point in a disagreement between parties in a lawsuit. 2.) to send out officially, as in to issue an order. 3.) a person’s children or other lineal descendants, such as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
L: lapse in coverage-loss of consortium
lapse in coverage/policy lapse: when a policy has been canceled or terminated for failure to pay the premium, or when the policy contract is void for other reasons.
law: the combination of rules and principles of conduct set forth by a legislature with those derived from court decisions and established by local custom.
law clerk: person trained in the law who assists a judge in researching legal opinions.
lawsuit or suit: a court action brought by one person, the plaintiff, against another, the defendant, seeking compensation for some injury or the enforcement of a right.
lawyer: a person licensed to practice law; an attorney.
leading case: a case regarded as having determined the law on a particular point, creating a precedent for later decisions.
leading question: a question that suggests the answer expected from the witness. Parties generally may not ask their own witnesses leading questions but may ask them of hostile witnesses and on cross-examination.
legal cause: a substantial factor in bringing about the harm; proximate cause.
letters of administration: legal document issued by a court showing an administrator’s legal right to take control of assets in the deceased person’s name.
letters testamentary: legal document issued by a court showing an executor’s legal right to take control of assets in the deceased person’s name.
liability: legal responsibility.
liable: legally responsible.
libel: published defamation of a person, as opposed to slander, which is spoken defamation.
liberal construction: judicial interpretation of the law in which a judge expands the literal meaning of a statute to meet cases that are clearly within the spirit or reason of the law, as compared with strict construction, in which a judge adheres to the literal meaning of the words.
licensee: in civil law, a person who enters land with consent, but nothing more.
lien: a legal claim against another person’s property as security for a debt. A lien does not convey ownership of the property, but gives the lien holder a right to have his or her debt satisfied out of the proceeds of the property if the debt is not otherwise paid.
litigant: a party to a lawsuit.
loss of consortium: damages awarded to a family member (usually a spouse) for loss of companionship.
M: magistrate-moving party
magistrate: judicial officer exercising some of the functions of a judge.
malfeasance: commission of a wrongful act; wrongful conduct.
malicious prosecution: an action instituted with intention of injuring the defendant and without probable cause that terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.
material fact: a fact essential to a case or a defense without which the case or defense could not be supported.
mediation: a kind of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party attempts to help the parties to a dispute reach a settlement without a trial.
medical malpractice: professional negligence in which a healthcare professional violates the applicable standard of care, resulting in injury to the patient.
member: a member is a person who belongs to a healthcare plan, like an HMO.
memorialized: put in writing.
mental anguish: mental or emotional suffering. In some cases, damages may be awarded for mental anguish even though no physical injury is present.
misfeasance: improper performance of a lawful act.
mistrial: an invalid trial, caused by fundamental error, which necessitates starting the trial again from selection of a jury.
mitigation of damages or doctrine of avoidable consequences: the duty of a victim of a tort to take reasonable steps to minimize damages after an injury has been inflicted.
moot: pertaining to an issue that it is not currently a controversy to be decided, usually because it has been resolved and is no longer an issue.
motion: an application made to a judge for the purpose of obtaining an order directing some act to be done in favor of the party presenting the application.
moving party: the party presenting a motion.
negligence: conduct that falls below the standard of care established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risks of harm. In order to prevail in a negligence action, the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff suffered an injury, and that the defendant’s breach of his or her duty of care was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
negligence per se: conduct, either by act or omission, that may be declared and treated as negligence without argument or proof of negligence, usually because the conduct violates a statute. A finding of negligence per se satisfies the plaintiff’s burden of proof that the defendant’s conduct was negligent. Nevertheless, the burden remains with the plaintiff to establish that the statutory violation was the proximate cause of his or her injuries.
next friend: one acting without formal appointment as guardian for the benefit of an infant, a person of unsound mind not judicially declared incompetent, or another person under some disability.
nonfeasance: failure to do something that should have been done.
no-fault insurance: in Florida, Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or no-fault insurance pays medical expenses, lost earnings, essential services, accidental death, funeral expenses, and survivor benefits, regardless of who caused the accident.
non-jury trial or bench trial: a trial before a judge without a jury, in which the judge decides both questions of law and questions of fact.
non-moving party: the party to a lawsuit that is not presenting a motion to the court. A non-moving party may or may not oppose the motion. Compare with moving party.
notice: formal notification to the party being sued in a civil case of the fact that the lawsuit has been filed, or any form of notification of a legal proceeding.
oath: solemn attestation that the person promises to speak the truth.
objection: in a trial, a reason stated on the record by an attorney that a matter or proceeding is illegal. Making objections in open court creates a record for use on appeal.
opening statement: an initial statement made by attorneys for each side, outlining the facts they intend to establish during the trial.
opinion: written statement by a judge or court of the decision in a case, describing the law applied to the facts of the case and the reasons for the decision.
oral argument: an initial statement in which lawyers for both sides summarize their positions before the court.
order: a written direction made by a court or judge that is not included in a judgment; a decree.
ordinance: a regulation made by a municipal legislative body.
original jurisdiction: first hearing. The court of original jurisdiction is the first court to hear a case.
out-of-court settlement: an agreement reached between a plaintiff and a defendant to resolve a lawsuit privately without going to trial.
overrule: for a judge to disallow an objection. Also, for a higher court to find that a decision of a lower court was in error.
P: parens patriae-purchaser
parens patriae (Latin for “parents of the nation”): the doctrine under which the government protects the interests of minors.
party: a person, business, or agency involved as plaintiff or defendant in a legal proceeding.
peremptory challenge: a challenge that can be used to reject a certain number of prospective jurors without stating a reason.
perjury: a legal “person” may be an individual, a corporation, partnership, trustee, legal representative, etc.
personal auto policy (PAP): a policy that provides coverage for liability, medical payments, uninsured/under insured motorist coverage, and physical damage protection related to a motor vehicle.
Personal Injury Protection: under Florida’s no-fault law, Personal Injury Protection (PIP) includes benefits for medical expenses, loss of income from work, essential services, accidental death, funeral expenses, and survivor benefits.
personal property: tangible physical property such as cars, clothing, furniture, and jewelry, and intangible personal property, but not real property.
personal jurisdiction: the power of a court over a person. Compare with subject matter jurisdiction.
personal representative: a person who stands in the place of another. In a Florida wrongful death action, a personal representative brings the lawsuit on behalf of each survivor of the deceased entitled to a claim for damages and on behalf of the estate.
petition: a formal request to the court to take some action; a complaint.
petitioner: the person filing an action in a court of original jurisdiction. Also, the person who appeals the judgment of a lower court. The opposing party in an appeal is called the respondent.
physical damage: damage to a vehicle by insurance from hazards including collisions, fire, vandalism, theft, and so forth.
plaintiff: in civil law, the person who brings an action or starts a lawsuit; the complainant.
pleadings: the formal presentation of claims and defenses by parties to a lawsuit, including the plaintiff’s complaint and the defendant’s answer, along with any other legal responses.
policy: the written documents that make up a contract for insurance between the insurance company and the insured, including forms, endorsements, riders, and other attachments.
polling the jury: asking jurors individually if they agree with the verdict after a jury verdict has been announced.
power of attorney: a written and notarized document authorizing one person to take certain legal actions on behalf of the person granting the power of attorney.
precedent: decision by a court that provides an example or authority for later cases involving a similar question of law.
preponderance of the evidence: the amount of evidence needed for a plaintiff to win in a civil action. A preponderance of the evidence is the greater weight of the evidence or the more convincing evidence in comparison to the evidence offered in opposition.
presumptively capable of negligence: under Florida law, minors under 6 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence. When the child is 6 or older, the jury must decide whether the child was capable of appreciating and avoiding the danger; if so, the child can be regarded as comparatively negligent.
pretrial conference: a meeting between the judge and the lawyers in a lawsuit to narrow the issues, agree on what will be presented at the trial, and make an effort to settle the case without a trial.
prevailing party: the winning party in a lawsuit.
prima facie: (Latin for “at first sight” or “on the face of it”): good and sufficient on its face. A plaintiff makes a prima facie case when he or she presents prima facie evidence, which means that the plaintiff will prevail on that evidence alone, unless the defendant can present sufficient evidence to overcome it.
primary care physician: a physician who is employed by or contracts with a managed health care system such as an HMO that coordinates all of the member’s medical care, usually a family practitioner or internist. Primary care physicians are also known as “gatekeepers” because they control a member’s access to medical care within a health plan.
privileged communication: statement protected from disclosure in court because the statement was made within a “protected” relationship such as attorney/client.
probate: the court-supervised process to determine that a will is the final statement of how the will-maker wanted his or her property distributed; the process by which assets are gathered; applied to pay debts, taxes, and expenses of administration; and distributed to the beneficiaries of the will.
probate court: a court that supervises estate administration.
proceeding: any hearing or court appearance related to the adjudication of a case.
procedural law: law establishing the method or procedure of enforcing rights or obtaining redress, as compared with substantive law, which establishes rights.
process serving: the method by which a defendant in a lawsuit is notified that a plaintiff has filed a suit against him by delivering a copy of the complaint.
products liability: the liability of manufacturers and sellers of dangerous or defective goods or products.
promulgate: to officially announce.
property damage liability coverage: automobile insurance coverage that provides money to pay claims if the insured party’s car damages the property of another person.
pro se: (Latin for “on one’s own behalf”): presenting one’s own case without lawyers.
proximate cause: the primary or moving cause that produces an injury, without which the accident could not have happened.
punitive damages or exemplary damages: compensation greater than what is necessary to pay a plaintiff for a loss, for the purpose of punishing the defendant’s behavior or making an example of the defendant and to serve as a deterrent to such behavior in the future.
purchaser: in products liability law, a person who buys a product.
Q: quash-question of law
quash: to vacate or void a summons, subpoena, etc.
question of fact: an issue 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. Findings of fact generally cannot be appealed.
question of law: An issue involving the application or interpretation of the law, which is within the province of the judge. Compare with question of fact.
record: 1. (v.) to preserve in writing, print, or by film, tape, etc. 2. (n.) history of a case. 3.(n.) the word-for-word written or tape-recorded account of all proceedings of a trial.
reasonable care: the standard of care in negligence cases; the duty to act reasonably so as to avoid harming others.
rebuttal: the introduction of contradicting or opposing evidence showing that what witnesses said occurred is not true; the stage of a trial at which such evidence may be introduced.
redirect examination: questioning of witness following cross-examination by the party that first examined the witness.
remand: the decision of an appellate court to send a case back to the trial court with instructions on how to correctly decide the case; reversal of a trial court decision by an appellate court.
remedies: relief that the plaintiff receives from the defendant in a lawsuit, often monetary damages.
reply: a pleading by the plaintiff in response to the defendant’s written answer to the plaintiff’s complaint.
respondent: party against whom an appeal is brought in an appellate court.
restitution: the equivalent, given to compensate for a loss, damage, or injury.
sequester: to separate.
sequestration of witnesses: keeping all witnesses (except plaintiff and defendant) out of the courtroom except for their time on the stand, cautioning them not to discuss their testimony with other witnesses to prevents witness from being influenced by the testimony of a prior witness.
settlement: an agreement between the parties disposing of a lawsuit.
settlement conference: a meeting between parties to a lawsuit, their lawyers, and a judge to try to resolve the dispute without going to trial.
several liability: liability, separate and distinct from another person’s liability, that is sufficient in itself to support a lawsuit.
severance of actions: a judicial proceeding that separates the claims of multiple parties and allows separate actions on each claim or on some combination of claims.
show cause order: judicial direction to appear in court and present reasons why the court should not take a proposed action.
sidebar: a conference between the judge and lawyers, usually in the courtroom but out of earshot of the jury and spectators.
slander: false and defamatory spoken words that could harm another’s reputation, business, or means of livelihood. Slander is spoken defamation; libel is published.
small claims court: a court that handles civil claims for small amounts of money, in which people often represent themselves rather than hiring an attorney.
social host liability: the liability of a person who, as a host of a party, for example, furnishes free alcoholic beverages to a guest when the guest subsequently sustains injuries or causes injury to a third party because of his/her intoxication. In Florida, social host liability is a subset of the state’s Dram Shop Act.
sovereign immunity: the doctrine that the government, state or federal, is immune to lawsuit unless it gives its consent.
spoliation: destruction of evidence.
stack or stacking: in automobile insurance law, adding the coverage together for each vehicle you have insured when you have more than one. For example, if you have two vehicles, with $100,000/$300,000 (meaning $100,000 available per person, and $300,000 available per accident) in uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you can “stack” the coverages and have $200,000/$600,000 available coverage.
standard of care: in negligence law, the degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. If the standard falls below that established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm, the person may be liable for resulting damages.
standard of proof or burden 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.
standing: the legal right to bring a lawsuit. Only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.
stare decisis: (Latin: “to stand as decided”): the common law policy of the courts to not overturn precedents; adherence to precedents.
statute: a law created by a legislature.
statute of limitations: the time prescribed by statute in which a plaintiff can bring a lawsuit.
statutory construction: process by which a court seeks to interpret the meaning and scope of legislation.
statutory law: law enacted by a legislature, as distinguished from case law or common law.
stay: court-ordered suspension of a judicial proceeding.
stipulation: an agreement by parties on opposite sides of a case regarding any matter in the trial proceedings.
strict construction: judicial interpretation of the law in which the judge adheres to the literal meaning of the words, in contrast to liberal construction, which expands the literal meaning of the statute to meet cases that are within the spirit of the law.
strict liability: the doctrine that holds defendants liable for harm caused by their actions, regardless of intention or lack of negligence, often applied to manufacturers or sellers of defective products in products liability cases.
strike: highlighting evidence in the transcript of a case that has been improperly offered and will not be relied upon.
subject matter jurisdiction: the court’s power to deal with the general subject matter involved in a case. A bankruptcy court judge lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear a divorce case.
subornation of perjury: inducing someone to lie under oath.
subpoena: command to appear at a certain place and time to give testimony on a matter.
subpoena duces tecum: order to produce some document or paper.
subrogation: substitution of one person for another, giving the substitute the same legal rights as the original party. For example, an insurance company may have a right of subrogation to sue anyone whom the person it compensated had a right to sue.
substantive law: law that establishes principles and creates and defines the rights and limitations under which society is governed, as contrasted with procedural law, which sets the rules and methods to be used to obtain one’s rights, particularly how the courts are conducted.
sue: to bring a lawsuit.
suit or lawsuit: an action brought by one person, the plaintiff, against another, the defendant , seeking compensation for some injury or enforcement of a right, initiated by serving a summons and complaint.
summary judgment: a decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the record without a trial when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
summons: a formal document beginning a civil action or special proceeding, which serves as a means to gain jurisdiction over a party; a document directed to a sheriff or other authorized person ordering him to serve the person named on the summons who must appear at a certain place and time to respond to the action.
surety bond: a bond purchased at the expense of the estate to ensure the executor’s proper performance, often called a fidelity bond.
survival action: an action brought by the administrator of a deceased person’s estate to recover a loss to the estate resulting from a tort. A survival action continues, in the decedent’s personal representative, a right of action that accrued to the decedent at common law because of a tort. A survival action, unlike a wrongful death action, is not a new cause of action. Where death is caused by negligence, both a survival action and a wrongful death action may be brought.
survival statutes: statutory law that provides for a legal action to continue after the death of a person involved in the action.
survivorship: joint tenancy.
sustain: to rule to uphold an objection or a motion made in court.
T: technical error-trial court
technical error: an error committed during a trial that did not prejudice the losing party’s rights and therefore is not grounds for reversal on appeal.
testimony: evidence given by a witness, either orally at trial or in the form of an affidavit or deposition transcript.
third party: a person, business, or agency not actively involved in the legal proceeding.
third party benefits: in insurance law, third party benefits are the amount of available coverage that the at-fault party has in bodily injury and property damage.
third-party claim: an action by the defendant that brings a third party into a lawsuit.
title: evidence of legal ownership of property, usually real property or a motor vehicle.
tort: in civil law, a wrong committed against a person or property causing damages.
tortfeasor: one who commits a tort.
tortious: having the quality of a tort.
transcript: official written copy of proceedings in a case, including hearings, depositions, and trial, usually made by a court reporter.
traumatic brain injury: an injury to the brain caused by an external physical impact resulting in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning and/or a disturbance in behavior or emotional functioning.
trespasser: in civil law, a person who enters land without invitation, permission, or privilege.
trial: the judicial examination and determination of issues between the parties to an action.
trial calendar: a list maintained by the clerk of court or the trial judge of cases awaiting trial, including trial dates, names of attorneys representing parties, and other pertinent information.
trial court: the first court to hear the case, as compared to an appellate court, which hears appeals of decisions made in trial courts.
U: uninsured motorist coverage-user
uninsured motorist coverage: optional insurance that protects the purchaser and relatives living in the purchaser’s household in the event they are injured as a result of the negligence of a driver who has no insurance or insufficient insurance to pay for all losses and damages.
user: in products liability law, a person who uses goods.
V: vacate-voir dire
vacate: to set aside or void an order or decision of a court.
venire: a writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors, Also refers to the people summoned for jury duty.
venue: the geographical location where a court hears a case because it has personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction, usually the same area where the incident leading to the trial occurred. If negative publicity or another factor would make it difficult to find unbiased jurors, a defendant may request a change of venue.
verdict: the jury’s decision in a case. A general verdict is the jury’s finding either for the plaintiff or the defendant. A special verdict is a statement by the jury of facts it has found in response to questions submitted by the judge.
vicarious liability: the liability of one person for the torts of another.
void: having no binding legal force or effect; null.
voir dire: the process of questioning potential jurors so that each side may decide whether to accept or oppose individuals for jury service.
W: waiver-wrongful death statute
waiver: voluntary relinquishment of a right.
waiver of immunity: a means authorized by statute by which a witness, before testifying or producing evidence, may relinquish the right to refuse to testify against himself or herself, thereby making it possible for his or her testimony to be used against him or her in future proceedings.
willful act: an intentional act.
willful negligence: intentional performance of an unreasonable act in disregard of a known risk, making it highly probable that harm will result with a conscious indifference to the consequences.
without prejudice: dismissal of a claim or cause which may be the subject of a new lawsuit.
with prejudice: dismissal of a claim in which the plaintiff is forever barred from bringing a lawsuit on the same claim or cause.
witness: a person who testifies to what he or she has seen, heard, or experienced; a person who observes the signing of a will and is competent to testify that it is the will-maker’s intended last will and testament.
writ: a court order requiring the performance of some act or giving authority for the performance of an act.
writ of certiorari: an order issued by the Supreme Court directing the lower court to transmit records for a case it has agreed to hear on appeal.
wrongful death action: an action brought to recover damages for the death of a person caused by a wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.
wrongful death statute: a statutory law that provides the means for the representative of a decedent to bring suit alleging that the decedent’s death was caused by someone’s willful or negligent act and to seek compensation for monetary loss suffered because of the decedent’s death.
Clearwater attorney, Jim Dodson handles Florida personal injury cases involving car accidents, vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian, bicycle accidents, slip, trip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and child injury.
We represent personal injury and accident victims in Florida in these cities: Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo, Oldsmar, St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Pinellas Park, Seminole, Belleair, Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shores,Treasure Island, Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Crystal Beach, Ozona, Bradenton, Palmetto, Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Ellenton, Kenneth City, South Pasadena, St. Petersburg Beach, Tierra Verde, New Port Richey, Port Richey, Hudson, Bayonet Point, Holiday, Land O’Lakes, Lutz, Odessa, Tampa, Temple Terrace, Dade City, Sebring, Wesley Chapel, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hillsborough County, Manatee County, and all other cities in Florida and Florida Counties.
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