Being involved in a personal injury lawsuit can be frightening and confusing. Having capable, compassionate personal injury attorneys on your side can go far towards making you more comfortable. So can understanding the legal terminology you will run into during your lawsuit.
The following is a list of only 5 legal terms you should know for your personal injury lawsuit.
5 Legal Terms You Should Know for Your Personal Injury Lawsuit
Civil actions begin with pleadings. The pleadings are the written statements of the parties that describe the facts of the case.
The initial pleadings in a case consist of the plaintiff’s “complaint” and the defendant’s “answer.” A plaintiff initiates a lawsuit by filing a “complaint.”
Basically, the complaint alleges what happened and when, who was involved, how the plaintiff was damaged, and tells the court what relief he or she is seeking (usually money damages).
After the complaint is filed and served, the defendant has an opportunity to respond to the complaint. The defendant’s response is his or her “answer.” If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff arising out of the same incident, he may file a “counterclaim” against the plaintiff.
The pleadings define the issues in a case so that everyone —the parties and the court—know what is being disputed, and what relief is being sought.
Have you ever wondered where attorneys get the evidence they need to prove their case? Well, if you have, or if you are a party to a civil lawsuit, you will want to understand what is meant by “discovery.”
Discovery refers to the legal rules and procedures that allow both sides in a lawsuit to obtain evidence to support their side of the argument. There are several different discovery tools that can be used to do this, such as:
- Written interrogatories
- Requests for admissions
- Request for medical examination (of a plaintiff)
- Document requests (e.g., medical records, police reports, photographs etc.), and
Each one of these discovery methods allows a party to “discover” evidence that the opposing party may have to support his/her claims, or the theories and evidence the other side intends to rely on at trial.
Not all cases go to trial. In fact, many cases settle before trial.
And that’s a good thing.
Primarily because trials are expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for all involved. Settling a case, on the other hand, resolves the dispute and allows everyone to move on with their lives.
Mediation is a way of resolving disputes informally without having to go before a judge or jury.
It is an informal type of dispute resolution. In mediation, the parties do not try their cases. Instead, they present their side of the dispute to a neutral third-party in an informal setting. The mediator then tries to get both sides to compromise their positions and reach a mutually agreeable settlement.
When mediation works, it saves a lot of time, money, and stress for all concerned.
- Standard of Proof
You may have heard that a prosecutor must prove his or her case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but did you realize that what that statement is referring to is the standard of proof (or burden of proof) required for the jury to find a defendant guilty?
The standard of proof for legal cases describes the degree to which a fact must be proven before it can be said to be legally established. It describes the level of persuasiveness required to prove a particular fact or set of facts.
Most people are familiar with the criminal law’s high burden of requiring a defendant’s guilt to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In civil cases, however, the burden of persuasion is not so onerous.
For most personal injury cases, the standard of proof is by “a preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the evidence must show that it was “more likely than not” that a fact existed. For example, that defendant was driving too fast and caused the accident.
Some civil cases, like fraud, do require a higher standard of proof. In fraud and some other cases, the evidence must be “clear and convincing.”
- Contingency Fee
One factor that causes many injured individuals to hesitate before hiring a personal injury lawyer is the cost.
Legal work is specialized work. It is complex, requires long hours, and is frequently expensive. So it is no wonder that many people worry about whether or not they can afford legal representation.
That is where “contingent fees” come into play. There are certain types of cases—personal injury being one of them — where the client is not required to pay money “up front” for representation.
In a personal injury action, the lawyer is allowed to accept a certain portion of the money the client receives from the defendant as the lawyer’s services for his fees. In other words, the lawyer’s fee comes out of the client’s recovery, not out the client’s pocket. You may see this explained online and elsewhere as, “no recovery, no fee.”
In contingency fee cases, you and your personal injury attorney will agree in writing to the percentage of any recovery that will be the attorney’s fee. Generally, the fee is a fixed amount of the recovery.
Keep in mind that the “attorney’s fee” represents what the attorney will be paid for the work he does. It does not include (unless you agree otherwise in your contract) the fees and costs incurred in fighting your case. There are costs associated with personal injury litigation such as: filing papers with the court, taking depositions, obtaining medical records, paying for experts, and more. These expenses are not part of the “contingency fee” that you pay your attorney only if you win and don’t pay if you lose. You will have to pay these costs whether you win or lose.
The fees a lawyer may charge in a Florida medical malpractice case are limited by the Florida Constitution.
If you are involved in a personal injury case, understanding some basic personal injury legal terms can help you navigate the process more easily. There are, of course, many more legal terms that it can be important to know, so if you have any questions or want to know more, contact our personal injury attorneys.
Accidents Happen. And When They Do, We are Here for You. Personal Injury Attorneys in North Central Florida.
John Fagan and his legal team are dedicated to helping those who are injured or disabled. Contact us here or simply call our firm at: 777-JOHN. We serve clients throughout Florida. Our main office is in Orange Park, but we have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.