Common Terms You May Hear While Your Florida Personal Injury Case Is Pending
If you were injured in an accident that was not your fault, it is important to seek medical attention and consult with an attorney as soon as possible to determine if you have a case for compensation! However, seeking payment for your injuries can be a confusing and frustrating process. Your lawyer should take the time to explain all of your legal options to you and communicate with you while your case is proceeding, but it can still sometimems feel overwhelming. There’s a lot of legal lingo to sort through!
Here are some of the words commonly associated with personal injury cases that you may hear your lawyer say during your initial case evaluation and while your case is ongoing.
The plaintiff in a personal injury case is the party, person, or group of parties/persons who is/are bringing the complaint against another party. If you were injured in an accident where someone rear-ended you and left you with bulged discs in your neck, for example, and their insurance denied you coverage, which led you to hire a lawyer and sue for compensation, you would be the plaintiff in the case/lawsuit.
The defendant is the person, party, or parties that the plaintiff brings the complaint against. They are allegedly responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries (although the burden of proof is on the plaintiff). In the example above, and in many personal injury cases, the defendant is the driver who caused the accident and their insurance company.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is a legal “time limit” that plaintiffs have to bring complaints and file claims or suits for monetary damages. Once the statute of limitations is up, you can no longer hold the defendant accountable in most situations. However, the statute of limitations varies depending on the type of case and the unique circumstances of the case in question, as well as the state where the claim is being filed. In Florida, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is four years. If you are involved in an accident like the one above, for example, you have four years from the date of the accident to begin the legal process. The longer you wait, though, the less successful your recovery is likely to be, because defending counsel will try to show that your injuries could have been caused by another event. That’s why it is important to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as you are injured!
Litigation is simply the process of taking legal action, or filing a lawsuit against another person/party.
This refers to an alternative way of settling legal disputes. A neutral third party is assigned to the case, and the plaintiff and defendant agree to abide by the arbitrator’s decision, which will be final and not subject to further appeal or legal consideration. It is often cheaper and faster and more private than traditional litigation, but both parties must agree to arbitration; if one party does not, it does not take away their right to sue. However, many consumers have unknowingly entered into arbitration agreements in the fine print of contracts with businesses or medical offices.
A claim is a request to your insurance company or the defendant’s insurance company requesting coverage for any damages incurred. It can also refer to the civil legal action that cites harm suffered by the plaintiff due to the negligence of the defendant.
This is a rule that protects anything that clients say to their attorneys from being disclosed, to the media, to law enforcement, to the court, to opposing counsel, or to any other party. Essentially it renders nearly everything discussed between an attorney and their client private. It is intended to further trust and open communication between attorneys and clients. However, it is important to note that while past actions are privileged, communications about ongoing or future intentions that may be criminal or fraudulent are not. You can read more about the exceptions here.
A tort is a wrongful act, a civil or private wrong, that is not a crime and that creates liability. Almost every cause of action in personal injury cases is a tort; negligence, wrongful death, libel or slander, etc. Note that intentional torts, or wrongful acts committed on purpose, can also be crimes and prosectuted both civilly and criminally (such as theft or assault and battery).
Negligence is a type of tort where the defendant was careless or failed to act with reasonable care. In personal injury cases, negligence is the backbone of the case, the thing that must be proven if the plaintiff is to receive monetary compensation for their injuries. To prove negligence, the plaintiff has to prove four things: that the defendant had a duty or obligation to the plaintiff, that they breached that duty, that the breach caused the defendant harm, and that actual damages do exist.
For example, if an elevator failed and fell one story, and you were in it and broke your hip as a result, you can prove that the business or elevator company (or both) were negligent because they had a duty to maintain their property, that they did not or else the elevator would not have failed, that the elevator failure was why your hip broke, and that you paid hundreds or thousands of dollars in surgeries, medications, hospitalizations, ambulance rides, etc. that the defendant owes you because they were negligent.
Burden of Proof
This refers to the fact that the plaintiff has to prove their claim against the defendant is true or likely true. They have to prove that the defendant’s actions led to the plaintiff’s injuries, and that they had more than 50% of the responsiblity for the injuries. If the plaintiff’s attorney fails to meet the burden of proof, then compensation will likely not be recovered.
Liability is the legal responsibility that people have for their actions or omissions.
Strict liability holds persons or parties liable for certain acts that cause injuries or damage regardless of fault or wrongdoing. For example, in Florida, dog owners are strictly liable for their dog’s actions. If their dog attacks or bites another person, regardless of whether the owner believed the dog to be dangerous, and even if they were not acting negligently, they are liable for any damages and injuries incurred. Another example is product or auto manufacturers, who are strictly liable for injuries sustained when clients use their defective product and are injured (known as product liability). In strict liability cases, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant, who must prove that they are not liable.
This is the responsibility that landowners or property owners have to maintain safe conditions on their property so that people can expect to be safe when they enter a public, and sometimes private, premises. For example, if you slipped and fell at a grocery store and broke your leg, you may have a premise liability claim against the grocery store.
Damages are payments that are recovered in a civil case for an injury or other financial loss caused by the defendant’s negligence.
Pecuniary damages are damages that can be measured monetarily (these are also known as economic damages). For example, the cost of your hospital or emergency room bill, or car repair costs, or the amount of money you missed out on because you were not able to work for a month due to your injuries. A price tag can be put on these items – those are pecuniary damages. However, there are other damages that can be sought in a settlement that are non-quantifiable (non-pecuniary, or non-economic). These damages may include things like pain and suffering, emotional or mental trauma, permanent disfigurement, or loss of enjoyment.
Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant in order to set an example for other’s who might otherwise follow in the defendant’s footsteps. This is rare in civil cases, but juries or judges may award punitive damages in cases of intentional wrongdoing or extreme recklessness (think drunk driving cases that are prosecuted civilly as well as criminally).
Comparative Fault (aka Contributory Negligence)
This is a rule that assigns a percentage of the fault for an accident to both the plaintiff and the defendant, and takes that into account when reaching a verdict and awarding damages. It can either help or hurt your case depending on what percentage of the fault is found to be yours. For example, if someone was excessively speeding and hit a pedestrian who was jaywalking, both parties are at fault, but one party may be found to be at 70% fault and the other may be found 30% at fault; this would affect the damages paid to the plaintiff.
In one of our most notable cases, we recovered $1,250,000 for the wrongful death of a motorcyclist in a collision. The deceased motorcyclist was found to be comparatively negligent because they were traveling over the speed limit, but that amount was still awarded to the motorcyclist’s family. Just because you think you may have had something to do with the accident does not mean you do not have a solid claim for compensation!
This can be one of the more confusing personal injury terms. Some states have no-fault laws, which simply means that drivers carry personal injury protection coverage (PIP) and go through their insurance first when they have a claim. It does not mean that the accident was no one’s fault or that the person who caused the accident cannot be held accountable for costs associated with injuries; it just means that PIP must pay out the benefits of the policy first. Florida is a no-fault state.
Benefits are financial assistance that a party receives, typically from their insurer, employer, or social program if they are sick, injured, or rendered unemployed.
Bad Faith Claim
You pay premiums to your insurance company, and in exchange they owe you certain duties. They must provide coverage and uphold the terms of the policy. They also must act in “good faith”, meaning that they must deal with you fairly so long as you are upholding your end of the bargain (paying your premiums). When an insurance company commits deceptive practices, misinterprets their own policy language to avoid paying out claims, unreasonably delays resolving claims, making arbitrary demands about proof of loss, asking insured parties to contribute to settlements when unnecessary, or not conducting thorough and timely investigations, they breach their duty to you and are acting in “bad faith”. This can lead to a lawsuit.
A fee that clients pay to their attorneys only if the attorneys recover damages. Payment is contingent on winning. Many, but not all, personal injury lawyers operate on a contingency fee basis, including The Florida Law Group.
A deposition is a preview of what a trial may look like. Both parties, under oath, undergo questions from opposing counsel with their own attorneys present, but no jury or judge. The session is recorded in order to have an official account of testimonies before a trial begins.
This is the legal, time-consuming process during which counsel on both sides obtains evidence, interviews experts and witnesses, conducts depositions, requests documents and medical records, etc. This process can take months or sometimes more than a year, depending on the case.
Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
This is the point at which doctors do not expect a person’s injuries to further improve or recover, even if they have access to great medical care. Victims should not typically accept settlements before they reach MMI – a settlement would be hard to determine, because the potential for other costs associated with treatment still remains.
Malpractice is a specific type of negligence that applies to professionals (doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, etc.) when they breach their duty of care to their client/patient and cause injuries. Often this is a result of error or carelessness/negligence and not intent.
If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, call The Florida Law Group today for a free case evaluation! We have offices in Tampa, Orlando, Miami, and more, and we are ranked in the top 1% of personal injury lawyers in the nation. Our experienced attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for our clients. Don’t wait to contact us!