Definitions Personal Injury Words Glossary

One of the most common requests we get from clients at Nakase Law Firm is to explain what we mean by a specific phrase or word. Although it is best to leave the technical words and phrases of legal jargon to an experienced CA personal injury lawyer, it is still recommended to know some terms so that you can comfortably communicate with your lawyer and understand the legal processes.

What is the legal term for an injury one person has caused another?

Negligent or negligence. How do we use these words? For example:

  • Defendant Don was negligent in causing plaintiff Paula’s injury.
  • Don’s negligence in operating the truck in near zero visibility caused the truck to smashed into Paula’s parked car.
  • Don’s was negligent when he decided to get into his truck to drive after he has been drinking liquor for five hours.

First, Understanding Civil Lawsuit

It is a court-based process in which a plaintiff who has been wronged or injured seeks to hold a person (defendant) liable for some type of wrongful act or harm. The defendant is sued by the plaintiff for damages – usually in the form of monetary damages to recover what the plaintiff lost.

Basic Legal Terms You’ll Hear in a Civil Personal Injury Lawsuit

Given that you will be involved in a lawsuit, the basic knowledge of important legal terminology can help you move ahead with your personal injury lawsuit. So, for your convenience, the following is a glossary of some common legal terms associated with personal injury lawsuits.



A plaintiff is a person who initiates a lawsuit before a court against another person or a group of some wrongdoing. The civil lawsuit is filed by a plaintiff when they have been wronged or injured.


When a plaintiff files a lawsuit for being wronged or injured, the person or entity being sued is the defendant. A defendant can be an individual, an organization, a company, or even the government. In a single lawsuit, there can be several plaintiffs and defendants.


Now pay close attention to this important legal term. Understand that an injury is more than just physical injury (e.g. broken arm, leg, head) as it also includes defamation of character (when someone makes a statement that damages your reputation), wrongful death (death of a family member due to the negligent actions of another), emotional injury (pain and suffering), and even financial loss (e.g. losing assets, property, savings). A civil court tries to restore the plaintiff’s condition before the injury had occurred. This means that there will be compensation in the form of money. However, the civil court cannot restore the condition of plaintiff by restoring their reputation or by bringing back a deceased person. The money can’t fix everything, but it can still help restore some of plaintiff’s condition.

Complaint & Answer

Once you’ve decided to pursue with your civil personal injury lawsuit, your CA personal injury lawyer will initiate the lawsuit with the court by filing a complaint – it will be a document that comprises each damage for which you want to be compensated.

After a complaint has been filed by your lawyer, a specific period of time will be given to the defendant to file an answer. The defendant will provide a formal legal response which will notify the plaintiff and the court of the position of defendant regarding the allegations.


In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff’s goal is to recover is money which equal damages. Although damages equal to money, it is important to keep in mind what you are receiving the money for. There are three categories for damages: economic damages, non-economic damages, and even punitive damages. Economic damages are quantified damages such as wage loss, medical expenses, auto repair bills, replacement services. Non-economic damages are not specifically quantifiable damages as they include pain, suffering, anxiety, and humiliation. Take the example of an auto accident. In this case, your economic damage would be $7,000 hospital bill and $3,000 auto repair bills. You can demand $5,000 for suffering from anxiety and insomnia due to your injuries and it would be considered as non-economic damages. If the court deems that the actions of defendant were reckless, you would be awarded additional amount of money and that would be punitive damages.

Statute of Limitations

It can be explained as the time period set by the law in which a person can file suit claiming damage. This time period is based on the type of case and the state. Keep in mind that the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit in most states in 2-3 years, but it can vary in case of medical malpractice. This means that the time period will start on the date of your loss, accident or diagnoses. As State law controls statutes of limitations, if you are thinking about filing a personal injury suit in California then you need to know that the time limitation is 2 years.


It can be explained as the obligation a person is bound to perform by law. Whether it is about personal injury, damage to property, or anything else, the liability of a defendant is their obligation under the law. So, take an example of you renting your home and the tenant burning it to the ground because they forgot to turn off the gas stove. In this case, the tenant is liable to your property loss. Or someone who drives a car has a legal responsibility to drive safely and follow the rules, but if that person fails to do it then he/she is liable for damage of another person’s property or well-being.

Tort and Intentional Tort

A tort can be explained as any wrongful act that is not a crime and also a breach of contract. Negligence, wrongful death, trespassing, and defamation are counted as Tort. For instance, an individual who has caused a car accident has committed a tort.

Intentional Tort, on the other hand, is a wrongful act committed by an individual on purpose. Now take an example of assault and battery as they are usually handled in the criminal court, but when it comes to civil action, they become intentional tort. Similarly, defamation of someone’s character is also an intentional tort because it was something the defendant did on purpose.


The failure to act with responsible care or carelessness is negligence. A person is negligent if their carelessness caused harm or damage to another person. Negligence is a part of tort law and that’s why the plaintiff has to prove four things in personal injury case.

  • First proof: there was an obligation or duty of defendant to the plaintiff.
  • Second Proof: the duty was breached or violated by the defendant.
  • Third Proof: damaged was caused by the breach or violation.
  • Fourth Proof: the actual damages exist.

For instance, a local grocery store’s duty was to keep the isle hazard-free. But they failed to do it as they didn’t clean the spilled oil on the floor on time. The plaintiff fell on the ground due to their breach and this caused physical and financial damages. In this case, the local grocery store was negligent.

Burden of Proof

In order to recover the damages, it is plaintiff’s obligation to prove that their allegations are true (or most likely to be true). There must be preponderance of evidence which means that the plaintiff must prove the defendant is 50% at-fault. For instance in the suit against the local grocery store, the plaintiff can recover damages if they prove that the store was 50% at-fault for their sustained physical injuries.

Strict Liability

It is a legal theory that says a defendant is still liable regardless of wrongdoing or fault. For instance, if a plaintiff sues a drug manufacturing company for sustaining internal injuries or severe side effects because of using their drug that didn’t come with a side effects label, then the defendant (drug manufacturing company) would need to prove to the court that their drug didn’t cause the injuries to the plaintiff.

Comparative Fault and Contributory Negligence Standards

In a personal injury lawsuit, the damages can be reduced or eliminated altogether by comparative fault and contributory negligence. In some cases, both the plaintiff and defendant can be considered at fault, although the percentage of plaintiff’s fault is usually smaller. For instance, there was spilled oil on the floor and the cleaner simply placed a warning sign in front of the spill instead of cleaning it. Now the court can assign some percent of fault to the plaintiff as well for ignoring the warning sign. This means that the plaintiff would be considered 30% at-fault for the injuries and the local grocery store will be considered 70% at-fault for not cleaning the floor timely. So, if the plaintiff was going to get $10,000 for damages, the judgment would be reduced to $7,000.

Contact CA Personal Injury Lawyer

In case you have any queries related to your personal injury case or want some consultation before moving ahead with the case then contact Brad Nakase. He is a committed CA personal injury lawyer since 2005.

Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Legal References:

Statute of Limitations