For many, getting injured in a car accident comes not only with stress, but a significant lack of clarity. Legal terminology inevitably becomes the norm in conversations with lawyers and insurance companies, but it is not always explained. We’re breaking down the 13 of the more common legal terms used in personal injury cases to help provide clarity as you seek solutions.
A complaint is the paperwork that Kenneth drafts to file with the court to start the litigation process of a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit will only happen after you meet with Kenneth for your risk assessment meeting. Once the complaint gets served, the defendant and their insurance company have 20 days to file their answer.
An answer is the formal pleading that gets filed in response to a complaint. The purpose of an answer is to admit or deny the allegations in the complaint and raise defenses. Any defenses the opposing counsel could raise must be raised in their answer. With a few exceptions, anything not raised in the answer is considered waived and cannot be raised later.
A lawsuit starts the minute Kenneth files the complaint. A lawsuit means your personal injury attorney has filed a complaint in court to start the litigation process.
Being in a car accident does not automatically mean you have a lawsuit.
Litigation refers to the entire lifecycle of a case once it’s in the court system. Litigation cannot happen without a lawsuit being filed. At this point, opposing counsel has answered the complaint, or you and the Hancock Law team are participating in discovery and trying to get around resolution for you in the court system.
“Plaintiff” is the term used to define the person filing the lawsuit. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a plaintiff as “[t]he party who brings a civil suit in a court of law.” “Defendant” is the person being sued.
These terms refer to the same thing: the place where all information and documents in your case are kept and managed. Your case is typically assigned a file number or matter number in your attorney’s case management system. This number is how your attorney identifies your specific case. These terms can be used in either the pre-suit or litigation stage of your case.
Alternatively, the case file could also refer to the clerk’s file and/or the judge’s file in a case where a suit is filed. There will be a case number assigned when you file a lawsuit. That case number is used to identify your case in the court system. You, as the plaintiff, will likely never need to know your case file number. Kenneth will have it and ensure things are moving forward in your case.
Claim means two things in the personal injury arena. First, it refers generally to the formal assertion of a right to money or property. When you are injured in a motor vehicle accident that is not your fault, you have a personal injury claim…a right to be compensated by the at-fault party for all damages caused by the collision.
The second meaning of claim is really just a term of art that refers to the pre-suit status of your case. One of our jobs at Hancock Law is to try to resolve your case without exposing you to the risks of filing a lawsuit. To do that, we make a claim on your behalf to recover from the at-fault party’s insurance company. The insurance company has a “claims department” that assigns a claim number to your case. We work with the insurance company’s claims department through all stages of your case, but once a lawsuit is filed we no longer consider it to be a “claim.” Kenneth makes it a point to explain this to clients in the first meeting. Many may think, “I don’t want to sue anyone.” Perfect. More often than not we are able to resolve your claim with the insurance company without having to file a lawsuit.
Damages refer to what you’re legally allowed to recover from someone in a specific case, whether it’s a claim or lawsuit litigation. This is not to be confused with a settlement, which is a recovery by agreement at any stage of the case. Generally, damages refer to the highest potential value of a settlement.
Florida law sets forth what kinds of damages you recover in a car accident case: past medical expenses, future medical expenses, past wage losses, future loss of earning capacity, and if you have a permanent injury, non-economic damages (more commonly referred to as pain and suffering).
A deposition is a witness’s sworn, out-of-court testimony and it only happens once a lawsuit is filed. It is a formal question-and-answer session used to gather information as part of the discovery process. This information may be used at trial, most likely against you unless you are adequately prepared. Providing a strong deposition can impact the resolution timeline of your case. Kenneth always takes time to prepare his clients through his 8 principles of deposition to ensure that your deposition works in your favor.
Discovery is the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they plan to present at trial. Discovery starts (opens) when the lawsuit is filed and generally ends (closes) 60 days or so before your trial date. In that timeframe, both sides are allowed to discover as much as they can about each other’s allegations and defenses. The deposition is a part of the discovery process.
Due process refers to the right of every person to notice of the charges brought against them and the right to a fair hearing. A defendant’s due process right in a civil case is the right to be put on notice of the claims brought against him. We preserve the defendant’s due process rights by serving him with a copy of the complaint and all discovery requests. A plaintiff’s due process right in a civil case is the right to a fair hearing in front of a “tribunal” with the power to decide the case.
The process by which we put the defendant on notice of your lawsuit is called Service of Process. This is where we hire a process server to provide the named defendant with a copy of the lawsuit. The process server will then send Kenneth an affidavit stating the time, date, and place that the individual was served. Once the defendant is served, he has 20 days to file a responsive pleading.
Broadly speaking, a settlement is what we call recovering damages. There are two ways we can recover for you: settlement or verdict. A settlement is an agreement between you and the insurance company of the at-fault party where you agree to accept a certain amount of money and they agree to pay it. This agreement is formalized in a written document known as a Release of Claims (“Release”).
Verdict refers to the final decision of the jury in cases where we go to trial. While it is our goal to obtain a favorable verdict for you from the jury, it is important to note that a verdict does NOT necessarily mean you get a recovery. It just means the jury made a decision, which also includes a verdict that you lose your case.
Have any questions about these terms or others and how they pertain to your case? Contact us today. No matter how big or how small your case may be, Hancock Law can help you to receive the settlement you deserve.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that the information provided in this blog is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice nor as creating an attorney-client relationship. Every case is different and legal advice cannot be provided by Hancock Law unless/until we meet to discuss the particulars of your case. Whether an attorney-client relationship exists can differ on a case-by-case basis, but at Hancock Law we consider such a relationship to exist only upon a potential client’s request and our agreement to accept that representation.