BASIC LEGAL TERMINOLOGY
Legal wording can be very complex and almost inaccessible if you do not have a basic knowledge of the important terms. Many people consider legal terminology a separate language of its own, requiring special training just to understand. Therefore, when dealing with legal matters, there are basic terms that can help you understand legal documents as well as words and phrases used in a courtroom. These key legal terms and their meanings include the following:
Plaintiff – A plaintiff is the injured party who filed the lawsuit.
Defendant – A defendant is the individual or entity accused of harming someone.
Tort – A tort is a branch of civil law that provides compensation to someone for the harms and losses suffered as the result of someone else’s wrongdoing. A tort should not be confused with a contract, another branch of civil law. A contract is when two or more people agree on the same thing. A tort imposes a duty upon someone when it is possible that that person’s actions may harm another. Torts cause injury. There are different types of torts including negligent torts, strict liability, and intentional torts.
Parties – The parties to the lawsuit are the plaintiffs and defendants. Witnesses are not parties.
Discovery – Discovery is the process used by the attorneys to gather facts of the case. The attorneys can send written discovery (written questions) to the other party. The attorneys can also take depositions of the parties and witnesses.
Deposition – A deposition is a discovery tool used to gain factual information. Depositions can be taken of parties or witnesses. During a deposition, the witness is sworn in and asked various questions involving the lawsuit. The testimony is types by a court reporter to preserve the evidence.
Negligence/Negligent Tort – A negligent tort is one that is accidental, such as an automobile accident. To prove a negligence case, you must prove: (1) defendant owed a duty; (2) defendant did something or didn’t do something which resulted in a violation of that duty; (3) defendant’s action or inaction caused harm to Plaintiff; (4) Plaintiff suffered harms and losses.
Intentional Tort – Intentional torts are those that are intended to be caused by the defendant. Assault and battery are intentional torts.
Strict Liability – Sometimes defendant can be held liable even without proving fault. Strict liability holds people and entities responsible for harm caused by their products regardless of whether they were at fault. This theory applies to individuals and entities engaged in hazardous activities such as animal owners and product manufacturers. For example, if a defendant made and sold a drug/medicine that was dangerous when it left the production site, that defendant will be held liable under strict liability.
Comparative Fault – Sometimes the plaintiff is partly to blame for her injuries. For example, if defendant ran a red light and struck your car but you were sending a text message to your friend at the same time, you may share in the responsibility for your injuries. Plaintiff’s responsibility is known as comparative fault.
Economic Damages – These are damages that can be measured such as funeral expenses, loss wages, lost income, property damage and medical bills.
Noneconomic Damages – Noneconomic damages are those that simply cannot be calculated such as the loss of companionship of your wife.
Punitive Damages – Punitive damages are meant to punish and deter the defendant from future similar acts. Punitive damages are difficult to prove as there must be clear evidence that the defendant intended to harm or was malicious.
For more information, contact Belotta Law Firm today at (973) 474-2192.