Understanding Common Personal Injury Terms

August 7, 2020

If you’ve never been involved in a personal injury lawsuit, you may need help understanding the legal jargon and common personal injury terms. At Saladino & Schaaf, our experienced attorneys help personal injury clients navigate an often confusing legal system and receive the compensation they deserve.

Our goal is to make the process easy and help answer any questions you may have. A basic understanding of some common personal injury legal terms can go a long way in helping you through the legal process.

Personal Injury Lawsuit Terms


A plaintiff is the person or group of people who bring legal action against someone. If you sue someone, you are considered the plaintiff.


A defendant is the person or group of people who are being sued for causing harm or personal injury to another individual. Depending on the complexity of your case, there may be one or multiple defendants.

Torts and Intentional Torts

A tort is any wrongful act which has hurt another individual. If a tort is “intentional,” it means the defendant intentionally caused harm to the plaintiff. Intentional torts include assault and may lead to both criminal and civil charges. Torts are almost always the cause of action in a civil lawsuit.


Negligence is the most common tort in a personal injury case. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant had a “duty of care” to ensure others’ safety and failed to meet this duty. Negligence can take many forms, but there are some common elements necessary to prove negligence:

  1. The defendant had a duty or obligation of care to the plaintiff.
  2. The defendant violated their duty.
  3. The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s actions.
  4. The defendant’s actions caused specific injuries.

Duty or Standard of Care

In many circumstances, we have a “duty of care” to protect others from harm, when reasonably possible. When determining if a defendant had a duty of care, courts will examine if the defendant knew about the hazard, and had ample time and ability to inform the plaintiff of the risk. In cases of professional liability, this is called “standard of care,” as the professional’s actions will be measured against the accepted industry standard.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations places a limit on the time for which you can file a personal injury claim.


Damages are the compensation you seek for your injuries. Damages are intended to “make the plaintiff whole,” usually by a lump sum payment. There are generally three types of damages:

  1. Economic Damages – These damages include medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and other specific losses that result from your injury.
  2. Non-Economic Damages – These damages are harder to quantify and include pain and suffering.
  3. Punitive Damages – These damages are typically only rewarded in cases of extreme negligence.

In some states, there may be limits or “caps” on punitive and non-economic damages.


A few states have adopted a no-fault legal theory. In a no-fault state, every car owner must have personal injury protection (PIP) with their insurance policy.

Expert Witness

An expert witness is someone who is an authority in their field, from doctors to lawyers to economists. Having expert witness testimony can be a compelling case strategy for demonstrating the value of your claim to the court.

Accident Report

In most personal injury cases, you will obtain an official police report or detailed record from a medical staff member, which outlines the details of your accident. This record is often called an “accident report.”

Preponderance of Evidence

In criminal cases, the defendant must be proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In civil cases, the standard of evidence is lower, as jail time is not a remedy in these cases, and there may not have been a violation of the law.

In civil cases, you need to show that there is a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the judge or jury does not have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. They must simply believe that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused you harm, based on the availability of the evidence and strength of your case.


Often, a defendant will offer a settlement to avoid going to court and receiving a verdict and an order to pay damages. A settlement is an agreed-upon amount of money paid as compensation for damages.

Need a Personal Injury Attorney?

personal injury lawyer can help you through each step of the legal process for filing your personal injury claim. If you have been injured, contact Saladino & Schaaf today or call us at 270-444-0406 (Paducah, KY) or 270-753-1529 (Murray, KY) to schedule a free consultation with our team. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, you must act quickly. There are time limits on legal actions.




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Personal Injury Legal Terms




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Saladino & Schaaf, PLLC is dedicated to providing high quality, aggressive legal representation to victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Since 1984, this firm and its predecessors have had one goal in mind – to help the victims of personal injury put the pieces of their lives back together.

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