7 Personal Injury Legal Terms You Should Know

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By Marcus Fernandez

A lawyer’s terminology can be challenging to understand for people without a law background. If you’re filing a personal injury claim, it is important for you to understand what’s going on so you can provide your lawyer with the information needed to build a strong case. This article presents you with explanations for seven commonly used personal injury legal terms. It leaves out the highly technical jargon while giving you a solid foundation for understanding your personal injury case.

Plaintiff and defendant

Plaintiffs and defendants are the opposing parties in a lawsuit.

The plaintiff is the person or business entity initiating a lawsuit. As the person injured in an accident, you would be the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the at fault party.

Speaking of fault, the defendant is the party you make the claim against for compensation. The plaintiff sues the defendant. There may be multiple plaintiffs and defendants depending on the facts of a particular case. For instance, both the manufacturer and store can be defendants if you were injured by a defective product.


This is one of the most common personal injury legal terms. Damages represent the monetary value of the injury or loss suffered by a plaintiff as a result of the negligence of a defendant. Two types of damages are awarded in a personal injury cases: Compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory damages are intended to make the injured party whole and may include: 

  • Costs of plaintiff’s medical care. 
  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy costs. 
  • Lost earnings and the value of lost or diminished future earning capacity. 
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering inflicted on the plaintiff. 

Punitive damages are intended to do exactly what the term implies: Punish the defendant for contact of an extreme nature. In the context of personal injury cases, intentional and willful conduct of a defendant, such as assaulting a plaintiff with a baseball bat, may warrant an award of punitive damages. By way of comparison, a player swinging a bat while warming up during a baseball game hits another person who was standing behind and out of the view of the player. The behavior of the player may be careless by not looking around before swinging the bat, but it probably does not warrant punitive damages.


Negligence is behavior that falls short of what the law establishes as the level of care expected of a reasonable person facing the same or similar circumstances. For example, the law expects a person driving a car to obey the traffic laws and maintain control over the vehicle to avoid causing harm to others. Driving at an excessive rate of speed or while impaired by drugs or alcohol would not meet the level of care required of motorists.

Contributory negligence or contributory fault

Both of these terms mean negligence on the part of the plaintiff. The defendant is trying to prove that the plaintiff contributed to causing the accident or the injuries. A few states prohibit awarding damages to a plaintiff who was at fault, which means that an injured party who was only 1% at fault would be barred from recovering damages against a defendant who was 99% responsible.

Other states, including Florida, take a less drastic approach to handling contributory fault. Florida law states that contributory fault reduces the damages recoverable by the percentage of fault on the part of the plaintiff.

Statute of limitations

The amount of time allowed by law for a plaintiff to file a lawsuit for personal injuries is the statute of limitations. However, the time varies from one state to another. A state may have different statutes of limitations depending on the type of personal injury claim. For example, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit for personal injuries in Florida generally is four years, but it could be only two years when the cause of the injuries is a doctor’s negligence in treating a patient.

If you wait and allow the statute of limitations to expire before filing, you may lose your right to compensation. Statute of limitations can be complicated. The best course of action is to speak to a Tampa personal injury attorney immediately after an incident.

Loss of consortium

Loss of consortium is a type of personal injury lawsuit claim. It is filed on behalf of the spouse of someone injured or killed as a result of someone’s negligence. Damages awarded would be for the loss of companionship, comfort, love and affection of the injured or deceased spouse.

Burden of proof

To recover damages in a personal injury case, the plaintiff must prove negligence on the part of the defendant. It is up to the plaintiff to produce the evidence. Lawyers refer to this as the burden of proof.

A Tampa personal injury attorney can help

Don’t let the statue of limitations expire after your accident. Put your new knowledge of personal injury legal terms to work by contacting a Tampa attorney to handle your claim. Call to speak to an experienced Kinney, Fernandez, and Boire Lawyer or fill out this form to get a free case evaluation.