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Glossary of Car Accidents Law Terms
Action: Proceeding taken in a court of law. Synonymous with case, suit, lawsuit.
Additional Insured: A person other than the named insured or covered person who is protected under the named insured’s auto policy.
Adjudication: A judgment or decree.
Adversary System: Basic U.S. trial system in which each of the opposing parties has opportunity to state his viewpoints before the court. Plaintiff argues for defendant’s guilt (criminal) or liability (civil). Defense argues for defendant’s innocence (criminal) or against liability (civil).
Affidavit: A written declaration under oath
Affirm: The assertion of an appellate court that the judgment of the lower court is correct and should stand.
Allegation: A declaration of a party to an action made in a pleading, stating what he expects to prove.
Alleged: Stated; recited; claimed; asserted; charged.
Answer: A formal response to a claim, admitting or denying the allegations in the claim.
Anti-Theft Device: Devices designed to reduce the chance an auto will be vandalized or stolen, or assist in its recovery. Includes car alarms, keyless entry, starter disablers, motion detectors, parts of the vehicle etched with the Vehicle Identification Number, and recovery systems.
Appeal: Review of a case by a higher court.
Appearance: The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court.
Arbitration: The hearing and settlement of a dispute between opposing parties by a third party whose decision the parties have agreed to accept.
Assigned Risk: A risk not ordinarily acceptable to insurers which is, according to state law, assigned to insurers participating in a plan in which the insurers agree to accept their share of these risks.
At issue: The time in a lawsuit when the complaining party has stated his claim and the other side has responded with denial and the matter is ready to be tried.
Automobile Insurance: A form of insurance that protects against losses involving autos. Examples of coverage types include: bodily injury liability, property damage liability, medical payments, and collision and comprehensive coverage for physical damage to the insured’s vehicle.
Basic Limits of Liability: The least amount of liability coverage that can be purchased. In determining rates, a carrier will use the basic limits to develop the base rates. If an insured person wants higher limits, the carrier applies an increased limits factor to the base rate in calculating the new premium for the increased coverage.
Best Evidence: Primary evidence; the best evidence which is available; any evidence falling short of this standard is secondary.
Bodily Injury Liability: Legal liability for causing physical injury or death to another.
Brief: A legal document, prepared by an attorney which presents the law and facts supporting his client’s case
Burden of Proof: Measure of proof required to prove a fact. Obligation of a party to probe facts at issue in the trial of a case.
Calendar: List of cases arranged for hearing in court.
Caption: The caption of a pleading, or other papers connected with a case in court, is the heading or introductory clause which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, number of the case, etc.
Case: Any proceeding, action, cause, lawsuit or controversy initiated through the court system by filing a complaint, petition, indictment or information.
Caseload: The number of cases a judge handles in a specific time period.
Cause of Action: A legal claim.
Certiorari: Procedure for removing a case from a lower court or administrative agency to a higher court for review.
Challenge for Cause: A request by a party that the court excuse a specific juror on the basis that the juror is biased.
Citation: Summons to appear in court. 2. Reference to authorities in support of a legal argument.
Civil Law: All law that is not criminal law. Usually pertains to the settlement of disputes between individuals, organizations or groups and having to do with the establishment, recovery or redress of private and civil rights.
Claim: The assertion of a right to money or property.
Clerk of the Court: An officer of a court whose principal duty is to maintain court records and preserve evidence presented during a trial.
Closing Argument: The closing statement, by counsel, to the trier of facts after all parties have concluded their presentation of evidence.
Collision Insurance: This covers loss to the insured person’s own auto caused by its collision with another vehicle or object.
Code: A collection, compendium or revision of laws systematically arranged into chapters, table of contents and index and promulgated by legislative authority.
Commit: To lawfully send a person to prison, a reformatory or an asylum
Common Law: Law which derives its authority solely from usage and customs of immemorial antiquity or from the judgments and decrees of courts. also called “case law.”
Comparative Negligence: Negligence of a plaintiff in a civil suit which decreases his recovery by his percentage of negligence compared to a defendant’s negligence.
Competency: In the law of evidence, the presence of those characteristics which render a witness legally fit and qualified to give testimony.
Complaint: In a civil case, it is the initial document entered by the plaintiff which states the claims against the defendant.
Contempt of Court: Any act that is meant to embarrass, hinder or obstruct a court in the administration of justice. Direct contempt is committed in the presence of the court; indirect contempt is when a lawful order is not carried out or refused.
Continuance: Adjournment of the proceedings in a case from one day to another.
Corroborating Evidence: Evidence supplementary to that already given and tending to strengthen or confirm it.
Costs: An allowance for expenses in prosecuting or defending a suit. Ordinarily does not include attorney’s fees.
Counter Claim: Claim presented by a defendant in opposition to, or deduction from, the claim of the plaintiff.
Court: Place where justice is administered.
Court Administrator: Manager of administrative, non judicial affairs of the court.
Court Commissioner: A judicial officer at both trial and appellate court levels who performs many of the same duties as judges and justices.
Court of Appeals: Intermediate appellate court to which most appeals are taken from superior court.
Court Superior: State trial court of general jurisdiction.
Court Supreme: “Court of last resort.” Highest court in the state and final appellate court.
Courts of Limited Jurisdiction: Includes district, municipal and police courts.
Comprehensive Coverage: Covers damage to a vehicle caused by an event other than a collision or overturn. Examples include fire, theft, vandalism, and falling objects.
Criminal Law: Body of law pertaining to crimes against the state or conduct detrimental to society as a whole. Violation of criminal statues are punishable by law.
Cross Examination: The questioning of a witness by the party opposed to the one who produced the witness.
Damages: Compensation recovered in the courts by a person who has suffered loss, detriment or injury to his/her person, property or rights, through the unlawful act or negligence of another.
De novo: “Anew.” A trial de novo is a completely new trial held in a higher or appellate court as if the original trial had never taken place.
Declamatory Judgment: A judgment that declares the rights of the parties on a question of law.
Decree: Decision or order of the court. A final decree completes the suit; an interlocutory decree is a provisional or preliminary decree which is not final.
Deductible: The amount an insured person must pay before the insurance company pays the remainder of each covered loss, up to the policy limits.
Default: A failure of a party to respond in a timely manner to a pleading; a failure to appear for trial.
Defendant: In a civil case, such as an car accident lawsuit, the defendant is the person against whom a civil action is brought.
Defense Attorney: The attorney who represents the defendant.
Deposition: Sworn testimony taken and recorded in an authorized place outside of the courtroom, according to the rules of the court.
Direct Examination: The questioning of a witness by the party who produced the witness.
Discovery: A pretrial proceeding where a party to an action may be informed about (or “discover”) the facts known by other parties or witnesses.
Dismissal with Prejudice: Dismissal of a case by a judge which bars the losing party from raising the issue again in another lawsuit.
Dismissal without Prejudice: The losing party is permitted to sue again with the same cause of action.
Disposition: Determination of a charge; termination of any legal action.
Dissent: The disagreement of one or more judges of a court with the decision of the majority.
Docket: Book containing entries of all proceedings in a court.
Due Process: Constitutional guarantee that an accused person receive a fair and impartial trial.
En Banc: “On the bench.” All judges of a court sitting together to hear a case.
Enjoin: To require a person to perform, or abstain or desist from some act.
Evidence: Any form of proof legally presented at a trial through witnesses, records, documents, etc.
Exception: A formal objection of an action of the court, during the trial of a case, in refusing a request or overruling an objection; implying that the party excepting does not acquiesce in the decision of the court and will seek to obtain its reversal.
Exhibit: Paper, document or other object received by the court as evidence during a trial or hearing.
Fact-Finding Hearing: A proceeding where facts relevant to deciding a controversy are determined.
Fair Preponderance: Evidence sufficient to create in the minds of the triers of fact the belief that the party which bears the burden of proof has established its case.
Felony: Crime of grave nature than a misdemeanor.
Fine: A sum of money imposed upon a convicted person as punishment for a criminal offense.
File: “To file” a paper is to give it to the court clerk for inclusion in the case record.
Hearing: An in-court proceeding before a judge, generally open to the public.
Hearsay: Evidence based on what the witness has heard someone else say, rather than what the witness has personally experienced or observed.
Hit and Run: An accident caused by someone who does not stop to assist or provide the required and necessary information.
Inadmissible: That which, under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received.
Induction: Writ or order by a court prohibiting a specific action from being carried out by a person or group.
Injure: Hurt or harm; violate the legal rights of another person.
Instruction: Direction given by a judge regarding the applicable law in a given case.
Interrogatories: Written questions developed by one party’s attorney for the opposing party. Interrogatories must be answered under oath within a specific period of time.
Judgment: Final determination by a court of the rights and claims of the parties in an action.party’s attorney for the opposing party. Interrogatories must be answered under oath within a specific period of time.
Lapse in Coverage/Policy Lapse: A point in time when a policy has been canceled or terminated for failure to pay the premium, or when the policy contract is void for other reasons.
Lawsuit: A civil action; a court proceeding to enforce a right (rather than to convict a criminal).
Lawyer: A person licensed to practice law; other words for “lawyer” include: attorney, counsel, solicitor and barrister.
Litigant: One who is engaged in a lawsuit.
Litigation: A law suit.
Misdemeanor: Criminal offenses less than felonies; generally those punishable by fine or imprisonment of less than 90 days in a local facility. A gross misdemeanor is a criminal offense for which an adult could be sent to jail for up to one year, pay a fine up to $5,000 or both.
Mistrial: Erroneous or invalid trial. Usually declared because of prejudicial error in the proceedings or when there was a hung jury.
Mitigating Circumstances: Those which do not constitute a justification or excuse for an offense but which may be considered as reasons for reducing the degree of blame.
Motion: Oral or written request made by a party to an action before, during or after a trial upon which a court issues a ruling or order.
Moot: Unsettled; undecided. A moot point is one not settled by judicial decisions.
Negligence: The absence of ordinary care.
Parties: Persons, corporations, or associations, who have commenced a law suit or who are defendants.
Personal Auto Policy: The most common auto insurance policy sold today. Often referred to as “PAP,” this policy provides coverage for liability, medical payments, uninsured/under insured motorist coverage, and physical damage protection.
Personal Injury Protection: Personal Injury Protection (PIP) usually includes benefits for medical expenses, loss of income from work, essential services, accidental death, funeral expenses, and survivor benefits.
Petition: Written application to a court requesting a remedy available under law.
Petition for Review: A document filed in the state Supreme Court asking for a review of a decision made by the Court of Appeals.
Perjury: Making intentionally false statements under oath. Perjury is a criminal offense.
Physical Damage: Damage to your covered vehicle from perils including (but not limited to) collision or upset with another vehicle object, fire, vandalism and theft.
Plaintiff: The party who begins an action; the party who complains or sues in an action and is named as such in the court’s records. Also called a petitioner.
Plea: A defendant’s official statement of “guilty” or “not guilty” to the charge(s) made against him.
Pleadings: Formal, written allegations by the parties of their respective claims.
Policy: The written documents of a contract for insurance between the insurance company and the insured. Such documents include forms, endorsements, riders and attachments.
Polling the Jury: A practice whereby the jurors are asked individually whether they agreed, and still agree, with the verdict.
Precedent: Previously decided case which is recognized as an authority for determining future cases.
Preponderance of Evidence: The general standard of proof in civil cases. The weight of evidence presented by one side is more convincing to the trier of facts than the evidence presented by the opposing side.
Presiding Judge: Chief or administrative judge of a court.
Proceeding: Any hearing or court appearance related to the adjudication of a case.
Record: 1. To preserve in writing, print or by film, tape, etc. 2. History or a case. 3. The word-for-word written or tape recorded account of all proceedings of a trial.
Rebuttal: The introduction of contradicting or opposing evidence showing that what witnesses said occurred is not true, the stage of a trial at which such evidence may be introduced.
Redirect Examination: Follows cross examination and is carried out by the party who, first examined the witness.
Remand: To send back. A disposition by an appellate court that results in sending the case back to the original court from which it came for further proceedings.
Reply: Pleading by the plaintiff in response to the defendant’s written answer.
Respondent: Party against whom an appeal is brought in an appellate court. the prevailing party in the trial court case.
Restitution: Act of giving the equivalent for any loss, damage of injury.
Rests the Case: When a party concludes his presentation or evidence.
Reversal: Setting aside, annulling, vacating or changing to the contrary the decision of a lower court or other body.
Service: Delivery of a legal document to the opposite party.
Set Aside: Annul or void as in “setting aside” a judgment.
Settlement: Conclusion of a legal matter.
Settlement Conference: A meeting between parties of a lawsuit, their counsel and a judge to attempt a resolution of the dispute without trial.
Statute: A law created by the Legislature.
Statute of Limitations: Law which specifies the time within which parties must take judicial action to enforce their rights.
Stay: Halting of a judicial proceeding by order of the court.
Stipulation: Agreement by the attorneys or parties on opposite sides of a case regarding any matter in the trial proceedings.
Subpoena: Document issued by the authority of the court to compel a witness to appear and give testimony or produce documentary evidence in a proceeding. Failure to appear or produce is punishable by contempt of court.
Subpoena Duces Tecum: “Under penalty you shall take it with you.” A process by which the court commands a witness to produce specific documents or records in a trial.
Suit: Any court proceeding in which an individual seeks a decision.
Summons: Document or writ directing the sheriff or other officer to notify a person that an action has been commenced against him in court and that he is required to appear, on a certain day, and answer the complaint in such action.
Testimony: Any statement made by a witness under oath in a legal proceeding.
Transcript: The official record or proceedings in a trial or hearing, which is kept by the clerk.
Trial: The presentation of evidence in court to a trier of facts who applies the applicable law to those facts and then decides the case
Tort: A private wrong or harm committed against another, resulting in legal liability. A tort is either intentional or accidental. Automobile liability insurance is purchased to protect one from suits arising from unintentional torts.
Tortfeasor: One who commits a tort.
Venue: The specific county, city or geographical area in which a court has jurisdiction.
Verdict: Formal decision made by a judge or jury (trier of facts).
Voir Dire: “To speak the truth.” The process of preliminary examination of prospective jurors, by the court or attorneys, regarding their qualifications.
Willful Act: An intentional act carried out without justifiable cause.
Witness: Person who testifies under oath before a court, regarding what he/she has seen, heard or otherwise observed.
Writ: A special, written court order directing a person to perform, or refrain from performing, a specific act.