Legal Terms to Know for a Personal Injury Case

legal terms to know

A personal injury case can be stressful, especially if you don’t fully understand everything that is being discussed during the proceedings or between the lawyers involved.

Some legal terms may be familiar to you, such as plaintiff and defendant. Other terms, such as torts, burden of proof, and negligence, will likely need a bit of explanation before you fully understand how they are applied during a personal injury case.

These are several common legal terms you can expect to hear during a personal injury case.

Legal Terms for Starting a Personal Injury Case


The plaintiff is the individual or a group of people that is bringing a lawsuit against another individual or entity. For example, if you slipped in a store and then sued the store for the injuries you incurred, you would be the plaintiff in the personal injury case.


The defendant is the party that is being sued. In the above example, the defendant would be the store responsible for the injuries.


The complaint is a formal expression of the plaintiff’s grievance — essentially a description of the accident and injury, as well as why the defendant is allegedly liable for damages. This is the first legal documentation that is filed in a personal injury case.


When a complaint is filed, the defendant has a right to respond in an “answer.” The answer details the position the defendant is taking regarding the allegations by the plaintiff.

Prayer for Relief

A complaint may contain a prayer for relief, which refers to the reparations asked for by the plaintiff to serve as compensation for the losses incurred as a result of the injury. This may include seeking compensation for attorney’s fees, an injunction on the defendant, damages, etc.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is a time limit set by law during which the plaintiff may file a personal injury lawsuit. The time limit can vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the state in which the incident occurred. New York’s statute of limitations for certain personal injuries is three years.


Damages refer to the dollar amount that the plaintiff is seeking to recover as a result of the lawsuit. Damages can potentially include medical expenses, lost wages, auto repair bills, pain and suffering, and similar expenses.


An injunction is a court order that either restrains a party from doing something or orders them to carry out an action. Injunctions can be either temporary (this type of injunction is usually granted at the beginning of a case) or permanent (usually set at the end of a trial).

Types of Personal Injury Cases


Torts are wrongful acts in a civil suit that are not considered crimes. Examples include negligence, trespass, or libel and slander. Many types of personal injury cases are considered torts.

Intentional Torts

These are wrongful acts that are committed on purpose. In some situations, they can be considered a crime as a result. The tort, or intentional tort, often forms the basis for the personal injury case. For example, a store owner that did not properly clean up a spill, resulting in a slip and fall accident, would be considered negligent.

Proving Liability in a Personal Injury Case


Negligence is a personal injury term that refers to the carelessness or failure to act with reasonable care, resulting in damage to an individual. To prove negligence in a personal injury case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant has an obligation to the plaintiff, that the defendant violated that duty, that the violation resulted in the damage, and that actual damages exist.

Burden of Proof

This refers to the responsibility of proving that the allegations presented in a case are true. In personal injury cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, meaning they must provide sufficient evidence against the defendant.

Comparative Fault/Contributory Negligence

These personal injury terms refer to a situation in which the plaintiff is partly at fault for the injury. This may reduce or even eliminate the total amount recovered by the plaintiff, depending on the extent of injuries or harm and the percentage of comparative fault.

Strict Liability

Strict liability refers to a legal theory that states that some individuals and entities are liable for certain acts or injuries regardless of fault or wrongdoing. For example, manufacturers are strictly liable for injuries related to a manufacturing defect.

Work with the Right Personal Injury Attorneys

Becoming involved in a personal injury case is often stressful, and it becomes even more challenging when you don’t understand the terms being used in court. This guide can help you follow along with the basics of proceedings and the progress of your case.

For more information on starting a personal injury case, get in touch with Napoli Shkolnik’s skilled personal injury attorneys. We’re happy to help you understand the legal terms and processes necessary for your case.