10 terms you need to know as a New York personal injury litigant

Knowing these 10 terms will help you understand concepts crucial to your personal injury lawsuit.

Just like any other profession, the law has its own language. Personal injury law is no exception. Although legal jargon is understandable to attorneys, it can alienate people that are not familiar with the terms. If you are involved in a personal injury matter, listed below are the top ten legal terms that you will come across that will give you a better understanding of what is going on in your case.

Liability

In personal injury terms, liability means that a defendant (i.e. the person who caused the harm) is legally responsible for the harm that is suffered by another in the lawsuit (i.e. the plaintiff). If a defendant is found to be liable, he or she may be compelled by the court to pay damages.

Damages

Losses suffered that are recovered in a lawsuit. In personal injury, there are typical two types of damages: economic damages (e.g. lost wages, medical bills and other financial losses) and non-economic damages (e.g. pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses that cannot easily be quantifiable in financial terms). Damages are awarded in the form of financial compensation.

Negligence

Conduct that falls below a certain minimum legal standard that protects others from an unreasonable risk of harm. This occurs when:

  • A party has a duty to another person (e.g. a duty to drive sober)

  • A party breaches this duty (e.g. by driving intoxicated)

  • The breach of the duty causes injury (e.g. because of the driver being intoxicated, a car accident occurs)

  • Which causes a third-party to suffer damages (e.g. medical bills)

Comparative negligence

A legal doctrine that allows injured parties to recover damages even if their own negligence was a cause of the accident. In New York, parties found to be comparatively negligent, can have the damages that they recover reduced by the percentage that they found to be at fault for the accident.

Discovery

A pre-trial phase, which allows both sides to be informed about (or "discover") the facts known by witnesses and the parties to the lawsuit (both plaintiff and defendant). Discovery typically includes:

  • Interrogatories: Written questions where one side asks the other about the facts of the case to be answered under oath.

  • Depositions: A formal question and answer session where a witness or party is asked questions under oath by each side. The responses are transcribed by a court reporter.

  • Requests for production: A request by one side for the other to produce documents or things related to the case.

  • Requests for admission: A request by one side to admit or deny a specific fact. The responses can be used at trial to prove conclusively that a fact occurred (or did not).

Premises liability

The legal duty of landowners to make their premises reasonably safe for occupants and visitors (e.g. removing ice and snow). Landowners that fail at this duty can be considered negligent and be held liable for damages in a lawsuit.

No-fault insurance

A New York law that requires automobile insurers to pay car accident victims up to $50,000 of economic damages (e.g. medical bills, prescriptions, etc.) regardless of who is at fault. Additionally, the no-fault insurance law precludes car accident victims from recovering non-economic damages unless they can prove that they suffered a "serious injury"

Serious injury

In New York no-fault insurance law, a serious injury is a car accident that results in death, dismemberment, fractures, significant disfigurement, or permanent loss or use of a body organ, member, function, or system (as well as other life-altering injuries). If serious injury is proven objectively (i.e. by medical tests or physician testimony), the injured party may recover non-economic damages in a negligence lawsuit against the responsible party.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance

A type of insurance policy that insures that the vehicle owner, driver and occupants are insured against losses caused by other motorists that are uninsured or without coverage that is sufficient to fully cover the losses suffered. In New York, having such a policy is advisable to guard against the possibility that the liable party does not have a valid insurance policy, or enough insurance to cover one's damages.

Wrongful death

Wrongful death is a type of lawsuit that may be filed when the negligence, carelessness or intentional act of a person or entity is responsible for the death of another. In this lawsuit, the personal representative of the deceased's estate seeks financial losses caused by the death (i.e. loss of future income, funeral expenses etc.) on behalf of the deceased's spouse, children and other dependents.

If you have been injured or have lost a loved one because of someone's negligence, whether it is a car accident, slip-and-fall or workplace accident, it is important to seek the advice of the experienced personal injury attorneys at Newman, Anzalone & Newman, LLP. Our attorneys can advise you on your right of recovery and work to ensure that the responsible party is held accountable for their carelessness.