From military acronyms to doctor-speak to legal-ese, different industries have their own unique jargon. When you listen to professionals going back and forth with the language of their career field, you may wonder if they are speaking in a foreign tongue.

Understanding Personal Injury Law Jargon

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If you are filing, or considering filing, a personal injury case, you can give yourself an advantage by learning some commonly used legal terms. This will open your understanding of the law and make your conversations with your accident injury attorney more meaningful.

Here are 10 common legal terms that you will likely hear and need to understand:

Personal injury law. This law relates to all injuries (physical, financial, emotional, etc.) resulting from another person’s failure to use reasonable care. This is a type of civil law—not criminal law. Automobile accidents and premises injuries (including slips and falls) are among the most common types of personal injury cases.

Tort. A tort is defined as a wrongful act and is the foundation of a personal injury lawsuit or any lawsuit filed in order to recover losses. A tort is not a crime; criminal cases don’t restore losses—they punish criminals. A tort may be unintentional (such as a car accident) or intentional (such as assault).

Complaint. A complaint is the formal expression of your grievance. You will begin a lawsuit by filing a personal injury complaint with the court.

Prayer for relief. This is a component of the complaint and declares the damages that you will be seeking.

Damages. Damages define what you hope to recover through your lawsuit. The only damages that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit are monetary. They may include compensation for doctor bills, pharmacy bills, lost wages, loss of earning potential, car repair bills or replacement costs, etc.

Plaintiff. If you are the one filing the complaint, you are the plaintiff.

Defendant. The defendant is on the receiving end of your complaint. He or she is the one you believe to be responsible for your injuries.

Answer. When a defendant receives a complaint, they will, in turn, file an answer. This is the defendant’s official response to the allegations made in the complaint.

Negligence. This is a wrongful act (tort) that results in the plaintiff being injured due to the defendant’s carelessness. In order to establish negligence, you must prove that the defendant had a duty to you, that they neglected that duty, and that the neglect caused damages.

Contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a shifting of some of the blame to the plaintiff. For example, if you walk through a construction zone that has been marked as off limits but trip on a tool that has been carelessly left out, you may be deemed partially at fault and receive only partial damages.

Doing a little homework to familiarize yourself with these words and phrases can go a long way to help you contribute more to your case and feel more confident in the process.