Accepted Claim. A claim in which the insurance company accepts that your injury or illness will be covered by workers compensation.
Administrative Agency. Governmental body responsible for administering and implementing a particular legislation, such as laws governing traffic safety or workers’ compensation. These agencies may have rulemaking power and judge-like authority to decide disputes.
Administrative Hearing. Proceeding before an administrative agency which consists of an argument, a trial, or both. Rules governing the proceeding, including rules of evidence, are generally less strict than in civil or criminal trials.
Administrator or Administratrix. Person appointed by a court to administer a deceased person’s estate. The person may be male (in which case, he would be referred to as the “administrator”) or female (in which case, she would be referred to as the “administratrix”).
Ad Litem. A Latin term meaning for the purposes of the lawsuit. For example, a guardian “ad litem” is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor or legally incompetent person in a lawsuit.
Allegation. The claim made in a pleading by a party to an action setting out what he or she expects to prove.
Amicus Curiae. (Latin: “friend of the court.”) Person or organization that files a legal brief with the court expressing its views on a case involving other parties because it has a strong interest in the subject matter of the action.
Affidavit. A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it, before a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths. For example, in civil cases, affidavits of witnesses are often used to support motions for summary judgment.
Answer. In a civil case, the defendant’s written response to the plaintiff’s complaint. It must be filed within a specified period of time, and it either admits to or (more typically) denies the factual or legal basis for liability. Normally a defendant has 30 days in which to file an answer after being served with the plaintiff’s complaint. In some courts, an answer is simply called a “response”.
Appeal. Request to a superior or higher court to review and change the result in a case decided by an inferior or lower court or administrative agency.
Appearance. 1. The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court. 2. A written notification to the plaintiff by an attorney stating that he or she is representing the defendant.
Arbitration. A mini-trial, which may be held in place of a court trial and conducted by a single person or a panel of three people who are not judges. The arbitrators generally are former judges or experienced lawyers. Generally arbitrations are less expensive and occur more quickly than jury trials. Arbitration awards may be converted into a legal judgment on petition to the court, unless some party has protested that there has been a gross injustice, collusion or fraud.
Assault. A willful attempt or threat to harm another person, coupled with the present ability to inflict injury on that person, which causes apprehension in that person. Although the term “assault” is frequently used to describe the use of illegal force, the correct legal term for use of illegal force is “battery .”
Assumption of the Risk. When a person voluntarily and knowingly proceeds in the face of an obvious and known danger, she assumes the risk. A person found to have assumed the risk cannot make out the duty element of a negligence cause of action. The theory behind the rule is that a person who chooses to take a risk cannot later complain that she was injured by the risk that she chose to take. Therefore, she will not be permitted to seek money damages from those who might have otherwise been responsible.
Attorney-in-Fact. A private person (who is not necessarily a lawyer) authorized by another to act in his or her place, either for some particular purpose, as to do a specific act, or for the transaction of business in general, not of legal character. This authority is conferred by an instrument in writing, called a letter of attorney, or more commonly a power of attorney.
Average Weekly Wage. After being calculated, the average weekly wage is the number used to determine what loss of earnings benefits a worker who is injured on the job will receive under the Workers Compensation Act in Pennsylvania. There are various methods used to determine the average weekly wage, and the calculation process is complex.
Bad Faith. Intention to mislead or deceive; conscious refusal to fulfill some duty. Implies active ill will, as opposed to negligence. Bad faith is not bad judgment; it requires conscious wrongdoing.
Battery. The unlawful use of force resulting in the injury of another. Battery always includes assault. See assault.
Best Evidence. The most direct evidence possible, such as producing an original document to prove that the document exists and what it states. A copy of a document or testimony by a witness would be “secondary evidence.” The best evidence rule prohibits the introduction of secondary evidence unless best evidence cannot be obtained, so long as the party seeking to introduce the secondary evidence is not at fault in making the best evidence incapable of being obtained.
Binding Authority. Law that controls the outcome of a case. For example, a decision on the same point of law by a higher court in the same state must be followed by a lower court in that state. See precedent.
Brief. Written document, usually prepared by an attorney, submitted to the court about a case, containing summaries of the facts of the case, relevant laws, and an argument showing how the laws support that party’s position.
Capacity Defense. Broadly, describes a defendant’s lack of some fundamental ability to be held accountable. For example, in Pennsylvania, persons under 7 years of age are presumed incapable of negligence.
Certiorari. (Latin: “To be informed of.”) Writ issued by a superior or higher court to a lower court requiring the lower court to produce a certified record of a case tried there so that the superior court can examine the lower court proceedings for errors. See record .
Civil Law. Body of law concerned with private rights and remedies, as contrasted with criminal law. Compare with criminal law.
Civil Procedure. The rules and process by which a civil case is tried and appealed, including the preparations for trial, the rules of evidence and trial conduct, and the procedure for pursuing appeals.
Claim Petition. In cases where a worker is injured on the job, the injured employee files a claim petition to seek initial compensation. This occurs when there has been a Notice of Denial – no workers’ compensation payments have been made or medical benefits have not been paid.
Class Action. A means by which one or more individuals are able to sue for themselves and as representatives of other people. A class action requires: an identifiable group of people with a well-defined interest in the facts and law of the suit; too many people in the group for it to be practical to bring them all before the court; and the individuals bringing suit are able to adequately represent the entire group.
Claims Administrator. The term for insurance companies and others that handle your workers’ compensation claim. Most claims administrators work for insurance companies or third party administrators handling claims for employers. Some claims administrators work directly for large employers that handle their own claims.
Clear and Convincing Evidence. Standard of proof commonly used in civil lawsuits and in regulatory agency cases. It governs the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff to win the case.
Collateral Source Rule. The rule ensures that compensation awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit will not be reduced if the plaintiff receives compensation for the same injury from another source, such as insurance. Under the rule, a defendant tort-feasor is unable to benefit from the fact that the plaintiff received money from another source, such as insurance, because of the defendant’s tort.
Comparative Negligence. Comparing the plaintiff’s contributory negligence to the defendant’s negligence. Pennsylvania’s Comparative Negligence statute states that when a plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence and that negligence was not greater than the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff’s damages will be diminished in proportion to his negligence in causing the accident.
Compensation. Something that makes up for a loss. In workers’ compensationcases, it refers to payment to unemployed or injured workers or their dependents.
Compensatory Damages. Damages that cover actual injury or economic loss. Compensatory damages are intended to put the injured party in the position he was in prior to the injury. Compensatory damages typically include medical expenses, lost wages and the repair or replacement of property. Also called “actual damages”.
Compromise and Release. In workers compensation cases, this occurs when a lump sum payment of money is paid by the insurance carrier to an injured worker to resolve the case. This lump sum is in lieu of the weekly compensation benefits the injured worker is receiving and may or may not include future medical benefits.
Circumstantial Evidence. Evidence not based on actual personal knowledge or observation of the fact in dispute, but, rather, evidence of other personal knowledge or observation which allows a jury to infer the existence or nonexistence of the fact in dispute. An example of direct evidence of who was at fault for a car accident would be a witness who actually saw the accident. An example of circumstantial evidence in this case, would be a witness who drove by after the impact and saw the defendant’s car in the wrong lane.
Comparative Negligence. Comparing the plaintiff’s contributory negligence to the defendant’s negligence. Pennsylvania’s Comparative Negligence statute states that when a plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence and that negligence was not greater than the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff’s damages will be diminished in proportion to his negligence in causing the accident.
Conciliation. A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who helps lower tensions, improve communications, and explore possible solutions. Conciliation is similar to mediation, but it may be less formal.
Conservatorship. Legal right given to a person to manage the property and financial affairs of a person deemed incapable of doing that for himself or herself. (See also guardianship. Conservators have somewhat less responsibility than guardians.)
Contingent Fee Agreement . An agreement between an attorney and his or her client whereby the attorney agrees to represent the client for a percentage of the amount recovered. This fee agreement is frequently used in personal injury actions.
Contributory Negligence. Broadly, carelessness on the plaintiff’s part. More precisely, conduct which falls below the standard of care established by law for the protection of one’s self against unreasonable risk of harm.
Court Costs. The expenses of prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than the attorneys’ fees. An amount of money may be awarded to the successful party (and may be recoverable from the losing party) as reimbursement for court costs.
Court Reporter. The person who stenographically records and transcribes testimony during court proceedings or related proceedings such as depositions.
Damages. Money payment recovered in the courts for an injury or loss caused by an unlawful act or omission or negligence of another.
Denied Claim. A claim in which the insurance company does not believe that your injury or illness was work related and therefore denies your claim. Disability. A physical or mental impairment that limits everyday activities.
Deposition. Testimony of a witness taken under oath, but not in a courtroom. May be used to discover evidence prior to trial or to preserve testimony for use in court at a later time.
Dicta. Plural of “obiter dictum.” A remark made by a judge in a legal opinion that is irrelevant to the decision and does not establish a precedent.
Direct Evidence. Generally, eyewitness evidence. Compare with circumstantial evidence.
Disability. In the legal sense, lack of legal capacity to perform some act. Used in a physical sense in connection with workers’ compensation acts and is a composite of (a) actual incapacity to perform employment tasks and the wage loss resulting therefrom and (b) physical bodily impairment which may or may not be incapacitating.
Dismissal. The termination of a lawsuit. A dismissal without prejudice allows a lawsuit to be brought before the court again at a later time. In contrast, a dismissal with prejudice prevents the lawsuit from being brought before a court in the future.
Dismissal With Prejudice. Final judgment against the plaintiff which prohibits bringing an action on the same cause of action in the future. In contrast, “dismissal without prejudice” allows the plaintiff to sue again for the same cause of action.
Dram Shop. A drinking establishment where alcoholic beverages are served to be drunk on the premises.
Dram Shop Act. In Pennsylvania, this statute imposes liability on drinking establishments, like bars and restaurants, for harm resulting from the establishment’s service of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons.
Due Process of Law. The right of all persons to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process. It includes such constitutional requirements as adequate notice, assistance of counsel. and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.
Duty. In negligence cases, a “duty” is an obligation to conform to a particular standard of care. A failure to so conform places the actor at risk of being liable to another to whom a duty is owed for an injury sustained by the other of which the actor’s conduct is a legal cause. See reasonable man doctrine.
Employee. A person whose work activities are under the control of an individual or entity.
Employee Verification Form. In a workers compensation case, it’s a bi-annual report of earnings to be completed by the injured employee. The form is required to be returned to the insurance carrier within 30 days of receipt or benefits may be stopped.
Ergonomics. The study of how to improve the fit between the physical demands of the workplace and the employees who perform the work. Selecting, designing and modifying equipment, tools, and the work environment are all considered.
Error. In the legal sense, a mistaken interpretation of facts or application of the law that can prove grounds for an appeal.
Evidence. Proof of a probative matter presented at trial for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the jury or judge. Evidence comes in a variety of forms, including testimony, writings, tangible objects, and exhibits.
. Compensation greater than is necessary to pay a plaintiff for a loss. These damages are awarded because the loss was aggravated by violence, oppression, malice, fraud or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant. Such damages are intended to punish the defendant for his evil behavior or make an example of him or her.
Fact Question. Issues in a trial or hearing concerning facts and how they occurred, as opposed to questions of law. Fact questions are for the jury to decide, unless the issues are presented in a non-jury or bench trial, in which case the judge would decide fact questions. Questions of law are decided by a judge. Findings of fact are generally non-appealable, while rulings on questions of law are subject to appeal.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). A federal law that provides certain employees with serious health problems or those who need to care for a child or other family member with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that group health benefits be maintained.
First Party Benefits. In insurance law, first party benefits include medical benefits, income loss benefits, accidental death benefit, funeral benefit, and extraordinary medical benefits. In Pennsylvania, the only required coverage is $5,000 in medical benefits.
Fraud. False and deceptive statement of fact intended to induce another person to rely upon and, in reliance thereof, give up a valuable thing he or she owns or a legal right he or she is entitled to.
Full Tort Option. In Pennsylvania, purchasers of motor vehicle insurance can choose “full tort,” which gives the insured the unrestricted right to seek money damages for all injuries sustained in an accident caused by another driver, including economic loss, pain and suffering and other non-monetary damages. Compare with limited tort option.
General Damages. Money damages for pain and suffering, disability, or reduction in quality of life.
Gross Negligence. Intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences to another person’s life or property. There is no clear distinction between gross negligence and willful negligence.
Harmless Error. An error committed during a trial that was not serious enough to affect the outcome of a trial and, therefore, will not strike down the decision made at trial.
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). A type of managed health care system that contracts with medical facilities, physicians, employers, and sometimes individuals to provide medical care to a group of people known as “members.” Generally, members of HMOs don’t have any significant “out-of-pocket” expenses because the medical care is most often paid for by an employer at a fixed price per patient.
Hearsay. Evidence based on what the witness has heard someone else say, rather than what the witness has personally experienced or observed. Hearsay is not admissible evidence unless it qualifies under an exclusion or exception of the rules of evidence for admission.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). A federal law passed in 1996 that sets basic requirements that health insurance plans must meet, including keeping a person’s medical information private.
Herniated Disc. A rupture of the annulus fibrosis, through which the inner disc material (nucleus pulposus) extrudes. This may put pressure on the exiting spinal nerve and/or cause an inflammatory reaction leading to radiculopathy or weakness, numbness, and/or tingling in the arms or legs.
HMO Negligence. Generally, a type of medical malpractice that can be defined as the carelessness of an HMO, acting through its physicians, in making treatment decisions for a member that results in injury to that member.
Homeowner’s Insurance. Policy that insures individuals against any, some, or all of the risks of loss to personal dwellings or the contents of personal dwellings or the personal liability pertaining to personal dwellings.
Hurt on the Job. In order to establish a right to workers compensation benefits, there must be an employment relationship during which an accident or an injury arises in the course of employment and is related thereto, and includes aggravation, reactivation, acceleration or death resulting from the injury.
Illegally Employed Minor’s Benefits. If a person under 18 is injured on the job and is working in violation of a state law relating to minors, that person is entitled to an additional 50 percent of the compensation rate as additional compensation that must be paid by the employer and not the insurance carrier.
Independent Medical Examination (IME). Medical examination performed on an injured worker by a company doctor usually for the purpose of showing that a work-related injury no longer exists or that it has decreased in severity.
Invitee. A person is an invitee on land if he enters land by invitation; his entry is connected with business being conducted on the land by the possessor of land; and the possessor of land is benefited by the entry.
Joint and Several Liability . Refers to a plaintiff’s ability to sue one or more defendants separately or all together at his or her option. Permits a group of defendants to be held both individually and collectively liable for all damagessuffered by the plaintiff. The plaintiff can recover the entire amount of damages from one defendant, even if all of the defendants are liable.
For incidents arising after August 17, 2002: Due to a new Pennsylvania law, joint and several liability has been changed so that a plaintiff may no longer be able to collect all his damages from one defendant, even if more than one defendant is found responsible. A percentage of fault will be assessed against each defendant and, unless a defendant’s negligence is 60% or greater, an at fault defendant will be responsible for only its percentage of fault.
Judge. Workers’ compensation judges are appointed and are representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. They conduct hearings in an administrative proceeding for workers’ compensation cases.
Judicial Notice. The procedure by which a judge recognizes the existence of the truth of a certain fact having bearing on the case without the production of evidence because such fact is established by common notoriety. For example, if the accident happened on Thanksgiving, the judge can take judicial notice that the accident happened on a Thursday.
Kemp Test. an orthopedic test that indicates facet syndrome, fracture or disc involvement when a patient reports low back pain radiating to the lower extremity.
Law. The combination of those rules and principles of conduct promulgated by legislative authority, derived from court decisions and established by local custom.
Legal Cause. Substantial factor in bringing about the harm. See also proximate cause.
Liability. An obligation that one is bound in law to perform; usually involves the payment of money damages.
Liberal Construction. Judicial interpretation of the law whereby the judge expands the literal meaning of the statute to meet cases that are clearly within the spirit or reason of the law. Compare with strict construction whereby the judge adheres to the literal meaning of the words.
Licensee. In civil law, a person who enters land with consent, but nothing more.
Limited Tort Option. In Pennsylvania, purchasers of motor vehicle insurance can choose “limited tort,” which restricts their right to seek money damages for an accident caused by another driver. Under limited tort, the insured can only seek money damages for economic loss, including medical bills. The insured is prohibited from seeking damages for pain and suffering, except under certain limited circumstances. Compare with full tort option.
Lump Sum. See compromise and release.
Malfeasance. Commission of a wrongful act; evil doing; wrongful conduct.
Medical MalpracticeBroadly, a claim brought against a health-care professional based on professional negligence wherein the health-care professional violates the applicable standard of care and an injury results.
Member. In relation to health care, a member is a person who belongs to a health care plan, like an HMO
Misdemeanor. Crimes less serious than felonies. In Pennsylvania, the punishments associated with misdemeanors vary according to degree. A misdemeanor of the first degree may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than five years. A misdemeanor of the second degree may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years. A misdemeanor of the third degree may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than one year.
Mitigation of Damages or Doctrine of Avoidable Consequences. Imposes a duty on victims of a tort to take reasonable steps to minimize their damages after an injury has been inflicted.
Moving Party. The party presenting the motion to the court. Compare with non-moving party.
Negligence. In its broadest sense, carelessness. More precisely, conduct which falls below the standard of care established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risks of harm. In order to prevail in a negligence action, the plaintiffmust prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the following four elements: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) that the defendant breached that duty; (3) that the defendant’s breach of his or her duty of care caused the plaintiff’s injury; (4) that the plaintiff suffered injury.
Negligence Per Se. Conduct, either by act or omission, that may be declared and treated as negligence without argument or proof of negligence, usually because the conduct violates a statute. A finding of negligence per se satisfies the plaintiff’sburden of proof that the defendant’s conduct was negligent. However, the burden remains on the plaintiff to establish that his injuries were proximately caused by the statutory violation.
Notice of Compensation Payable. Acceptance of liability for a work-related injury filed by the employer or the employer’s insurance carrier. Once a notice of compensation payable is filed, benefits would begin to be paid, and must begin to be paid, no later than 21 days after the employer receives notice of an employee’s injury.
Notice of Injury. When a worker is injured on the job, the worker is required by law to report the injury to the employer within 21 days. If the injury is not reported within 120 days from the date of the injury or having knowledge of a work-related disease, no compensation is allowed, except in cases involving progressive disease.
Notice of Workers Compensation Denial. Notice of denial of a work-related injury filed by the employer or the employer’s insurance company. After a notice of workers compensation denial is filed, an injured employee has three years from the date of injury to file a claim petition.
Panel of Physicians. Also known as “Panel of Doctors,” this is a posted list of doctors, specialists, and emergency care centers where injured workers in Pennsylvania must receive medical treatment for the first 90 days of injury if they wish to have their medical bills covered by their employer.
Partial Disability. In a workers’ compensation case, this refers to any disability that is less than total. Workers’ compensation benefits are generally measured by earning power in this situation.
Personal Jurisdiction. The power of a court over a person. Compare with subject matter jurisdiction.
Petition to Terminate, Modify or Suspend Benefits. In a workers’ compensation case, this is the petition filed by the employer/insurance carrier in an attempt to modify, suspend or terminate an injured employee’s compensation.
Possessor of Land. A person who occupies land and intends to control it. Most often, it is the owner of the property.
Precedent. Decision by a court that provides an example or authority for later cases involving a similar question of law. See binding authority.
Preponderance of the Evidence. The amount of evidence needed for a plaintiff to win in a civil action. A preponderance of the evidence is the greater weight of the evidence or the more convincing evidence in comparison to the evidence offered in opposition. A plaintiff can win by a preponderance of the evidence even if plaintiff’s evidence merely tips the scales in plaintiff’s favor.
Presumptively Capable of Negligence. Pennsylvania law places minors in three categories based on age. Minors under 7 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence. Simply put, under the law, they cannot commit torts. Minors between 7 and 14 are presumed incapable of negligence, but the presumption is rebuttable or disputable, and the presumption grows weaker as the child nears his or her 14th birthday. Minors over 14 are presumptively capable of negligence. Simply put, under the law they are presumed as being able to commit torts. The burden is on the minor to prove incapacity.
Prevailing Party. Generally, the winning party in a lawsuit.
Prima Facie. Literally means “at first sight” or “on the face of it.” “Prima facie evidence” is evidence that is good and sufficient on its face. A plaintiff makes out a “prima facie case” when he or she presents “prima facie evidence,” which means that the plaintiff is permitted to prevail on that evidence alone, unless the defendant can put forth sufficient evidence to overcome it.
Primary Care Physician (PCP). A physician that is employed by or contracts with a managed health care system like an HMO that coordinates all of the member’s medical care. A PCP is usually a family practitioner. PCP’s are also known as “gatekeepers” because they control a member’s access to medical care within a health plan.
Privileged Communication . Statement protected from forced disclosure in court because the statement was made within a “protected” relationship such as attorney/client. See attorney-client privilege.
Procedural Law. Generally, the body of law establishing the method or procedure of enforcing rights or obtaining redress for invasion of rights. Compare withsubstantive law which establishes rights.
Products Liability. Area of the law involving the liability of manufacturers and sellers of dangerous or defective goods or products.
Proximate Cause. The proximate cause of an injury is the primary or moving cause that produces the injury and without which the accident could not have happened, if the injury is one which might be reasonably anticipated or foreseen as a natural consequence of the wrongful act.
Punitive Damages. Also known as “Exemplary Damages.” Compensation greater than is necessary to pay a plaintiff for a loss. These damages are awarded because the loss was aggravated by violence, oppression, malice, fraud or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant. Such damages are intended to punish the defendant for his evil behavior or make an example of him or her.
Purchaser. In products liability law, a person who buys a product.
Reasonable Care. The degree of care that a prudent or careful person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.
Reasonable Man Doctrine. Also known as “Reasonable Man Standard.” The standard which a person must adhere to in order to avoid civil liability for negligence is the standard of the reasonable man under all of the circumstances, including the foreseeability of harm to other persons, including the plaintiff.
Recusal. A judge’s withdrawal from hearing a lawsuit because of personal interest or prejudice.
Reinstatement of Benefits. Resumption of payment of workers compensation benefits after suspension or termination of benefits due to a recurrence of the disability which results in a loss of earning power.
Reinstatement Petition. Petition filed by an injured worker following a termination or suspension of payment of workers compensation benefits due to a recurrence of the disability which results in a lack of earning power. A reinstatement petition must be filed within three years of the date of the last workers compensation payment.
Report of Occupational Injury or Disease. When a worker is injured on the job and the worker provides proper notice of the injury to the employer, the employer must file a Report of Occupational Injury or Disease with the Bureau of Workers Compensation after 7 days but within 15 days after the date of the injury when the injury results in a disability that lasts more than a day, shift or turn of work. If an injury results in an employee’s death, the employer is required to file the report with the Bureau within 48 hours. See Notice of Injury.
Respondent. The party that responds to a petition.
Reversal. The setting aside of a lower court’s decision by an appellate court.
Right to Compensation. In order to be entitled to workers compensation benefits, an injured worker must establish a right to compensation. In order to establish that right, the injured worker must show an employment relationship during which an injury arose in the course of employment and is related to that employment.
Sale. A contract between two parties, a seller (sometimes called a vendor) and a buyer (sometimes called a vendee), where the seller gives the buyer title and possession of property in exchange for a price.
Set-off. In an automobile insurance context, when the amount recoverable under one policy or a part of that policy up to a certain limit is restricted to the difference between what has already been recovered under a different policy or part of the policy and the limit.
Settlement. An agreement between two parties in a case to either forego litigation or stop current litigation in exchange for a price. In the personal injury context, a settlement would usually involve payment from the defendant to the plaintiff, after which the case would not be tried in court.
Severance of Actions. Judicial proceeding separating the claims of multiple parties and permitting separate actions on each one or some combination of them.
Show Cause Order. Judicial direction to appear in court and present reasons why the court should not take a proposed action.
Social Guest. For the purposes of determining a landowner’s duty of care, somebody who goes onto somebody else’s property for the purpose of companionship and hospitality, not as a part of doing business. This person is treated as a licensee.
Social Host Liability. The liability of a person (the “social host”) who furnishes free alcoholic beverages to another (the “guest”), when the guest subsequently sustains injuries or causes injury to a third person because of his intoxication.
Special Appearance. The representation by an attorney at court that he or she appears specially for the defendant for that appearance only. A special appearance will not obligate the attorney past that one appearance.
Specific Loss. In a workers’ compensation case, this is the compensation payable for loss (amputation) or permanent loss of use of members of the body, complete loss of hearing in one or both ears, loss of vision in one or both eyes, and disfigurement.
Stack or Stacking. In Pennsylvania automobile insurance law, purchasers of insurance have the option to “stack” uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. If you choose “stacking,” this means that you can add the coverage together for each vehicle you have insured, at least under the policy. (An issue presently exists as to whether you can “stack” coverages under separate policies of insurance.) For example, if you have two vehicles, with $100,000/$300,000 (meaning $100,000 available per person, and $300,000 available per accident) in uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you can “stack” the coverages and have available $200,000/$600,000 in coverage.
Standard of Care. In the law of negligence, the degree of care which a reasonable, prudent or careful person should exercise under the same or similar circumstances. If the standard falls below that established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm, the person may be liable for damages resulting from such conduct.
Standard of Proof. Also known as “Burden of Proof.” Degree of proof required in a specific kind of case to prevail. In the majority of civil cases, it is proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
Stare Decisis. Policy of the courts to not overturn precedents; adherence to precedents.
Stipulation. An agreement between the parties (and usually their lawyers) made in court and presented to the judge, who will make an order based on the matters agreed to. For example, if the parties stipulate to a certain amount of spousal support, the court will make an order consistent with that stipulation.
Strict Construction. Judicial interpretation of the law whereby the judge adheres to the literal meaning of the words. Compare with liberal construction which expands the literal meaning of the statute to meet cases that are clearly within the spirit or reason of the law.
Strict Liability. Doctrine that holds defendants liable for harm caused by their actions regardless of their intentions or lack of negligence. Often applied to manufacturers or sellers of defective products in products liability cases.
Stroke. Damage to a part of the brain when its blood supply is suddenly reduced or stopped. This stoppage in blood flow can occur as the result of a blood vessel becoming blocked or bursting inside the brain. The part of the brain deprived of blood dies and can no longer function.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction. The court’s power to deal with the general subject matter involved in a case. For example, a bankruptcy court judge has no subject matter jurisdiction to hear a divorce case.
Subrogation. Substitution of one person for another, giving the substitute the same legal rights as the original party. For example, an insurance company may have a right of subrogation to sue anyone whom the person it compensated had a right to sue.
Substantive Law. The body of law that creates, defines and regulates right. Compare with procedural law which prescribes the manner to enforce rights or obtaining redress for invasion of rights.
Summary Judgment. A final decision by a judge that resolves a lawsuit in favor of one of the parties. A motion for summary judgment is made after discovery is completed but before the case goes to trial.
Summons. Formal document beginning a civil action or special proceeding which is a means to gain jurisdiction over a party. Also, a document directed to a sheriff or other authorized person ordering him to serve the person named on the summons who must appear at a certain place and time to respond to the action.
Supplier of Goods. In products liability law, all parties in the chain of supply of a product for profit, including manufacturers, sellers, and dealers.
Supplemental Agreement. In a workers’ compensation case, this is the form signed by the injured employee when there has been a change in disability status.
Survival Action. A survival action is brought by the administrator of a deceased person’s estate in order to recover loss to the estate resulting from a tort. A survival action continues in the decedent’s personal representative a right of action which accrued to the decedent at common law because of a tort. A survival action, unlike a wrongful death action, is not a new cause of action. Where death is caused by negligence, both a survival action and a wrongful death action may be brought.
Technical Errors. Errors committed during a trial that have not prejudiced the losing party’s rights and therefore are not grounds for reversal on appeal.
Testimony. Evidence delivered by a witness at trial either orally at trial or in the written form of an affidavit or deposition.
Third Party Lawsuit. In workers’ compensation law, when an injury is caused by the act or failure to act of a party other than the employer, that party is the “third party,” and the injured worker may file a lawsuit against that party. An example of a third party lawsuit in workplace injury would be a products liability suit against the manufacturer of a defective tool.
Tipstaff. Court-appointed officer whose duty it is to serve the judge in a variety of ways while court is in session. See bailiff.
Tort-Feasor. One who commits a tort.
Tortious. Having the quality of a tort; the wrongdoer.
Total Disability. A work-related injury that results in a complete loss of earning power. In a workers’ compensation case, this may also be the phrase used to describe the compensation paid when an injured employee is totally impaired due to a work-related injury. Benefits at the total disability rate are generally two-thirds of wages up to a maximum compensation rate.
Transcript. Official written copy of proceedings in a case, including hearings, depositions, and trial. Usually made by a court reporter.
Traumatic Brain Injury. An insult to the brain caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness that results in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning and/or a disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.
Trespasser. In civil law, a person who enters land without invitation, permission or privilege.
Trial. The judicial examination and determination of issues between the parties to an action.
Unavoidable Accident. An accident which was inevitable despite all involved exercising necessary care.
Unconscionability. A doctrine where courts can deny enforcement of a contract because of unfairness or abuses to a party to the contract arising out of the making of the contract or the terms of the contract.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage. In Pennsylvania, optional insurance that provides protection to purchaser of said coverage and relatives living in his household who suffer injury caused by the negligence of another driver who does not have enough insurance to pay for all losses and damages. Underinsured motorist coverage can be stacked.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage. In Pennsylvania, optional insurance that provides protection to purchaser of said coverage and relatives living in his household who suffer injury caused by the negligence of another driver who does not have insurance to pay for losses and damages. Uninsured motorist coverage can be stacked.
User. In products liability law, a person who uses goods.
Vacate. To set aside or void an order or decision of a court.
Venue. Broadly, the geographical area where a court has authority to hear a case because it has personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. The venue is usually the same area where the incident leading to the trial occurred. A change of venue may occur if negative publicity or other factor would make it difficult to find unbiased jurors.
Verdict. The jury’s decision in a case. A general verdict is the jury’s finding either for the plaintiff or the defendant. A special verdict is a statement by the jury of facts it has found in response to questions submitted by the judge.
Waiver. Knowing and voluntary relinquishment of a right. Compare with release.
Willful Negligence. Intentional performance of an unreasonable act in disregard of a known risk, making it highly probable that harm will be caused. Willful negligence usually involves a conscious indifference to the consequences. There is no clear distinction between willful negligence and gross negligence.
Writ. Broadly, a court order requiring the performance of some act or giving authority to have the act done.
Wrongful Death Action. An action brought to recover damages for the death of a person caused by a wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another; provided that no recovery for the same damages claimed in the wrongful death action was obtained by the deceased during his lifetime. In Pennsylvania, the action may be brought by the decedent’s spouse, children, or parents. If the decedent has no spouse, children or parents, the action may be brought by a personal representative in order to recover damages for hospital, nursing, medical, funeral and estate administration costs.
Wrongful Death Statute. Statutory law that provides the means for the representative of a decedent to bring suit alleging that the decedent’s death was caused by someone’s willful or negligent act and to seek compensation for monetary loss suffered because of the decedent’s death.