Personal Injury Glossary

Being involved in a car accident can be painful enough. But following through on a lawsuit afterwards—or having one brought against you—can add stress and confusion to injury.

In the wake of so much activity, it's a good idea to not only read up on how to handle a personal injury accident, but to learn the lingo that will ensure you're fully prepared for the dual processes of healing and dealing with the court case.

NOTE: The following list focuses on personal injury terms used in cases involving car accidents specifically.

A-C Terms


Legally, this refers to an unexpected occurrence perpetrated without intent that causes an unfortunate result, such as injury.

Accident Benefits

The income and medical benefits that are accessible from your insurance company after you've been involved in a car accident. Benefits can be offered by an injured party's employee-based health insurance, car insurance, or another policy.

See also: No-Fault.

Accident Insurance

This is insurance particularly used to cover bodily injury or death caused by an accident.

Activities of Daily Living

These are descriptions of what an injured party would do on a regular basis, besides going to work, before the accident. Typically, they include hygiene upkeep and recreational activities, among other actions.

Activities of daily living can be used when building a case seeking non-economic damages, if an injured party has been prevented from doing these routines after getting hurt in the accident.

See also: Damages.


This is the defendant's response to the complaint. It's the official document that informs the court of the defendant's position regarding the accusations.

See also: Complaint.

Average Daily Wage (ADW)

The calculation of an injured party's daily earnings. This total is sometimes used by personal injury lawyers to determine the amount of wage loss damages a plaintiff may seek.

See also: Damages; Average Weekly Wage (AWW).

Average Weekly Wage (AWW)

The calculation of an injured party's weekly earnings over a certain period of time. This total is sometimes used by accident lawyers to determine the amount of wage loss damages a plaintiff may seek.

See also: Damages; Average Daily Wage (ADW).

Bodily Injury

Any physical harm to the body caused as a direct result of the car accident.

Brain Injury

Any physical harm to the brain as a result of direct trauma to the head or whiplash sustained in an auto accident. The injury will cause impaired functionality of the brain.

Burden of Proof

This phrase describes the responsibility to prove that the allegations described in the complaint are true. In almost all cases, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff.

Typically in accident-related personal injury suits, the plaintiff must show that the defendant's actions more likely than not caused their injuries.


A request to an insurance company demanding payment for medical treatment, rehabilitation services, and other costs related to the accident.


The person presenting the claim to the insurance company.

Claim Adjuster

The liaison between an insured injured party and his or her insurance company. The claim adjuster is responsible for investigating and overseeing the claim on behalf of the insurance company, as well as approving medical and rehabilitation treatment plans.

Comparative Fault

Also referred to as non-absolute contributory negligence. This is a legal defense that could find both parties partially responsible for the accident, thus limiting the amount that could be recovered in a negligence-base claim.

If you are considering bringing a lawsuit after a car accident, make sure to discuss the potential for comparative fault with your accident lawyer, as laws vary drastically from state to state.


This is the official document filed by the plaintiff(s), which comprises the heart of the lawsuit. It will enumerate the grievances and allegations being claimed and include the demands sought by the plaintiff(s). Filing a complaint represents the formal start of the lawsuit.

Contingent Fee

Also referred to as contingent agreement or contingent retainer. This is a deal struck between an injured party and his or her accident lawyer dictating that the lawyer will not collect payment until or unless the case is won.


A complaint filed by a defendant, seeking damages from the plaintiff.

See also: Complaint; Answer.

Covered Person

The individual or group of individuals eligible for benefits provided by an insurance policy.

D-I Terms


These are what a plaintiff is looking to receive from their lawsuit. In the case of accident-related personal injury claims, damages usually mean money.

There are two types of monetary damages a plaintiff could seek:

  • Economic damages—These are quantifiable numbers, such as medical bills, wage losses, or car repairs.
  • Non-economic damages—These are more abstract ideas, including pain, suffering, and humiliation.

See also: Average Daily Wage; Average Weekly Wage.


The amount of money the covered person is responsible for paying toward a claim. Once the deductible has been reached, the insurance company will cover the remainder of the costs.


The person or group being served the complaint is the defendant(s). While assumed innocent until proven guilty, the defendant is the person being accused of causing the accident or injury.


The resolution, closure, or termination of a claim.

Family Law Act Claim

A complaint filed by family members of the injured party, where damages can be awarded for the loss of companionship, guidance, and care provided by the injured party prior to the accident.

Field Adjuster

Often the employee of an insurance company—or a contracted claim adjuster hired by the insurance company—this person does a brunt of the outside-the-office work involved in an accident claim.

Among other responsibilities, field adjusters could help:

  • Conduct face-to-face meetings with claimants, scene investigators, and/or damage inspectors.
  • Hold negotiations with the above parties.
  • Further inspect the cause and outcome of an accident.

First Party Benefits

Benefits offered to an injured party through his or her auto insurance.

Future Damages

Any long-term losses or impairments an injured party expects to deal with after an accident. This figure is typically included in the total damages sought by a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit.

Some future damages may include:

  • Loss of income, including:
    • Regular wages.
    • Overtime.
    • Bonuses.
  • Future medical and rehabilitation costs.
  • Attendant care.
  • Home maintenance.

See also: Damages.

Health Care Expenses

The costs incurred by seeing a number of different health care providers, such as doctors, therapists, and specialists.

An injured party must acquire authorization to visit the health care provider from the insurer providing accident benefits before health care expenses can be approved and covered.

Income Replacement Benefits (IRBs)

This is money in lieu of income received by a person injured in a car accident who can no longer work. Typically, the money is paid by the car insurance company. Policies on IRBs vary by insurance carrier.

Independent Adjuster

A contracted employee of the insurance company responsible for the same duties as a claim adjuster.

See also: Claim Adjuster.

L-P Terms


The burden of fault assigned to an individual or group found to be responsible for injury or damage suffered by another person.

Liability Adjuster

The adjuster primarily responsible for investigating the car accident. The liability adjuster will oversee:

  • Car repairs.
  • Collision payments.
  • Property damage payments.
  • Payments in connection with bodily injury settlements.
  • Future medical expenses, including at-home assistance.

Litigation Risk

A term referring to the likelihood of winning a personal injury lawsuit. Your accident lawyer should be responsible for assessing the litigation risk of your case.


The monetary value assigned to injury or damage suffered in an auto accident. Loss can include:

  • Pain and suffering.
  • Past and future income.
  • Future medical care, including at-home assistance.


Negligence is a specific type of tort, describing situations that stem from careless actions. Many car accidents are filed under this legal category.

In order to prove negligence in a personal injury lawsuit, the court must find:

  • The defendant(s) had a duty or obligation to the plaintiff(s).
  • The defendant(s) violated that duty.
  • That violation caused harm to the plaintiff(s).
  • The negligent act led to actual damages.

See also: Torts.

Out-of-Court Settlement

An agreement reached between the plaintiff(s) and defendants(s) which does not require the approval of a judge. Typically, an out-of-court settlement will be struck between the two personal injury lawyers before a trial takes place.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Also referred to as special damages. Money spent out of the injured party's own funds on expenses related to his or her injuries. Some out-of-pocket expenses may include:

  • Travel.
  • Medications.
  • Assistive devices.

Pecuniary Damages

The term referring to the loss of past and future income.


A plaintiff is the individual or group of people initiating the personal injury lawsuit. In a personal injury case, they are usually the people who have been harmed. They are responsible for filing the complaint.


The anticipated chance of recovery from an injury, based upon the symptoms and nature of the particular case.

Q-Z Terms

Quality of Life

An inclusive term that attempts to describe the type of existence an injured party was living prior to the accident or after being involved in the car crash. A quality of life assessment could include factors such as:

  • Activities of daily living.
  • Mobility and organization.
  • Social relationships and ability to interact.
  • General life satisfaction.
  • Recreational or work-related activities.
  • Future prospects.

Reasonable Care

The level of treatment that would be considered adequate by a fair and sensible person.


The process of restoring necessary skills for self-sufficiency after an injury sustained in an auto accident.

Rehabilitation Benefits

Treatments, programs, and accessibility to health care providers offered by private or employee-based health insurance, with the intent of helping the injured party lessen or eliminate the effects of his or her injury and reenter his or her family dynamic, the labor market, and society as a whole.

Stacking of Limits

The legal permission to use a combination of multiple policy limits to cover costs incurred from the same case.

See also: Liability Limits.

Statute of Limitations

The amount of time between when the accident takes place and when you can legally file a claim is called the statute of limitations. This time period will vary from state to state and from case to case.

If you are considering bringing a lawsuit after a car accident, make sure to check on your state's statute of limitation laws and see a personal injury attorney about your specific case.

Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal idea that expands the responsibility for wrongdoing to another party, regardless of their direct involvement in the accident.

For example, if a car company produces a model with faulty brakes, and those faulty brakes lead to an accident, the car company could be deemed accountable for the accident due to strict liability.

These cases will essentially shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant, causing the defendant to prove he or she is not liable.

See also: Burden of Proof.


A tort is a wrongful act that is not a crime but does cause some type of injury or loss. Many car accidents are legally considered torts.

A tort forms the grounds of a case where the plaintiff is seeking damages from the defendant, rather than criminal punishment.

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