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Most common personal injury terms

Anderson Franco Law

During a free consultation, our California personal injury attorneys often define technical legal jargon for clients. While you can leave the intricacies of the law to us, it’s helpful to understand some of the most common personal injury words and phrases. The following definitions are brief explanations of commonly used phrases and words in personal injury cases in California. For more information about these terms and others, speak with a local personal injury lawyer.


Abstract of Title: A summary of all official records and recorded documents that affect the title of a real property portion.

Ad Litem: A Latin term meaning “for the lawsuit’s purposes.” A court may appoint a guardian “ad litem” to represent someone who is incapable of representing himself or herself. Examples include a child or a legally incompetent adult.

Adjudicate: To settle a legal case.

Assumption of Risk: A person’s voluntary acceptance of a risk despite the obvious and known danger. In such cases, the individual assumes the risk and may not recover monetary damages from those they believe are liable.


Bodily Injury: Physical harm or damage to a person’s body that may result in pain, disability, or death.

Breach of Duty: Failure to act with reasonable care or skill, resulting in harm or injury to another person.

Burden of Proof: The responsibility of proving the truth of one’s claims or allegations in a legal case.


Civil Rights: A set of rights possessed by all citizens under the protection of the U.S. Constitution. Civil law covers individuals whose rights have been violated to file a lawsuit against another person, private companies, and government agencies to recover damages and modify practices that infringe on civil rights.

Claim (personal injury): A civil action regarding the physical or mental harm that the plaintiff or injured victim has suffered due to negligence on the defendant’s part.

Class-action Lawsuit: A lawsuit filed by one or more plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and others. Class-action lawsuits are usually filed to hold a company accountable for product liability, such as defective pharmaceutical drugs or toxic materials.

Comparative Negligence: Comparing the plaintiff’s contribution to the accident to the defendant’s negligence. Under California’s comparative fault system, a plaintiff may only recover compensation if their negligence is less than the defendant’s. In such cases, the plaintiff’s total damages are reduced by the proportion they are determined to be at fault.

Compensation: Something that makes up for a loss. In workers’ compensation cases, it refers to payment to an injured worker or their dependents.


Damages: Payment, usually monetary, recovered in a civil court case for an injury or loss caused by another person’s negligence. Damages may be either compensatory or punitive.

Defendant: The party against whom the civil lawsuit has been filed (by the plaintiff).

Duty: In cases of negligence, a “duty” refers to the obligation to provide a certain standard of care. Failure to meet this obligation is negligence, and it may lead to legal action on the injured party’s behalf.


Expert Witness: A person who is allowed to testify at a trial because of special knowledge or proficiency in a particular field that is relevant to the case.


Fraud: A blatant false or deceptive statement of fact intended to persuade another person to give up something valuable or a legal right they are entitled to.


Gross Negligence: The intentional failure to perform a standard of duty by recklessly disregarding another person’s health or property; also known as willful negligence.


Hazardous Exposure: Physical contact with poisonous substances or proximity to toxic airborne agents that are potentially harmful to health. Liability for hazardous exposure may rest on several parties, including the product manufacturer, the company responsible for installation, as well as the building’s owner that contains toxic agents, such as a landlord or employer. If you have been injured or gotten sick because of hazardous exposure, talk to a toxic injury attorney.


Lawsuit, or Suit: A court action brought by one person, the plaintiff, against another, the defendant, with the goal of seeking compensation for some injury or punishment


Of Counsel: An attorney who is employed by a law firm but not a partner or associate.


Pain and Suffering: Non-economic damages awarded to plaintiffs for physical and emotional pain, suffering, and inconvenience experienced as a result of a defendant’s negligence or intentional actions.

Personal Injury: Physical or psychological harm to a person caused by another’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing.

Plaintiff: The party that initiates a civil lawsuit by filing a complaint against the defendant.

Preponderance of Evidence: The standard of proof used in most civil cases, which requires that the plaintiff’s evidence be more convincing than the defendant’s evidence.

Product Liability: The legal responsibility of a manufacturer or seller for injuries caused by a defective or dangerous product.

Punitive Damages: Additional damages awarded to a plaintiff in order to punish a defendant for egregious conduct and deter similar conduct in the future.


Settlement: An agreement between the parties in a lawsuit to resolve the case before going to trial.

Statute of Limitations: The time limit for bringing a lawsuit after the injury or harm has occurred. In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is generally two years from the date of injury.

Strict Liability: A legal theory that holds a defendant responsible for harm caused by their actions, regardless of whether they were negligent or intended to cause harm.

Subpoena: A court order requiring a person to appear in court or produce documents for a lawsuit.

Summary Judgment: A ruling by a judge that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the plaintiff or defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


Third-Party Claim: A claim for damages brought by a plaintiff against someone other than the defendant, usually another party involved in the incident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Tort: A civil wrong or injury, other than a breach of contract, for which a court can provide a remedy in the form of damages.


Venue: The geographic location where a lawsuit can be brought.

Vicarious Liability: The legal responsibility of one person for the actions of another person, usually based on a relationship such as employer-employee or principal-agent.


Workers’ Compensation: A system of insurance that provides benefits to employees who are injured or become ill in the course of their employment.

Wrongful Death: A claim for damages brought by the surviving family members of a person who has died as a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional actions.


Zoning: Local laws that regulate the use of land and buildings in a particular area, typically by dividing the area into zones designated for specific uses, such as residential or commercial. Zoning laws can have an impact on personal injury cases, such as those involving hazardous exposure.

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