Legal terms can be one of the most confusing parts of hiring an attorney. Although part of the reason one might hire an attorney is because he or she can negotiate on your behalf, you still want to understand what he or she is communicating on your behalf.
Understanding the key legal terms your attorney will use during your claim or lawsuit can save you time and frustration. Lawyers often use a different vocabulary than other people.
While a tort may be a delicious dessert in the everyday world, in the legal world a tort is a type of legal claim. Similarly, while you may get upset with a spouse for being “negligent” by leaving the milk out overnight, however, the law defines negligence in very specific legal terms.
Below are five key legal terms that you will likely hear during your attorney client discussions.
Tort: A Legal Term Defining Your Claim
The first key legal term in personal injury cases is tort. The Cornell University of Law defines tort as: An act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.
A “tort” is a wrongful act that allows someone who has been hurt to get compensated for that harm. Most civil personal injury lawsuits will include a claim for compensation by alleging that a tort has been committed.
A civil suit is different from a criminal case where someone may be sentenced to jail. Civil torts are typically resolved with a monetary award. The legal term “tort” technically requires proving four elements.
The first is that the person who hurt you owed to you a legal duty not to act in a certain manner. Usually, legal duties are defined by statutes. In other words, a speed limit of 65 MPH creates a duty to follow that rule to be safe.
The second part is that there was a breach of that duty, usually meaning the person broke the law regulating their legal responsibility. If someone was going 75 MPH in a 65 MPH zone, they breached a legal duty which is owed to other motorists on the roadway.
The next requirement is to prove that the breach of legal duty resulting in harm. If the person going to fast caused the accident and that hurt you, they caused a harm or injury.
The fourth is that your attorney is required to prove that the harm resulted in legal damages for which you are entitled to monetary compensation. These damages may be for out of pocket expenses or for pain, suffering or emotional distress.
Negligence: A Legal Term Defining Other People’s Wrongful Actions
The basis of tort law is whether someone has done something to hurt you when they should have been more careful. When an accident occurs, no one intended harm.
This means that you are hiring your attorney to show that someone committed a negligent act which is defined under tort law as: liability for injuries caused by someone failing to act as a reasonable and careful person would act under similar circumstances…liability for negligence cannot be defended on the basis that a person did not intend to harm another person.
In terms of your lawsuit, this means that your attorney is going to attempt to prove that the person who hurt you was not acting as a reasonable and prudent person when the harm occurred. Reasonableness under the law is defined as someone violating a legal statute/law or someone failing to act as reasonable and careful person would act under similar circumstances.
For example, if you get in a car accident, someone going two or three miles over the speed limit might not be considered negligent because a reasonable person might not be able to travel the exact number of miles per hour equating to the speed limit.
However, someone going twenty miles per hour over the speed limit is considered negligent because a reasonable person would recognize that this speed is dangerous.
Emotional Distress: A Legal Term Giving Monetary Value to Emotions
A brief definition of emotional distress is suffering in response to an experience caused by the negligence or intentional acts of another which is a basis for a claim of damages in a civil lawsuit.
Originally, damages for emotional distress were awardable only in conjunction with damages for actual physical harm. Recently some courts have recognized a right to an award of monetary damages for emotional distress without physical injury or contact.
In sexual harassment and defamation claims, emotional distress can sometimes be the only harmful result. Professional testimony by a therapist or psychiatrist may be required to validate the existence and depth of the distress and place a dollar value upon it.
The legal term emotional distress needs to be distinguished from how much an event may upset you. For example, you may get in a fender bender and become really upset because you now have to get your bumper repaired.
However, this probably does not rise to the level of having a legal claim for emotional distress. A lawsuit that includes a claim for emotional distress probably needs to establish that a person has suffered from emotional distress over a significant period of time.
Certain claims for emotional distress require that the emotional distress result in physical manifestations like headaches, loss of sleep, ulcers etc. You also need to prove that the accident or event bringing you to court was the underlying cause of these physical problems.
Having a doctor or other health care provider diagnose and treat your emotional distress may not only help you manage your symptoms, but it will also help to prove your claim for emotional distress.
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If you or a loved one have been injured by someone else’s negligence, we invite you to give Don Yearin at the Yearin Law Office a call at 480-526-9386 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.
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