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Guide to Personal Injury Lawsuit Terminology

Do you need to file a lawsuit? You may not know the first thing about civil court procedure and lawsuit terminology.

You don’t have to spend hours memorizing legal terminology. However, you should be aware of some legal terms such as plaintiffs, defendants, negligence, burden of proof, and damages. 

This article will outline some legal terms that should be on your radar. Let’s explore.

Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations refers to the timeline in which you file the lawsuit. State law varies, but you generally have two to four years to file a personal injury claim.

In some states, you may only have a year. In others, you could have six years. File as soon as possible to avoid losing evidence and witnesses.

The Basics of Lawsuit Terminology

Before your case goes to trial, you’ll go through the following steps:

  1. Complaint: You’ll file a complaint with the local court of your state. The complaint will outline your petition for compensation.
  2. Prayer of Relief: This portion of your complaint notes how much money you’re seeking. Speak to an attorney to help you determine the appropriate amount.
  3. Answer: The person you’re suing will answer the complaint when a server or sheriff serves them. The offender will note their side of the story.

Court Roles

You must also know your role during the procedure. Various court roles include:

  • Plaintiff: The plaintiff is the person who brought the lawsuit. You must prove your case against the negligent party. A Columbia injury lawyer can present your case for you.
  • Defendant: The defendant is the person you’re suing. If you’re the defendant, you must present counter-claims to win. You can also hire a defense attorney.
  • Jury: You will present your personal injury case to a jury. From there, they will render a verdict based on the evidence.
  • Judge: The judge presides over the proceeding. They will accept the jury’s decision and enforce the verdict.

When it comes to personal injury lawsuits, your case will be heard in a trial-by-jury setting. This means the jury weighs the evidence presented.

Conversely, a bench trial occurs when a judge hears the evidence and imposes a verdict. However, a trial-by-judge system is mostly relegated to probate matters or juvenile cases. 


Negligence occurs when a party fails to act in a manner that safeguards the wellbeing of others. Negligence can also arise if you carelessly damaged another person’s property

Under the law, all people must abide by the duty to care laws. Duty to care means you must be mindful of your conduct to protect others from harm.

If you texted while on the road and caused an accident, for example, your failure to follow road rules violated the duty to care requirements. To win a case, be mindful of the key pillars of negligence:

  1. Duty: The defendant has a duty to preserve the safety of the plaintiff
  2. Breach: The offender breached a duty to care
  3. Cause: The breach hurt the plaintiff
  4. Harm: The plaintiff must contend with harm

To sue for negligence successfully, all four terms must apply. If you played a role in your injury, your negligence also constitutes contributory negligence.

A court may determine that you’re partially to blame for your plight. In some states, you may receive nothing if the court deems that you’re over 51% to blame for the incident. You can still receive money if you’re less than 50% responsible, but you may lose money. 

  • Example: If the court awards you $50,000 and you were 20% to blame, you’ll receive $30,000 instead. 

Burden of Proof

As the plaintiff, the burden falls on you to prove your case. If you’re the victim of negligence, you must gather physical evidence and/or witnesses to support your claim.

You may also hear the term, ‘preponderance of the evidence.’ It means that you proved your case at a percentage of 50% or more. This standard is common in civil trials, especially personal injury cases.


Damages refer to monetary compensation you receive for the injury. The defendant will pay a sum determined by a jury. The court can award you the following types of damages: 

  • Special Damages: Special damages include lost wages, medical costs, property damage, and any other out-of-pocket cost. Lost wages must stem directly from the injury, and out-of-pocket expenses can include rental car fees or medical devices.
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damage is extra money that compensates you for the defendant’s reckless actions. You’ll receive this damage in conjunction with other damage awards.
  • General Damages: This type of damage pertains to non-economic matters, such as pain and suffering. Pain and suffering will cover long-term pain, including the mental and emotional turmoil associated with the injury. The suffering may also lead to anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

Regardless, you can win damages if you save all medical bills. Additionally, take photos and videos of damaged property and your injuries.

  • Note: Some states may cap damage awards. A cap will limit how much you can receive. You may encounter caps in a medical malpractice case.

In particular, documenting your ongoing struggles may yield higher general damage awards. 

Why Should I Know Lawsuit Terminology?

If you don’t know lawsuit terminology, you stand the risk of getting lost in the process. Knowing personal injury legal terms can help you keep track of the details.

With that, the average person cannot know all of the law terms. However, it’s important to know the most important terms to help you win your case. A personal injury lawyer in South Carolina can also enlighten you on unfamiliar terms.  

Do you have questions about your personal injury case in South Carolina?

Contact Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers today to get the assistance you need.