If you are new to the legal arena and have never commenced a civil lawsuit against another party, do not worry! Many people have little to no exposure to the civil side of the law and have many questions. If you are one of those types of people, we have answers for you! We can help guide you through the labyrinth that is the American justice system. The legal system is great, but it can be very daunting. If you have some confusion about some of the common terms associated with a personal injury lawsuit, below please find a list of common terms.
· Plaintiff & Defendant: The plaintiff is the complaining party and is challenging the defendant for personal injury. The defendant is the party being sued or the party who is potentially responsible for the harm. If you are considering a personal injury lawsuit, you would be the plaintiff.
· Complaint: A complaint is the first document filed officially commencing your lawsuit. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? The complaint lists the material facts of your case and the applicable law and why you believe you are entitled to recovery from the defendant. The complaint will be filed in the courthouse with a summons and then served upon the defendant within a reasonable amount of time.
· Hearing: A hearing is a judicial proceeding to decide evidentiary or procedural matters prior to your trial. The parties will meet in the courtroom without a jury present and discuss various matters from admissibility of evidence to jurisdictional defenses. The judge will make rulings on these matters prior to trial.
· Deposition: A deposition is an informal proceeding that does not have a judge or jury present and usually takes place in a conference room. The deposition is a sworn interrogation of witnesses and is subsequently turned into a transcript for use at a trial. There are minimal objections at depositions and the rules of evidence are not applied as stringently as in a trial.
· Burden of Proof: Burden of proof refers to which party’s responsibility it is to prove a certain fact or element of the cause of action. In a personal injury action, it will be the plaintiff’s burden to prove duty, breach, causation and damages. If the defendant has any defenses, it will be his burden to sufficiently convince the court of such defenses.
· Objection to the Evidence: The rules of evidence are extensive, complex and voluminous and govern whether any piece of evidence is admissible in a trial. If a party believes that certain evidence violates the rules of evidence, that party will object to its admissibility and the judge will make a ruling in the courtroom.
· Damages: Damages is the monetary compensation you will receive if you win your case. The damages amount is determined by the jury based on the evidence presented at trial of your injuries and financial burden.
We hope this vocabulary will get you started as you embark on your journal toward a civil lawsuit. Of course, the very first step is to contact a qualified personal injury attorney today!