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Glossary of Personal Injury Terms

The Legal Profession is awash with confusing words and terms. Sometimes, normal words have a different or alternate context, when used in relation to car accidents, personal injury claims, and the Courts. Here are some of the more common:


Assignment and Authorization (A&A) - a document signed by a client who has no health insurance, between the client and a healthcare provider, allowing the healthcare provider to be paid back out of the proceeds of a case. However, if the client does not recover, the provider does still have to be paid. This is not the same thing as a contingency fee.

Claimant - the person who files a claim in a personal injury matter. When a case goes to litigation, the claimant becomes to the Plaintiff, but these terms are used interchangeably.

Collateral Source - how a medical bill is paid, including actual payments, write-offs, deductions, contractual adjustments, etc. When health insurance pays a bill, this called a collateral source. This includes Medicare, Medicaid, medpay, and other coverages. Insurance companies are not entitled to this information, when you file a claim. If, for example, your emergency room bill is $3,000, then your claim is for $3,000 - not just for your $500 deductible or copay.

Contingency Fee - how personal injury lawyers get paid. This means that we do not collect money, if you do not get paid. The legal fee is the cost of the legal services rendered to you. This is distinct from case expenses, which are often advanced, and also have to be repaid (such as the cost of getting police reports, medical records, etc).

Contributory Negligence - a legal doctrine in Virginia, Maryland, and DC (and a few other states) that says if a person is even 1% responsible for his/her own injuries, that person cannot recover for those injuries. For example: someone who makes an illegal U-turn then is hit by a speeding car. There is an argument that both drivers are partially at fault, and under this doctrine, neither one has a viable claim against the other.

Damages - a very loaded term, specifically designed to encapsulate all of the ways that you have been impacted by someone's negligence: financially, physically, emotionally. Damages is an amount of money, derived from numerous elements, such as economic damages (medical bills, time lost from work, etc) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering, inconvenience, etc).

Defendant - the person, persons, or entity being sued in an action at law. This is the person that the Plaintiff alleges is responsible for Plaintiff's injuries/damages. In the hypothetical case of Smith v Jones, Smith is the Plaintiff and Jones is the Defendant. Defendant is usually used once a lawsuit has been filed. Before that, or pre-suit, that person is the tortfeasor

Denial of Coverage - when an insurance company that otherwise insures someone or something, says that for whatever reason, they are not covering (responsible for paying) claims related to a specific loss.

Deposition - a legal proceeding where a party or witness testifies under oath. This is very similar to testifying in court, but this is outside the presence of a Judge and Jury. The attorney who called for the deposition gets to ask questions first, then the other party's attorney gets to ask questions. On occasion, there will be a re-direct period where the first attorney gets to ask more questions, clarifying an earlier point.

Discovery - a legal process during litigation where each side gets to examine the claims, defenses, and contentions of the other, and also to explore the facts relating to the case. The most common discovery items are Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, Requests for Admissions, Depositions, and Subpoenas.

First-Party - insurance coverage available to you, the injured person, out of your own policy. Medical Expense Coverage and PIP are examples of First-Party coverage.

Lawsuit - the filing of a legal action against another person/party. This can be done with the filing of specific documents (such as Warrant in Debt, in Virginia General District Courts, or a Complaint, in Circuit Courts and DC Superior Court).

Lien - a demand for a certain amount of money, deducted from the proceeds (money recovered) in a case. Liens are often statutory, meaning that the law specifically authorizes it. For example, Medicare and Medicaid have liens in personal injury cases, and have to be paid back, as a matter of law.

Medical Expense Payments Coverage (also called Medpay) - a "no-fault" first-party benefit available to people in Virginia, to help an injured person pay for medical expenses relating to a motor-vehicle-involved loss. Read more, here.

Negligence - generally, negligence is when someone a) does something wrong, b) fails to do something that was reasonable and proper under a given set of facts and circumstances, or c) fails to exercise due care/regard when doing a thing. For example: driving under the influence is negligent - you should not have done it, but did it anyway.

Personal Injury Claim - an umbrella term for any claim or action (lawsuit) seeking to recover damages for injuries sustained, arising out of someone else' negligence. All car accidents involving injuries, as well as wrongful death cases and medical malpractice cases fall under "personal injury."

Personal Injury Protection Coverage (also called PIP) - like Medpay, this is a no-fault benefit available through your own car insurance. In Maryland, this can get gotten in addition to a claim against the at-fault party. In DC, this coverage works very differently.

Plaintiff - the person who brings (initiates) a claim or lawsuit. This is the person who was hurt. Blaszkow Legal represents Plaintiffs.

Proximate Cause - the negligent act that directly leads to someone's injury.

Recorded Statement - a series of questions asked by insurance companies, usually over the phone or video-calls, where they try to get information about a loss that has been reported. These statements are recorded (visually and via audio), and can sometimes be used by insurance companies against Plaintiffs.

Respondeat Superior - is a Latin phrase meaning "let the master answer." It is a legal doctrine that holds employers responsible for the action of employees. Note: employees are not the same thing as contractors, independent or otherwise.

Settlement Demand Package - a packet of information sent by our Attorneys to the at-fault insurance company, outlining all of our client's damages, and asking for a total amount of compensation. Demands include itemized bills, medical records, hospital visits, imaging reports, pictures, lost wage statements, and more (depending on the case).

Settlement Release - legal document drafted by an insurance company, requiring the Plaintiff's signature before they will send money. The document "releases" any other claim against the Defendant, so it is very final. If you have signed a settlement release, then under most circumstances, the case is over, and no further claim can be asserted. Always talk to an attorney before signing any release.

Third Party - this is the person who causes your injury, in the realm of personal injury law. This can be a person, corporation, entity, etc. First Party claims are for benefits through your coverage, Third Party claims are against someone else: there is no "second party").

Third-Party Liability - a type of claim against a person or persons who cause an injury. This term is usually used in conjunction with Workers' Compensation claims, because a person can get medical bills paid with Workers Comp benefits, and still file an action against the Defendant! We outline this in an article.

Tort - a civil wrong. In a situation where someone's negligence causes injury, that negligence is the tort. This is different from a violation of the law, which is a criminal wrong. Some things can be both: criminally wrong and civilly wrong, such as assault or DUI.

Tortfeasor - the person who commits a tort, or act of negligence. In any car accident case, the at-fault or responsible driver is called a tortfeasor.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage - coverage that helps you recover damages when the negligent driver in a car accident case does not have enough coverage to make you whole.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage - coverage in a car accident case when the tortfeasor has no insurance, or otherwise cannot be sued (like a County Water Authority).

Workers Compensation Insurance - coverage available through an employer for accidents and injuries sustained by workers in the course of their employment. It is possible to have a Workers' Comp case (in which case you need to call a Workers' Comp lawyer) as well as a Third-Party personal injury case (in which case you should contact Blaszkow Legal).