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Personal Injury: Legal Terms You Need to Know

plank-dennis-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaBy Dennis L. Plank, Attorney

Accidents are an unfortunate part of life, and most of them do not warrant a lawsuit. However, there are times when someone is injured because of something another person, business, or organization did or failed to do. Perhaps a defective product caused an illness or injury. Or an employer had unsafe working conditions. Or a pet owner allowed their vicious dog to run loose and bite someone.

If the carelessness of another results in injury, the injured person may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other expenses. Navigating the legal waters of a personal injury case can be complex and confusing, adding to an already stressful situation. The counsel of a personal injury attorney is important. It also helps to understand these important legal terms.

Personal Injury Term: Plaintiff

A plaintiff is a person who initiates a civil lawsuit

Personal Injury Lawyer Term: Complaint

The complaint is one of the first legal documents a personal injury lawyer will file in a lawsuit. It states the facts of the case, including the claims the plaintiff is making against the person accused of causing injury.

Prayer for Relief

Usually appearing at the end of a court filing, the prayer for relief is a request the plaintiff makes outlining the specific action they want the court to take, including the awarding of damages, such as money.


In a personal injury lawsuit, the defendant is the person accused of causing the injury.


When a personal injury attorney files a complaint on behalf of a plaintiff, the defendant will respond to those charges in a document known as an answer. The defendant normally has 30 days to file an answer.

Personal Injury Term: Statute of Limitations

The law puts restrictions on the amount of time a person has to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. That timeframe is known as the statute of limitations. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the date of injury.

Tort and Intentional Tort

A tort is a wrongful act that results in injury to another person and for which that person can seek compensation in civil court. Unlike a tort resulting from negligence, an intentional tort, as the term implies, occurs when a person, business, or other organization causes harm to another on purpose.


Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or harm to another person. To prove it, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had a responsibility to avoid causing harm, that he failed to meet that responsibility, and that the breach of responsibility caused the injury.


Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is a lawsuit filed against an individual or company for the death of a person due to negligence or wrongful behavior. The lawsuit typically seeks damages for pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses, loss of earning capacity, and more. In Pennsylvania, wrongful death lawsuits are typically brought by the parents, spouse, or children of the deceased.


To trespass is to enter someone’s property without permission. Although trespassing is illegal, and landowners, in general, have little responsibility for those who sustain injuries while trespassing on their property, there are exceptions, especially if the injured trespasser is a child. In cases where trespassing has been tolerated in the past or where the property has a dangerous feature, such as animals or machinery, that would be attractive to children, the landowner may be liable for injuries.

Breach of Duty

Most of us have a duty of care to not cause harm to another person due to our own negligence. What that appropriate duty is can vary depending on the relationship. For instance, an employer’s reasonable responsibility for the safety of its workers involves a different duty of care than a parent’s responsibility to their children. A breach of duty occurs when someone fails to fulfill their duty of care. In a personal injury case, a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach of duty resulted in an injury.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof is the requirement of the personal injury lawyer, usually for the plaintiff, to convince a judge or jury of their case beyond a certain level of doubt. If the personal injury attorney does not meet that level of proof, a judge or jury will find that the defendant is not liable.

Strict Liability

Strict liability refers to circumstances where one party must pay for the losses of another, even if they did not intend harm and they were not negligent. Strict liability most often applies to cases involving defective products.

Threshold of Proof

Having the burden of proof does not mean the same thing for every plaintiff. In some situations, the threshold of proof, or the level of evidence required to win a case, is lower than others. While criminal cases require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the threshold of proof in a civil case is not as high. In a civil lawsuit, the burden of proof is generally a preponderance of the evidence, meaning a personal injury lawyer for the plaintiff must simply present more convincing evidence than the attorney for the opposition.


Damages is a term for the financial compensation awarded in a personal injury case. Economic damages can compensate for financial losses due to medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages address the less-tangible consequences of an injury, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship in the case of a death.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering refer to both the physical and emotional stress of an injury. It can include everything from actual physical pain and temporary and permanent physical limitations to depression and emotional or mental trauma. While putting a dollar amount on things like current and future medical bills and lost wages is fairly straightforward, compensation for pain and suffering is often more subjective.


Personal Injury Term: Comparative Fault

Comparative fault takes into account that both parties in a personal injury case may share some degree of fault. Some states follow a pure rule, where each party can seek compensation, but their final award is reduced by their percentage of fault. Pennsylvania, however, follows a modified rule, meaning an injured party must be less than 51 percent at fault to seek compensation from the other party.

Contributory Fault

In a personal injury case, contributory fault occurs when an injured party behaves in a way that contributes in some part to their injury. While a few states have a pure contributory fault rule that allows no recovery of damages for plaintiffs found even 1% at fault, most states use some form of comparative fault to award damages.


No-fault is a term most commonly used in personal injury cases related to auto accidents. Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, meaning every driver must carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection insurance. Each party in a traffic accident receives compensation for medical expenses and lost wages from their own insurers, regardless of who is at fault. Depending on the type of coverage and the extent of injuries, a driver may be able to seek additional compensation, such as pain and suffering, from an at-fault driver.

Ready to Talk to a Lancaster County Personal Injury Attorney?

These are just a few of the terms someone has to consider if they’ve suffered a personal injury. The knowledge and experience of a Lancaster County personal injury attorney can help. We can determine if our clients have a strong personal injury case, help them navigate the complexities of the legal system, and ensure they receive the compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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