Sometimes it doesn’t take much to sound like a lawyer – just start throwing around words normal people don’t use, like “Interrogatories,” “Plaintiff,” or “Deposition.” We hear people toss these around in TV shows and movies. Maybe you’ve heard a lawyer use them (without taking the time to explain what they mean). Today’s post – the first in a series discussing, unraveling, and demystifying litigation – tries to explain some of the most common words and terms you may hear in a personal injury case.
- Complaint: The Complaint (more formally called a “Complaint at Law”) is a legal document that usually begins the case. In short, it’s an outline of the case. It says where the lawsuit is (which court system), identifies the Plaintiff(s) and Defendant(s), describes what happened, and asks the Court for a resolution (referred to as “Relief”).
- Defendant: This is the person being sued – the person who harmed the Plaintiff.
- Deponent: This is the person being questioned in a deposition. It could be a witness or a Party to the case.
- Deposition: Essentially, a deposition is when one or more lawyers in the case ask a witness or a Party – under oath – a bunch of questions about what happened, the injuries, or anything else related to the case. A court reporter or videographer is often present to record everything said at the deposition.
- Discovery: Discovery is the process by which the Parties, through their lawyers, learn – discover – information about what happened, why it happened, and who was involved. The goal is to get to the truth, but it is a means of establishing what evidence can be used if the case goes to trial. Though discovery can often last a long time, it’s a vital step in the path to resolving a case. The faster we can move through discovery, the faster we can try and resolve a case through settlement or trial.
- Interrogatories: Often involved in an early stage of discovery, Interrogatories are written questions each Party gives to another Party. Though they can be lengthy and ask for a lot of information, Interrogatories are a good way to discover basic facts about a case, such as names, addresses, witnesses, and medical information.
- Lien: A lien is when a person or company has a legal right to a portion of your recovery in a case. Most often, liens involve medical bills (whether owed to a doctor or hospital, or owed as a reimbursement to your health insurance). A good lawyer will handle these as part of your case, sometimes by negotiating a lower payment amount.
- Litigation: This refers to the entire process of pursuing a case or lawsuit in court – from start to finish. It includes motions, discovery, and trial.
- Mediation: Mediation is the formal process of trying to settle the case. The mediator is a neutral person, not involved in the case, who tries to bring the sides together to resolve the issues. Pre-Trial Settlement Conferences are mediations where the judge acts as the mediator.
- Motions: A Motion is the formal way of asking the Court to do something. They are usually done in writing, and often involve each Party putting its argument in writing (“briefs,” “responses,” and/or “replies”). After each side has given its written argument to the Court, the judge may have a hearing, in which the lawyers argue their case in front of the judge.
- Plaintiff: This is the person suing (filing the lawsuit) – claiming someone else hurt him or her.
- Testimony: The answers a person gives in a deposition or at trial are considered his or her testimony.
I hope this helps eliminate some of the confusion you might experience while navigating the legal system. Are there any terms or phrases I left out that you’d like me to go over?