Explaining Legal Jargon - The S.E. Farris Law Firm
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Explaining Legal Jargon

More than anything else, law is based on history. Many legal terms come from Latin words. I don’t speak Latin, and I don’t know anyone who does!

Some lawyers and insurance claims adjusters love to bandy big words around to sound more intelligent and create a barrier during discussion. You need an attorney who can explain the legal process to you in terms that make sense- you can’t evaluate a lawyer’s work if you don’t understand it. These are a few of the legal terms you may hear during a personal injury case.

Appeal – When a court ruling is announced, an attorney can ask a higher court to examine the case and reverse the decision. In state court, many decisions are subject to review on appeal. In federal court, the number is very small. This makes sense when you consider the work load- Missouri has 3 courts of appeal and a Supreme Court to review trial court decisions. The federal system has 12 courts of appeals and one Supreme Court for all 50 states!

Arbitration – Some disputes don’t have a right to trial by jury. For example, your credit card agreement is a contract and states that any dispute must be settled in arbitration. Arbitration uses paid decision makers to decide who wins or loses a dispute.

Bad-faith / Vexatious refusal to pay insurance proceeds – An insurance company is regulated by the state, and has an obligation to deal with claimants in good faith. If an insurer puts its self-interest above that of its policy holder and exposes the policy holder to extra liability, it is acting in bad faith. If your own insurance company fails to pay a claim to you for health insurance, property damage, etc., you have a claim for vexatious refusal to pay. A successful bad faith claim will force the insurer to pay for a judgment in excess of its policy limits, a vexatious refusal claim will entitle the claimant to recover on his or her own insurance policy, along with attorney fees and penalties.

Burden of Proof – This is the legal standard for winning at trial. In a criminal matter, the burden is “beyond a reasonable doubt” meaning that the evidence is clear and proves the defendant is guilty. In a civil case, the standard is “more likely than not,” meaning that there is enough evidence to show that the plaintiff is entitled to recover, even if there are some unknowns in the story. In the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, there was not enough evidence to convict him but he lost the civil case for the same set of circumstances.

Claim Adjuster – This is the person who evaluates your claim for the insurance company. They do the investigation and handle settlement negotiations. It is important to note, adjusters work for the insurance company; they are not there for your benefit.

Demand Letter – A letter sent to the opposing party formally requesting some action from them and usually with threat of legal action.

Deposition – A deposition is how statements are taken for use in court. They are sworn testimony and can be used in court if a witness is not available. Both parties have the right to have an attorney present and ask questions, and a court reporter records the proceedings.

Interrogatories – The first stage of a lawsuit is discovery, or the formal investigation phase. Interrogatories are written questions to be answered under oath. Judgment- A judgment is a final decision by the court, either its own decision or making a jury verdict official.

Litigation – If a settlement cannot be negotiated or an agreement can’t be reached on a dispute, a lawsuit is filed. The process afterwards is generically referred to as litigation.

Malpractice – This is when a professional, such as a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist, or an accountant, fails to meet the standard of care in their profession. Every bad result is not necessarily negligence- the standard is whether the professional did what a reasonably careful person in his or her place would have done.

Mediation – This is a non-binding method of resolving a case. The litigants agree to pay a neutral third party to help them negotiate a resolution. If an agreement is reached, the parties sign a binding agreement which is enforceable in court.

Negligence – This is when the opposed party fails to use a certain degree of care or acts in a careless manner. For a driver, it means failure to use the highest degree of care. For a property owner, it means failure to use reasonable care. Unfortunately, the real definition of negligence is not easily put into words! To win a negligence lawsuit, one must prove that the other party did something wrong and that something was not using the correct amount of care.

Settlement – This is a conclusion to your claim without a court judgment. It can occur before a lawsuit is filed or after, even after a court enters a judgment.

Statute of Limitations – A law that determines the period of time for you to take legal actions. If a lawsuit is not filed before the statute of limitations expires, it will be forever barred.

Tort – Torts fall into two categories- negligent or intentional. A negligence suit happens when someone fails to be cautious and causes damage. The term “accident” means something was not done on purpose, but usually occurs because someone was not careful. An intentional tort is a wrong caused on purpose, through an act that was intended like throwing a punch or telling a lie to hurt someone’s reputation. The outcome may not have been intended, but if the act was done on purpose it is an intentional tort.

Legal terms of art have specific meanings which may not be readily apparent. An experienced lawyer knows how the law will be interpreted where a Google search doesn’t! The S.E. Farris Law Firm understands that legal jargon can be confusing, and we strive to do everything we can to put our clients at ease. Call us at 314-252-9937 or send us a message to arrange a free consultation.

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