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Law Dictionary


Affidavit: A written statement sworn to be true. The individual providing the affidavit must sign the document and swear under oath before a notary public or make a declaration under penalty of perjury.

Arbitration: Arbitration is a method for disposing of legal disputes without a formal court trial. All parties to the dispute consent to having their case heard before a panel of independent arbitrators, and  agree to be bound to the panel’s rulings.

In Washington State there is a law which allows cases filed in Superior Court to be heard by an arbitrator, if the value of the case does not exceed $50,000. A single arbitrator is appointed by the court, and either party may appeal the  arbitrator's ruling. This is called "Mandatory Arbitration."

Attorney: Any individual authorized by a state or federal court to practice law.

Bar Examination: A state examination that is pre-requisite to practicing law in the state.

Beneficiary: An individual entitled to receive property or benefits in a will or trust.

Breach of Contract: The failure to perform a duty when performance is due.

Brief: A party’s written argument, or memorandum of law, in a case that typically contains a summary of the facts, pertinent laws and an argument of how the law favors the party under the particular circumstances.

Casualty: An accident, especially one involving serious injury or loss of life.

Civil Law: Law involving non-criminal cases. Personal injury claims, family law disputes and contract disputes are civil law matters.

Co-defendant: One of multiple parties defending against a claim in a lawsuit.

Common Law: A body of law developed in the doctrine of the judicial branch of government. The common law system is rooted in the medieval English court system and is still very much a part of modern American jurisprudence.

Comparative Negligence: A method of assigning negligence among multiple parties. Comparative negligence considers all parties whose negligence contributed to a tort. The negligence is then allocated among the parties at fault and damages are assigned proportionately.

Complaint: The legal document, also called a claim, which is filed with a court that formally initiates a lawsuit.

Contingent Fee: An agreement between a lawyer and a client whereby the lawyer is paid a percentage of the damages awarded if the client is awarded damages in a lawsuit.

Contributory Negligence: A method of assigning negligence that considers the behavior of the plaintiff that contributes to the resulting harm. In common law, any degree of contributory negligence bars the plaintiff from collecting damages.

Court Trial: A trial heard before a judge, as opposed to a jury trial that is heard before a judge and a jury.

Criminal Law: The body of law involving cases where the defendant faces criminal sanctions such as incarceration.

Damages: Monetary awards ordered to be paid as compensation for injury or loss.

Default Judgment: A ruling issued in the plaintiff’s favor when the defendant fails to respond to a complaint in a timely manner.

Defendant: The person alleged to have caused the injury.

Deposition: A discovery procedure in which the lawyers representing the parties in a lawsuit question the opposing parties and witnesses.

Discovery: Formal procedures that allow the parties in a lawsuit to obtain information and evidence from one another and from witnesses. Deposing witnesses, drafting interrogatories, making request for production of documents, and demanding independent medical examinations are common discovery procedures.

Drunk Driving: Referred to as diving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), operating under the influence (OUI). DWI, DUI, and OUI laws are aimed at preventing motorists from operating vehicles while they are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. A motorist is considered unlawfully “intoxicated” when they exhibit a blood alcohol concentration above a limit set in the statute.

Emotional Distress: Mental or psychological pain that may give rise to damages in a personal injury lawsuit.

Evidence: Testimony, documents, and physical proof presented at a trial aimed to convince or persuade the court of facts asserted in the case.

Expert Witness: A specialist in a subject area who is called to present their opinion to the court. The judge maintains the authority to determine that a prospective witness cannot be considered an expert.

Fiduciary: A person or institution who manages another’s money or property that is required to exercise a standard of care imposed by law. Personal representatives, attorneys, executors and trustees commonly act as fiduciaries.

File: To submit documents to the official custody of the court administrator to be entered into the appropriate case file or record.

Grievance: A complaint filed by an employee regarding working conditions. A grievance may also refer to an alleged injury or injustice giving rise to a complaint.

Gross Negligence: Fault characterized by extreme carelessness showing willful or reckless disregard for the consequences to the safety or property of another. Gross negligence may give rise to punitive damages above and beyond general damage awards.

Hearsay: Second-hand information that usually constitutes inadmissible evidence; hearsay evidence includes statements by a witness recalling events related to the witness by someone else.

Hostile Witness: A witness, also called an adverse witness, whose relationship to the opposing party is such that his or her testimony may be prejudicial to the opposing party.

Impeachment of a Witness: The presentation of evidence intended to attack a witness’ credibility.

Joint and Several Liability: Legal doctrine by which each party responsible for an injury is liable for the total damage award where the other responsible parties cannot pay.

Judgment: A court’s final ruling in a lawsuit.

Jurisdiction: The court’s authority to hear a case; the geographic area in which a court maintains authority to hear cases.

Jury Instructions: The judge’s explanation of the applicable law, also referred to as instructions or jury charge, as expressed to the jury prior to deliberations.

Lawsuit: A dispute between two people or entities that is decided in a court of law. Also called a suit.

Liable: Legally responsible.

Libel: Published material regarding a person that harms the person or their reputation. Libel is a tort.

Lien: An encumbrance or legal burden on property.

Mediation: A form of dispute resolution that does not require a formal court trial. In mediation, the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party to reach a settlement.

Medical Malpractice: A form of negligence where an injury results from a medical professional’s or medical facility’s failure to exercise adequate care, skill or diligence in performing a duty.

Mental Anguish: Emotional suffering that may be considered in awarding damages.

Motion: A formal request of a court or judge.

Motion in Limine: A party’s request that allegedly prejudicial information be disallowed in a case.

Negligence: Failure to use reasonable due care to avoid a foreseeable harm to a person, place or thing.

Non-jury Trial: Proceedings before a judge without a jury.

Notary Public: One who assumes the function of administering oaths and certifying documents.

Notice: Formal caution to a defendant in a civil case that the lawsuit has been filed: any form of notification of a legal proceeding.

Oath: In a trial, a solemn pledge made in attestation of the truth of a statement or in verification of a statement made.

Objection: The process of taking exception to a statement or procedure. The presiding judge maintains the authority to sustain or overrule, allow or disallow, a party’s objection.

Opening Statement: An attorney’s initial statement at a trial outlining their intended arguments.

Opinion: A judge’s written explanation of his or her decision or the decision of the court as determined by a majority of judges. A dissenting opinion may be written when one judge on a court disagrees with the majority opinion. A concurring opinion agrees with the decision of the court but offers further comment.

Order: A court’s or a judge’s express mandate regarding a legal matter.

Personal Injury: An injury to a person or a person’s reputation.

Personal Property: An individual’s property other than real estate.

Petitioner: The person filing an action or an appeal.

Plaintiff: The party who initiates a lawsuit.

Pleadings: The documents drafted by the parties to a lawsuit and filed with the court.

Power of Attorney: A formal instrument authorizing another to act as one’s agent.

Process Server: A person certified to deliver paperwork in a lawsuit.

Products Liability: The liability arising from the design, manufacture and marketing of a product for damages caused by the product.

Respondent: The person against whom an appeal is taken.

Service of Process: The delivering of writs, summonses and subpoenas by delivering them to the party named in the document.

Settlement: An agreement stipulated between the parties to reconcile a dispute.

Standing: The legal right to bring a lawsuit. As a general rule, only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.

Statute: A legislative enactment; it may be a single act of a legislature or a body of acts which are collected and arranged for a session of a legislature.

Statute of Limitations: A statutory requirement establishing the period of time in which a lawsuit must be filed.

Subpoena: A legal document served upon a person to compel them to produce evidence in their possession or to appear at a deposition of proceeding.

Testimony: The evidence that a witness provides under oath.

Tort Law: The body of law that allows one to be compensated in the event that someone’s carelessness, recklessness or intentional misconduct injures or damages them or their personal belongings. There are three main classes of torts: intentional torts; negligent torts; and strict liability torts.

Tortfeasor: A person who commits a "tort"- usually this would be someone who negligently injures another person. 

Transcript: A verbatim, written record of what was said. Transcripts are commonly available to document events at a deposition, trial, hearing or other proceeding.

Unjust Enrichment: Legal doctrine providing that one person should be required to make restitution for the property or benefit received when that benefit or property was unfairly obtained at the expense of another.

Uniform Commercial Code (UCC): Law governing commercial transactions, provisions of which have been adopted by an overwhelming majority of U.S. jurisdictions.

United State Attorney: A federal lawyer appointed by the President to prosecute all criminal offenses or civil actions committed against the U.S. and to defend the government in all civil actions in which it is brought as a defendant.

United States Bankruptcy Court: The judicial body that oversees matters pertaining to bankruptcy and reorganization.

United States Court of Appeals: The judicial body that hears contested decisions from federal district courts, bankruptcy courts and tax courts.

United States District Courts: The federal judicial body that tries both criminal and civil actions and admiralty cases.

United States Supreme Court: The highest court in the land, established by the U.S. Constitution.

Unsecured Debts: Amounts outstanding for which the debtor has not pledged collateral to guarantee repayment.

Witness: A person who saw the events that are the subject of a lawsuit. If the witness is not associated with the defendant or plaintiff, they are called an independent witness. Witnesses are questions by a lawyer, or by a private investigator hired by the lawyer.

Worker’s Compensation: A state program overseeing the claims of workers who suffer work-related injury or occupational disease.

Wrongful Death: A death occurring as a result of another’s negligence.

The above does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice can only come from a qualified attorney who is familiar with all the facts and circumstances of a specific case and the relevant laws.