Act of God - n. a natural catastrophe which no one can prevent such as an earthquake, a tidal wave, a volcanic eruption, a hurricane or a tornado. Acts of God are significant for two reasons 1) for the havoc and damage they wreak, and 2) because often contracts state that "acts of God" are an excuse for delay or failure to fulfill a commitment or to complete a construction project. Many insurance policies exempt coverage for damage caused by acts of God, which is one time an insurance company gets religion. At times disputes arise as to whether a violent storm or other disaster was an act of God (and therefore exempt from a claim) or a foreseeable natural event. God knows the answer!
Adjuster - n. an employee (usually a non-lawyer) of an insurance company or an adjustment firm employed by an insurance company to negotiate an early settlement of a claim for damages against a person, a business or public body (like a city). While a fair and responsible adjuster can serve a real purpose in getting information and evaluating the case for the insurance company, some adjusters try to make a settlement before the injured person has retained an attorney ("don't worry, we'll pay your bills. You don't need an attorney. He'll only confuse things."), get a statement from the injured without counsel, or delay the payout with the promise he/she will negotiate any reasonable demand, and then making an offer of payment that is absurdly low. Some insurance companies try to make the attorney deal with the adjuster, which is cheaper than sending the case to defense attorneys. Adjusters also represent the company in approving settlements.
Administrative Hearing - n. a hearing before any governmental agency or before an administrative law judge. Such hearings can range from simple arguments to what amounts to a trial. There is no jury, but the agency or the administrative law judge will make a ruling.
Administrative Law - n. the procedures created by administrative agencies (governmental bodies of the city, county, state or federal government) involving rules, regulations, applications, licenses, permits, available information, hearings, appeals and decision-making. Federal agency procedures are governed by the Administrative Procedure Act, and many states have adopted similar procedural formats either by law or regulation. It is important to consider two vital factors in dealing with administrative agencies 1) the rules and regulations are often special for each agency and are not usually found in the statutes but in those regulations; 2) a member of the public must "exhaust his/her administrative remedies" (take every step, including appeals) with the agency and its system before he/she can challenge the administrative ruling with a lawsuit in court. There are exceptions (such as emergency or obvious futility) to exhausting one's remedies, but those are rare. Administrative law can be a technical jungle, and many lawyers make lots of money from knowing how to hack their way through it on behalf of their clients.
Administrative Law Judge - n. a professional hearing officer who works for the government to preside over hearings and appeals involving governmental agencies. They are generally experienced in the particular subject matter of the agency involved or of several agencies. Formerly called "hearing officers," they discovered that there was more prestige and higher pay in being called "judge."
Admiralty - n. concerning activities which occur at sea, including on small boats and ships in navigable bays. Admiralty law (maritime law) includes accidents and injuries at sea, maritime contracts and commerce, alleged violations of rules of the sea over shipping lanes and rights-of-way, and mutiny and other crimes on shipboard. Jurisdiction over all these matters rests in the federal courts, which do not use juries in admiralty cases. There are other special rules in processing maritime cases, which are often handled by admiralty law specialists. Lawyers appearing in admiralty cases are called "proctors."
Admissible Evidence - n. evidence which the trial judge finds is useful in helping the trier of fact (a jury if there is a jury, otherwise the judge), and which cannot be objected to on the basis that it is irrelevant, immaterial, or violates the rules against hearsay and other objections. Sometimes the evidence which a person tries to introduce has little relevant value (usually called probative value) in determining some fact, or prejudice from the jury's shock at gory details may outweigh that probative value. In criminal cases the courts tend to be more restrictive on letting the jury hear such details for fear they will result in "undue prejudice." Thus, the jury may only hear a sanitized version of the facts in prosecutions involving violence.
Admission - n. a statement made by a party to a lawsuit or a criminal defendant, usually prior to trial, that certain facts are true. An admission is not to be confused with a confession of blame or guilt, but admits only some facts. In civil cases, each party is permitted to submit a written list of alleged facts and request the other party to admit or deny whether each is true or correct. Failure to respond in writing is an admission of the alleged facts and may be used in trial.
Admission Against Interest - n. an admission of the truth of a fact by any person, but especially by the parties to a lawsuit, when a statement obviously would do that person harm, be embarrassing, or be against his/her personal or business interests. Another party can quote in court an admission against interest even though it is only hearsay.
Admission of Evidence - n. a judge's acceptance of evidence in a trial.
Admit - v. 1) to state something is true in answering a complaint filed in a lawsuit. The defendant will admit or deny each allegation in his or her answer filed with the court. If he or she agrees and states that he/she did what he/she is accused of, then the allegation need not be proved in trial. 2) in criminal law, to agree a fact is true or confess guilt. 3) to allow as evidence in a trial, as the judge says: "Exhibit D, the letter, is admitted."
Adverse Party - n. the opposite side in a lawsuit. Sometimes when there are numerous parties and cross-complaints, parties may be adverse to each other on some issues and in agreement on other matters. Two beneficiaries of a person who has died may join together to claim a will was valid, but fight each other over the assets of the dead person's estate if the court rules the will was legal.
Affiant - n. a person who signs an affidavit and swears to its truth before a notary public or some person authorized to take oaths, like a County Clerk.
Affidavit - n. 1) any written document in which the signer swears under oath before a notary public or someone authorized to take oaths (like a County Clerk), that the statements in the document are true. 2) in many states a declaration under penalty of perjury, which does not require the oath-taking before a notary, is the equivalent of an affidavit.
Affirmative Defense - n. part of an answer to a charge or complaint in which a defendant takes the offense and responds to the allegations with his/her own charges, which are called "affirmative defenses." These defenses can contain allegations, take the initiative against statements of facts contrary to those stated in the original complaint against them, and include various defenses based on legal principles. Many of these defenses fall into the "boilerplate" (stated in routine, non-specific language) category, but one or more of the defenses may help the defendant.
Age Discrimination - n. an employer's unfair treatment of a current or potential employee up to age 70, which is made illegal by the Age Discrimination Unemployment Act, first adopted in 1967. The claimant's problem is proof of age discrimination, but employers should beware. Even flight attendants in their late 30s have proved that there was age discrimination in replacing them with younger, "more attractive" women.
Agency - n. the relationship of a person (called the agent) who acts on behalf of another person, company, or government, known as the principal. "Agency" may arise when an employer (principal) and employee (agent) ask someone to make a delivery or name someone as an agent in a contract. The basic rule is that the principal becomes responsible for the acts of the agent, and the agent's acts are like those of the principal (Latin: respondeat superior). Factual questions arise such as: was the agent in the scope of employment when he/she ran down the little child, got drunk and punched someone, or sold impure wheat? There is also the problem of whether the principal acted in such a way as to make others believe someone was his agent-this is known as "apparent" or "ostensible" authority. When someone who is or is not an employee uses company business cards, finance documents, or a truck with the company logo, such use gives apparent authority as an agent.
Agent - n. a person who is authorized to act for another (the agent's principal) through employment, by contract or apparent authority. The importance is that the agent can bind the principal by contract or create liability if he/she causes injury while in the scope of the agency. Who is an agent and what is his/her authority are often difficult and crucial factual issues.
Agreed Statement - n. occasionally the two parties on opposite sides of a lawsuit or on an appeal from a trial judgment will agree upon certain facts and sign a statement to be used in court for that purpose. Agreed statements are only used when the only remaining dispute boils down to a question of law and legal argument and not of the actual facts.
Allege - v. to claim a fact is true, commonly in a complaint which is filed to commence a lawsuit, in an "affirmative defense" to a complaint, in a criminal charge of the commission of a crime or any claim.
Amended Pleading - n. a changed written pleading in a lawsuit, including complaint or answer to a complaint. Pleadings are amended for various reasons, including correcting facts, adding causes of action (legal bases for a suit), adding affirmative defenses, or responding to a court's finding that a pleading is inadequate as a matter of law. Amendments cannot be made willy-nilly, but only prior to being served, upon stipulation by the parties or order of the court.
Appeal - 1) v. to ask a higher court to reverse the decision of a trial court after final judgment or other legal ruling. After the lower court judgment is entered into the record, the losing party (appellant) must file a notice of appeal, request transcripts or other records of the trial court (or agree with the other party on an "agreed-upon statement"), file briefs with the appeals court citing legal reasons for over-turning the ruling, and show how those reasons (usually other appeal decisions called "precedents") relate to the facts in the case. No new evidence is admitted on appeal, for it is strictly a legal argument. The other party (Respondent or appellee) usually files a responsive brief countering these arguments. The appellant then can counter that response with a final brief. If desired by either party, they will then argue the case before the appeals court, which may sustain the original ruling, reverse it, send it back to the trial court, or reverse in part and confirm in part. For state cases there are Supreme Courts (called Courts of Appeal in New York and Maryland) which are the highest appeals courts, and most states have lower appeals courts as well. For Federal cases there are Federal Courts of Appeal in ten different "circuits," and above them is the Supreme Court, which selectively hears only a few appeals at the highest level. 2) n. the name for the process of appealing, as in "he has filed an appeal."
Arbitrary - adj. not supported by fair or substantial cause or reason. Most often it is used in reference to a judge's ruling.
Arbitration - n. a mini-trial, which may be for a lawsuit ready to go to trial, held in an attempt to avoid a court trial and conducted by a person or a panel of people who are not judges. The arbitration may be agreed to by the parties, may be required by a provision in a contract for settling disputes, or may be provided for under statute. To avoid clogged court calendars the parties often agree to have the matter determined by a panel such as one provided by the American Arbitration Association (which has a specific set of rules), a retired judge, some other respected lawyer, or some organization that provides these services. Usually contract-required arbitration may be converted into a legal judgment on petition to the court, unless some party has protested that there has been a gross injustice, collusion or fraud. Many states provide for mandatory arbitration of cases on a non-binding basis in the hope that these "mini-trials" (proceedings) conducted by experienced attorneys will give the parties a clearer picture of the probable result and lead to acceptance of the arbitrator's decision.
Assigned Risk - n. a person whose official driving record (accidents and tickets) is so poor that he/she cannot purchase commercial auto insurance, and must be assigned to a state operated or designated insurance program at high rates.
Assumption of Risk - n. 1) taking a chance in a potentially dangerous situation. This is a typical affirmative defense in a negligence case, in which the defendant claims that the situation (taking a ski-lift, climbing a steep cliff, riding in an old crowded car, working on the girders of a skyscraper) was so inherently or obviously hazardous that the injured plaintiff should have known there was danger and took the chance that he/she could be injured. 2) the act of contracting to take over the risk, such as buying the right to a shipment and accepting the danger that it could be damaged or prove unprofitable.
Attorney - n. 1) an agent or someone authorized to act for another. 2) a person who has been qualified by a state or federal court to provide legal services, including appearing in court. Each state has a bar examination which is a qualifying test to practice law. The examinations vary in difficulty, but cannot be taken until the applicant is a graduate of an accredited law school (with a three-year minimum course of study) or in seven states has fulfilled extensive other training. Passage of the bar examination qualifies the attorney for that state only and for the federal courts located in that state (and other federal courts upon request). Some states will accept attorneys from other states, but many will not grant this "reciprocity" and require at least a basic test for out-of-state attorneys. Attorneys from other states may practice in a limited way, but cannot appear (except on a single case with court permission) in state courts (but in federal courts). Graduation from law school does not make one an attorney. There are also patent attorneys who can practice in federal patent courts only and have both legal and engineering training. Most patent attorneys today are regular attorneys who specialize.
Attorney of Record - n. the attorney who has appeared in court and/or signed pleadings or other forms on behalf of a client. The lawyer remains the attorney of record until some other attorney or the client substitutes for him/her, he/she is allowed by the court to withdraw, or after the case is closed. Sometimes lawyers find themselves still on the record in cases (such as divorces) which they believe have long since been completed.
Attorney-Client Privilege - n. the requirement that an attorney may not reveal communications, conversations and letters between himself/ herself and his/her client, under the theory that a person should be able to speak freely and honestly with his/her attorney without fear of future revelation. In a trial, deposition, and written questions (interrogatories), the attorney is required and the client is entitled to refuse to answer any question or produce any document which was part of the attorney-client contact. The problem sometimes arises as to whether the conversation was in an attorney-client relationship. If a man tells his neighbor who happens to be an attorney that he embezzled funds, is he doing so while seeking legal advice or just chatting over the fence (which is the test)? If a document was prepared as part of the legal preparation for a client, it usually is a "work product" and is also privileged. Similar privileges exist between pastor and parishioner and doctor and patient.
Attorney's Fee - n. the payment for legal services. It can take several forms 1) hourly charge, 2) flat fee for the performance of a particular service (like $250 to write a will), 3) contingent fee (such as one-third of the gross recovery, and nothing if there is no recovery), 4) statutory fees (such as percentages of an estate for representing the estate), 5) court-approved fees (such as in bankruptcy or guardianships), 6) some mixture of hourly and contingent fee or other combination. It is wise (and often mandatory) for the attorney and the client to have a signed contract for any extensive legal work, particularly in contingent fee cases. Most attorneys keep records of time spent on cases to justify fees (and keep track of when actions were taken), even when the work is not on an hourly basis. A "retainer" is a down payment on fees, often required by the attorney in order to make sure he or she is not left holding the bag for work performed, or at least as a good faith indication that the client is serious and can afford the services. On the other hand, contingent fees require limits (often one-third) to protect the unwary client. Attorney fee disputes can be decided by arbitration, often operated by the local bar association. Attorney's fees are not awarded to the winning party in a lawsuit except where there is a provision in a contract for the fees or there is a statute which provides for an award of fees in the particular type of case.
Attorney's Work Product - n. written materials, charts, notes of conversations and investigations, and other materials directed toward preparation of a case or other legal representation. Their importance is that they cannot be required to be introduced in court or otherwise revealed to the other side. Sometimes there is a question as to whether documents were prepared by the attorney and/or the client for their use in the case preparation or are documents which are independent and legitimate evidence.
Bad Faith - 1) n. intentional dishonest act by not fulfilling legal or contractual obligations, misleading another, entering into an agreement without the intention or means to fulfill it, or violating basic standards of honesty in dealing with others. Most states recognize what is called "implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing" which is breached by acts of bad faith, for which a lawsuit may be brought (filed) for the breach (just as one might sue for breach of contract). The question of bad faith may be raised as a defense to a suit on a contract. 2) adj. when there is bad faith then a transaction is called a "bad faith" contract or "bad faith" offer.
Bar Association - n. an organization of lawyers. There are two types, one of which is official and usually called an "integrated bar," which is qualified by the particular state's highest court to establish rules for admission and conduct. There are also local bar associations by city or county which are unofficial and voluntary, but do conduct the business of attorneys, such as settling fee disputes and working with the local courts on rules. There is also the American Bar Association, a national voluntary organization of attorneys.
Beneficiary - n. a broad definition for any person or entity (like a charity) who is to receive assets or profits from an estate, a trust, an insurance policy or any instrument in which there is distribution. There is also an "incidental beneficiary" or a "third party beneficiary" who gets a benefit although not specifically named, such as someone who will make a profit if a piece of property is distributed to another.
Bias - n. the predisposition of a judge, arbitrator, prospective juror, or anyone making a judicial decision, against or in favor of one of the parties or a class of persons. This can be shown by remarks, decisions contrary to fact, reason or law, or other unfair conduct. Bias can be toward an ethnic group, homosexuals, women or men, defendants or plaintiffs, large corporations, or local parties. Getting a "hometown" decision is a form of bias which is the bane of the out-of-town lawyer. There is also the subtle bias of some male judges in favor of pretty women. Obvious bias is a ground for reversal on appeal, but it is hard to prove, since judges are usually careful to display apparent fairness in their comments. The possibility of juror bias is explored in questioning at the beginning of trial in a questioning process called voir dire.
Brief - 1) n. a written legal argument, usually in a format prescribed by the courts, stating the legal reasons for the suit based on statutes, regulations, case precedents, legal texts, and reasoning applied to facts in the particular situation. A brief is submitted to lay out the argument for various petitions and motions before the court (sometimes called "points and authorities"), to counter the arguments of opposing lawyers, and to provide the judge or judges with reasons to rule in favor of the party represented by the brief writer. Occasionally on minor or follow-up legal issues, the judge will specify that a letter or memorandum brief will be sufficient. On appeals and certain other major arguments, the brief is bound with color-coded covers stipulated in state and/or federal court rules. Ironically, although the term was originally intended to mean a brief or summary argument (shorter than an oral presentation), legal briefs are quite often notoriously long. 2) v. to summarize a precedent case or lay out in writing a legal argument. Attentive law students "brief" each case in their casebooks, which means extracting the rule of law, the reasoning (rationale), the essential facts, and the outcome. 3) v. to give a summary of important information to another person.
Burden of Proof - n. the requirement that the plaintiff (the party bringing a civil lawsuit) show by a "preponderance of evidence" or "weight of evidence" that all the facts necessary to win a judgment are presented and are probably true. In a criminal trial the burden of proof required of the prosecutor is to prove the guilt of the accused "beyond a reasonable doubt," a much more difficult task. Unless there is a complete failure to present substantial evidence of a vital fact (usually called an "element of the cause of action"), the ultimate decision as to whether the plaintiff has met his/her burden of proof rests with the jury or the judge if there is no jury. However, the burden of proof is not always on the plaintiff. In some issues it may shift to the defendant if he/she raises a factual issue in defense, such as a claim that he/she was not the registered owner of the car that hit the plaintiff, so the defendant has the burden to prove that defense. If at the close of the plaintiff's presentation he/she has not produced any evidence on a necessary fact (e.g. any evidence of damage) then the case may be dismissed without the defendant having to put on any evidence.
Business Invitee - n. a person entering commercial premises for the purpose of doing business, rather than just taking a short cut to the next street. It is important since a business is liable to a business invitee for injury caused by dangerous conditions such as bad floors or oil on the linoleum. There is a presumption that anyone entering a retail store or restaurant in which one may browse is a business invitee unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Capricious - adv., adj. unpredictable and subject to whim, often used to refer to judges and judicial decisions which do not follow the law, logic or proper trial procedure. A semi-polite way of saying a judge is inconsistent or erratic.
Caption - n. the first section of any written legal pleading (papers) to be filed, which contains the name, address, telephone number of the attorney, the person or persons the attorney represents, the court name, the title of the case, the number of the case, and the title of the documents (complaint, accusation, answer, motion, etc.). Each jurisdiction has its own rules as to the exact format of the caption.
Case - n. short for a cause of action, lawsuit, or the right to sue (as in "does he have a case against Jones?"). It is also shorthand for the reported decisions (appeals, certain decisions of federal courts and special courts such as the tax court) which can be cited as precedents. Thus, "in the case of Malarkey v. Hogwash Printing Company, the court stated the rule as…."
Case Law - n. reported decisions of appeals courts and other courts which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents. These interpretations are distinguished from "statutory law," which is the statutes and codes (laws) enacted by legislative bodies; "regulatory law," which is regulations required by agencies based on statutes; and in some states, the common law, which is the generally accepted law carried down from England. The rulings in trials and hearings which are not appealed and not reported are not case law and, therefore, not precedent or new interpretations. Law students principally study case law to understand the application of law to facts and learn the courts' subsequent interpretations of statutes.
Casualty - n. 1) an accident which could not have been foreseen or guarded against, such as a shipwreck caused by storm or fire caused by lightning. 2) the loss, as of life, from such an unavoidable accident. The courts remain inconsistent on the exact definition.
Cause - from Latin causa 1) v. to make something happen. 2) n. the reason something happens. A cause implies what is called a "causal connection" as distinguished from events which may occur but do not have any effect on later events. Example: While driving his convertible, Johnny Youngblood begins to stare at pretty Sally Golightly, who is standing on the sidewalk. While so distracted he veers into a car parked at the curb. Johnny's inattention (negligence) is the cause of the accident, and neither Sally nor her beauty is the cause. 3) n. short for cause of action.
Cause of Action - n. the basis of a lawsuit founded on legal grounds and alleged facts which, if proved, would constitute all the "elements" required by statute. Examples: to have a cause of action for breach of contract there must have been an offer of acceptance; for a tort (civil wrong) there must have been negligence or intentional wrongdoing and failure to perform; for libel there must have been an untruth published which is particularly harmful; and in all cases there must be a connection between the acts of the defendant and damages. In many lawsuits there are several causes of action stated separately, such as fraud, breach of contract, and debt, or negligence and intentional destruction of property.
Certiorari - n. (sersh-oh-rare-ee) a writ (order) of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court's decision. Certiorari is most commonly used by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is selective about which cases it will hear on appeal. To appeal to the Supreme Court one applies to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which it grants at its discretion and only when at least three members believe that the case involves a sufficiently significant federal question in the public interest. By denying such a writ the Supreme Court says it will let the lower court decision stand, particularly if it conforms to accepted precedents (previously decided cases).
Champerty - n. an agreement between the party suing in a lawsuit (plaintiff) and another person, usually an attorney, who agrees to finance and carry the lawsuit in return for a percentage of the recovery (money won and paid). In common law this was illegal on the theory that it encouraged lawsuits. Today it is legal and often part of a "contingent fee" agreement between lawyer and client. It is not the same as barratry, which is active encouragement of lawsuits.
Civil Code - n. in many states, the name for the collection of statutes and laws which deal with business and negligence lawsuits and practices.
Civil Liability - n. potential responsibility for payment of damages or other court-enforcement in a lawsuit, as distinguished from criminal liability, which means open to punishment for a crime.
Civil Penalties - n. fines or surcharges imposed by a governmental agency to enforce regulations such as late payment of taxes, failure to obtain a permit, etc.
Civil Procedure - n. the complex and often confusing body of rules and regulations set out in both state (usually Code of Civil Procedure) and federal (Federal Code of Procedure) laws which establish the format under which civil lawsuits are filed, pursued and tried. Civil procedure refers only to form and procedure, and not to the substantive law which gives people the right to sue or defend a lawsuit.
Civil Rights - n. those rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, including the right to due process, equal treatment under the law of all people regarding enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and protection. Positive civil rights include the right to vote, the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, such as equal access to public schools, recreation, transportation, public facilities, and housing, and equal and fair treatment by law enforcement and the courts.
Claim - 1) v. to make a demand for money, for property, or for enforcement of a right provided by law. 2) n. the making of a demand (asserting a claim) for money due, for property, from damages or for enforcement of a right. If such a demand is not honored, it may result in a lawsuit. In order to enforce a right against a government agency (ranging for damages from a negligent bus driver to a shortage in payroll) a claim must be filed first. If rejected or ignored by the government, it is lawsuit time.
Class Action - n. a lawsuit filed by one or more people on behalf of themselves and a larger group of people "who are similarly situated." Examples might include: all women who have suffered from defective contraceptive devices or breast implants, all those overcharged by a public utility during a particular period, or all those who were underpaid by an employer in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. If a class action is successful, a period of time is given for those who can prove they fit the class to file claims to participate in the judgment amount. Class actions are difficult and expensive to file and follow through, but the results can be helpful to people who could not afford to carry a suit alone. They can force businesses that have caused broad damage or have a "public be damned" attitude to change their practices and/or pay for damages. They often result in high fees for the winning attorneys, although often attorneys do not collect a fee at the beginning of a class action suit but might charge a contingent fee (such as one-third of the final judgment), which, occasionally, can be millions of dollars. Such fees usually require court approval.
Clerk - n. 1) an official or employee who handles the business of a court or a system of courts, maintains files of each case, and issues routine documents. Almost every county has a clerk of the courts or County Clerk who fulfills those functions, and most courtrooms have a clerk to keep records and assist the judge in the management of the court. 2) a young lawyer who assists a judge or a senior attorney in research and drafting of documents, usually for a year or two, and benefits in at least two ways: learning from the judge or attorney and enjoying association with them. Law clerks for judges, particularly on the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court, are chosen from among the top students graduating from law school. 3) a person who works in an office or a store who performs physical work such as filing, stocking shelves, or counter sales.
Closing Argument - n. the final argument by an attorney on behalf of his/her client after all evidence has been produced for both sides. The lawyer for the plaintiff or prosecution (in a criminal case) makes the first closing argument, followed by counsel for the defendant, and then the plaintiff's attorney can respond to the defense argument. Unlike the "opening statement," which is limited to what is going to be proved, the "closing argument" may include opinions on the law, comment on the opposing party's evidence, and usually requests a judgment or verdict (jury's decision) favorable to the client.
Code of Professional Responsibility - n. a set of rules governing the ethical conduct of attorneys in the practice of the law. It covers such topics as conflicts of interest, honesty with clients, confidentiality and conduct toward other attorneys and the courts. First developed and pushed by the American Bar Association, the code has been adopted by most states.
Codefendant - n. when more than one person or entity is sued in one lawsuit, each party sued is called a codefendant.
Coinsurance - n. an insurance policy in which the insurance company insures only a partial value of the property owned by the insured owner. Essentially the owner and the insurance company share the risk
Company - n. any formal business entity for profit, which may be a corporation, a partnership, association or individual proprietorship. Often people think the term "company" means the business is incorporated, but that is not true. In fact, a corporation usually must use some term in its name such as "corporation," "incorporated," "corp." or "inc." to show it is a corporation.
Comparative Negligence - n. a rule of law applied in accident cases to determine responsibility and damages based on the negligence of every party directly involved in the accident. For a simple example, Eddie Leadfoot, the driver of one automobile, is speeding and Rudy Airhead, the driver of an oncoming car, has failed to signal and starts to turn left, incorrectly judging Leadfoot's speed. A crash ensues in which Airhead is hurt. Airhead's damage recovery will be reduced by the percentage his failure to judge Leadfoot's speed contributed to or caused the accident. Most cases are not as simple, and the formulas to figure out, attribute and compare negligence often make assessment of damages problematic, difficult, and possibly totally subjective. Not all states use comparative negligence (California is a fairly recent convert), and some states still use contributory negligence which denies recovery to any party whose negligence has added to the cause of the accident in any way. Contributory negligence is often so unfair that juries tend to ignore it.
Compensation - n. 1) payment for work performed, by salary, wages, commission or otherwise. It can include giving goods rather than money. 2) the amount received to "make one whole" (or at least better) after an injury or loss, particularly that paid by an insurance company either of the party causing the damage or by one's own insurer.
n. damages recovered in payment for actual injury or economic loss, which does not include punitive damages (as added damages due to malicious or grossly negligent action).
Complainant - n. a person or entity who begins a lawsuit by filing a complaint and is usually called the plaintiff, or in some cases the petitioner.
Compromise - 1) n. an agreement between opposing parties to settle a dispute or reach a settlement in which each gives some ground, rather than continue the dispute or go to trial. Judges encourage compromise and settlement, which is often economically sensible, since it avoids mounting attorneys' fees and costs. 2) v. to reach a settlement in which each party gives up some demands.
Conflict of Interest - n. a situation in which a person has a duty to more than one person or organization, but cannot do justice to the actual or potentially adverse interests of both parties. This includes when an individual's personal interests or concerns are inconsistent with the best for a customer, or when a public official's personal interests are contrary to his/her loyalty to public business. An attorney, an accountant, a business adviser or realtor cannot represent two parties in a dispute and must avoid even the appearance of conflict. He/she may not join with a client in business without making full disclosure of his/her potential conflicts, he/she must avoid commingling funds with the client, and never, never take a position adverse to the customer.
Consent Judgment - n. a judgment issued by a judge based on an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit to settle the matter, aimed at ending the litigation with a judgment that is enforceable.
Consequential Damages - n. damages claimed and/or awarded in a lawsuit which were caused as a direct foreseeable result of wrongdoing.
Constructive Notice - n. a fiction that a person got notice even though actual notice was not personally delivered to him/her. The law may provide that a public notice put on the courthouse bulletin board is a substitute for actual notice. A prime example is allowing service by publication when a spouse has left the state to avoid service (legal delivery of a legal notice) in a divorce action. The legal advertisement of the summons in an approved newspaper is treated as constructive notice, just as if the summons and petition had been served personally.
Constructive Possession - n. when a person does not have actual possession, but has the power to control an asset, he/she has constructive possession. Having the key to a safe deposit box, for example, gives one constructive possession.
Contempt of Court - n. there are essentially two types of contempt: a) being rude, disrespectful to the judge or other attorneys or causing a disturbance in the courtroom, particularly after being warned by the judge; b) willful failure to obey an order of the court. This latter can include failure to pay child support or alimony. The court's power to punish for contempt (called "citing" one for contempt) includes fines and/or jail time (called "imposing sanctions"). Incarceration is generally just a threat and if imposed, usually brief. Since the judge has discretion to control the courtroom, contempt citations are generally not appealable unless the amount of fine or jail time is excessive. "Criminal contempt" involves contempt with the aim of obstruction of justice, such as threatening a judge or witness or disobeying an order to produce evidence.
Contingent Fee - n. a fee to a lawyer which will be due and payable only if there is a successful conclusion of the legal work, usually winning or settling a lawsuit in favor of the client (particularly in negligence cases), or collecting funds due with or without filing a lawsuit. In many states, such agreements must be in writing and signed by attorney and client. The fee is generally a percentage of the recovery (money won), but may be partly a fee for time worked and partly a percentage. Although fees are negotiable, a standard contingent fee in accident cases is one-third of the money won, unless particular difficulties exist with the case, making the attorney believe he/she has the right to ask for more. States vary but some put a cap on the amount of fee for cases handled for minors even if the parent as guardian ad litem agrees to more. Contingent fee agreements in criminal cases which depend on the outcome are unethical.
Continuance - n. a postponement of a date of a trial, hearing or other court appearance to a later fixed date by order of the court, or upon a stipulation (legal agreement) by the attorneys and approved by the court or (where local rules permit) by the clerk of the court. In general courts frown on too many continuances and will not allow them unless there is a legitimate reason. Some states demand payment of fees for continuances to discourage delays.
Continuing Objection - n. an objection to certain questions or testimony during a trial which has been "overruled" by the judge, but the attorney who made the objection announces he/she is "continuing" the objection to all other questions on the same topic or with the same legal impropriety in the opinion of the attorney. Thus a "continuing" objection does not require an objection every time the same question or same subject is introduced. Example: the attorney for the plaintiff (the person suing) begins asking questions about emotional distress, which the defendant's attorney objects to as "immaterial," but the judge allows the first questions. The defense attorney states he has a "continuing" objection to all questions about the emotional distress.
Contributory Negligence - n. a doctrine of common law that if a person was injured in part due to his/her own negligence (his/her negligence "contributed" to the accident), the injured party would not be entitled to collect any damages (money) from another party who supposedly caused the accident. Under this rule, a badly injured person who was only slightly negligent could not win in court against a very negligent defendant. If Joe Tosspot was driving drunk and speeding and Angela Comfort was going 25 m.p.h. but six inches over the center-line, most likely Angela would be precluded from any recovery (receiving any money for injuries or damages) from a car crash. The possible unfair results have led some juries to ignore the rule and, in the past few decades, most states have adopted a comparative negligence test in which the relative percentages of negligence by each person are used to determine damage recovery (how much money would be paid to the injured person).
Counsel - 1) n. a lawyer, attorney, attorney-at-law, counsellor, counsellor-at-law, solicitor, barrister, advocate or proctor (a lawyer in admiralty court), licensed to practice law. In the United States they all mean the same thing. 2) v. to give legal advice. 3) v. in some jurisdictions, to urge someone to commit a crime, which in itself is a crime.
Counter Offer - n. an offer made in response to a previous offer by the other party during negotiations for a final contract. Making a counter offer automatically rejects the prior offer, and requires an acceptance under the terms of the counter offer or there is no contract. Example: Susan Seller offers to sell her house for $150,000, to be paid in 60 days; Bruce Buyer receives the offer and gives Seller a counter offer of $140,000, payable in 45 days. The original offer is dead, despite the shorter time for payment since the price is lower. Seller then can choose to accept at $140,000, counter again at some compromise price, reject the counter offer, or let it expire.
Course of Employment - adj. actively involved in a person's employment at a particular time, most likely when an accident occurred, which is required to make a claim for work-related injury under state Worker's Compensation Acts.
Court - n. 1) the judge, as in "The court rules in favor of the plaintiff." 2) any official tribunal (court) presided over by a judge or judges in which legal issues and claims are heard and determined.
Court Calendar - n. the list of matters to be heard or set for trial or hearing by a court.
Court Costs - n. fees for expenses that the courts pass on to attorneys, who then pass them on to their clients or to the losing party. Court costs usually include: filing fees, charges for serving summons and subpenas, court reporter charges for depositions (which can be very expensive), court transcripts and copying papers and exhibits. The prevailing party in a lawsuit is usually awarded court costs. Attorneys' fees can be included as court costs only if there is a statute providing for attorneys' fee awards in a particular type of case, or if the case involved a contract which had an attorneys' fee clause (commonly found in promissory notes, mortgages and deeds of trust). If a losing party does not agree with the claimed court costs (included in a filed cost bill) he/she/it may move (ask) the judge to "tax costs" (meaning reduce or disallow the cost), resulting in a hearing at which the court determines which costs to allow and in what amount (how much).
Court of Appeals - n. any court (state or federal) which hears appeals from judgments and rulings of trial courts or lower appeals courts.
Credibility - n. whether testimony is worthy of belief, based on competence of the witness and likelihood that it is true. Unless the testimony is contrary to other known facts or is extremely unlikely based on human experience, the test of credibility is purely subjective.
Credible Witness - n. a witness whose testimony is more than likely to be true based on his/her experience, knowledge, training and appearance of honesty and forthrightness, as well as common human experience. This is subjective in that the trier of fact (judge or jury) may be influenced by the demeanor of the witness or other factors.
Cross-Complaint - n. after a complaint has been filed against a defendant for damages or other orders of the court, the defendant may file a written complaint against the party suing him/her or against a third party as long as the subject matter is related to the original complaint. The defendant's filing of a complaint is called a cross-complaint, and the defendant is then called a cross-complainant and the party he/she sues is called a cross-defendant. The defendant must still file an answer or other response to the original complaint. If the cross-complaint is against the original plaintiff (original suer) then it can be served on the plaintiff's attorney by mail, but a third party must be served in person with the cross-complaint and a new summons issued by the clerk of the court. The cross-defendants must then file answers or other responses. These are called pleadings and must be carefully drafted (usually by an attorney) to properly state the factual as well as legal basis for the claim and contain a prayer for damages or other relief.
Cross-Examination - n. the opportunity for the attorney (or an unrepresented party) to ask questions in court of a witness who has testified in a trial on behalf of the opposing party. The questions on cross-examination are limited to the subjects covered in the direct examination of the witness, but importantly, the attorney may ask leading questions, in which he/she is allowed to suggest answers or put words in the witness's mouth. (For example, "Isn't it true that you told Mrs. Jones she had done nothing wrong?" which is leading, as compared to "Did you say anything to Mrs. Jones?") A strong cross-examination (often called just "cross" by lawyers and judges) can force contradictions, expressions of doubts or even complete obliteration of a witness's prior carefully rehearsed testimony. On the other hand, repetition of a witness' s story, vehemently defended, can strengthen his/her credibility.
Damages - n. the amount of money which a plaintiff (the person suing) may be awarded in a lawsuit. There are many types of damages. Special damages are those which actually were caused by the injury and include medical and hospital bills, ambulance charges, loss of wages, property repair or replacement costs or loss of money due on a contract. The second basic area of damages are general damages, which are presumed to be a result of the other party's actions, but are subjective both in nature and determination of value of damages. These include pain and suffering, future problems and crippling effect of an injury, loss of ability to perform various acts, shortening of life span, mental anguish, loss of companionship, loss of reputation (in a libel suit, for example), humiliation from scars, loss of anticipated business and other harm. The third major form of damage is exemplary (or punitive) damages, which combines punishment and the setting of public example. Exemplary damages may be awarded when the defendant acted in a malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless way in causing the special and general damages to the plaintiff. On occasion punitive damages can be greater than the actual damages, as, for example, in a sexual harassment case or fraudulent schemes. Although often asked for, they are seldom awarded. Nominal damages are those given when the actual harm is minor and an award is warranted under the circumstances. The most famous case was when Winston Churchill was awarded a shilling (about 25 cents) against author Louis Adamic, who had written that the British Prime Minister had been drunk at a dinner at the White House. Liquidated damages are those pre-set by the parties in a contract to be awarded in case one party defaults as in breach of contract.
Dangerous - adj. unsafe, hazardous, fraught with risk. It can be negligence for which a lawsuit can be brought if damage results from creating or leaving unguarded a dangerous condition which can cause harm to others, a dangerous instrumentality (any device which can cause harm, including explosives and poisonous substances) or dangerous weapon which is inherently hazardous to anyone handling it or within the weapon's range.
Day in Court - n. popular term for everyone's opportunity to bring a lawsuit or use the court system if he/she thinks he/she has a gripe which can be resolved in court. Example: "John finally got his day in court to protest his speeding ticket."
De Facto - adj. Latin for "in fact." Often used in place of "actual" to show that the court will treat as a fact authority being exercised or an entity acting as if it had authority, even though the legal requirements have not been met.
De Novo - adj. Latin for "anew," which means starting over, as in a trial de novo. For example, a decision in a small claims case may be appealed to a local trial court, which may try the case again, de novo.
Decision - n. judgment, decree or determination of findings of fact and/or of law by a judge, arbitrator, court, governmental agency or other official tribunal (court).
Declaratory Judgment - n. a judgment of a court which determines the rights of parties without ordering anything be done or awarding damages. While this borders on the prohibited "advisory opinion," it is allowed to nip controversies in the bud. Examples: a party to a contract may seek the legal interpretation of a contract to determine the parties' rights, or a corporation may ask a court to decide whether a new tax is truly applicable to that business before it pays it
Decree - n. in general, synonymous with judgment. However, in some areas of the law, the term decree is either more common or preferred as in probates of estates, domestic relations (divorce), admiralty law and in equity (court rulings ordering or prohibiting certain acts). Thus, there may be references to a final or interlocutory decree of divorce, final decree of distribution of a dead person's estate, etc.
Default - 1) n. failure to respond to a summons and complaint served on a party in the time required by law. If a legal answer or other response is not filed, the suing party (plaintiff) can request a default be entered in the record, which terminates the rights of the defaulting party to defend the case. Under a unique New York statute a default can be taken by failure to respond to a summons served without a complaint. 2) the failure to make a payment when due, which can lead to a notice of default and the start of foreclosure proceedings if the debt is secured by a mortgage or deed of trust. 3) v. to fail to file an answer or other response to a summons and complaint, or fail to make a payment when due.
Default Judgment - n. if a defendant in a lawsuit fails to respond to a complaint in the time set by law (commonly 20 or 30 days), then the plaintiff (suer) can request that the default (failure) be entered into the court record by the clerk, which gives the plaintiff the right to get a default judgment. If the complaint was for a specific amount of money owed on a note, other money due, or a specific contract price (or if the amount due is easy to calculate) then the clerk of the court can enter a default judgment. If proof of damages or other relief is necessary, a hearing will be held in which the judge determines terms of the default judgment. In either case the defendant cannot speak for himself/herself. A defendant who fails to file an answer or other legal response when it is due can request that the default be set aside, but must show a legitimate excuse and a good defense to the lawsuit.
Defect - n. an imperfection, quite often so great that the machinery or written document cannot be used. A car that will not run or has faulty brakes has a defect, and so does a deed in which a party who signed the deed to give over property did not have title to the property described. There are also minor defects, like scratches that only lessen value but do not make an object useless.
Defendant - n. 1) the party sued in a civil lawsuit or the party charged with a crime in a criminal prosecution. In some types of cases (such as divorce) a defendant may be called a respondent.
Defense - n. 1) a general term for the effort of an attorney representing a defendant during trial and in pre-trial maneuvers to defeat the party suing or the prosecution in a criminal case. 2) a response to a complaint, called an affirmative defense, to counter, defeat or remove all or a part of the contentions of the plaintiff.
Defense Attorney - n. 1) the attorney representing the defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. 2) a lawyer who regularly represents defendants who have insurance and who is chosen by the insurance company. 3) a lawyer who regularly represents criminal defendants. Attorneys who regularly represent clients in actions for damages are often called "plaintiff's attorneys."
Deficiency Judgment - n. a judgment for an amount not covered by the value of security put up for a loan or installment payments. In most states the party owed money can only get a deficiency judgment if he/she chooses to file a suit for judicial foreclosure instead of just foreclosing on real property. However, some states allow a lawsuit for a deficiency after foreclosure on the mortgage or deed of trust. The right to a deficiency judgment is often written into a lease or installment contract on a vehicle. There is a danger that the sale of a repossessed vehicle will be at a wholesale price or to a friend at a sheriff's sale or auction, leaving the debtor holding the bag for the difference between the sale price and remainder due on the lease or contract.
Demand - 1) v. to claim as a need, requirement or entitlement, as in to demand payment or performance under a contract. In a lawsuit for payment of a debt or performance of an act, the party suing (plaintiff) should allege that he/she/it demanded payment or performance. 2) n. a claim, such as an unqualified request for payment or other action. 3) the amount requested by a plaintiff (usually in writing) during negotiations to settle a lawsuit. 4) adj. referring to a note payable at any time a request to pay is made.
Demonstrative Evidence - n. actual objects, pictures, models and other devices which are supposedly intended to clarify the facts for the judge and jury: how an accident occurred, actual damages, medical problems, or methods used in committing an alleged crime. Many of these are not supposed to be actual evidence, but "aids" to understanding. A model of a knee or a photograph of an accident scene obviously helps, but color photos of an operation in progress or a bullet-riddled body can excite the passions of a jury. The borderline balance between legitimate aids and evidence intended to inflame a juror's emotions is in the hands of the trial judge.
Demurrer - n. (dee-muhr-ur) a written response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit which, in effect, pleads for dismissal on the point that even if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit. A hearing before a judge (on the law and motion calendar) will then be held to determine the validity of the demurrer. Some causes of action may be defeated by a demurrer while others may survive. Some demurrers contend that the complaint is unclear or omits an essential element of fact. If the judge finds these errors, he/she will usually sustain the demurrer (state it is valid), but "with leave to amend" in order to allow changes to make the original complaint good. An amendment to the complaint cannot always overcome a demurrer, as in a case filed after the time allowed by law to bring a suit. If after amendment the complaint is still not legally good, a demurrer will be granted sustained. In rare occasions, a demurrer can be used to attack an answer to a complaint. Some states have substituted a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action for the demurrer.
Denial - n. a statement in the defendant's answer to a complaint in a lawsuit that an allegation (claim of fact) is not true. If a defendant denies all allegations it is called a general denial. In answering, the defendant is limited to admitting, denying or denying on the basis he/she/it has no information to affirm or deny. The defendant may also state affirmative defenses.
Deponent - n. a person testifying (stating answers in response to questions) at a deposition.
Deposition - n. the taking and recording of testimony of a witness under oath before a court reporter in a place away from the courtroom before trial. A deposition is part of permitted pre-trial discovery (investigation), set up by an attorney for one of the parties to a lawsuit demanding the sworn testimony of the opposing party (defendant or plaintiff), a witness to an event, or an expert intended to be called at trial by the opposition. If the person requested to testify (deponent) is a party to the lawsuit or someone who works for an involved party, notice of time and place of the deposition can be given to the other side's attorney, but if the witness is an independent third party, a subpena must be served on him/her if he/she is reluctant to testify. The testimony is taken down by the court reporter, who will prepare a transcript if requested and paid for, which assists in trial preparation and can be used in trial either to contradict (impeach) or refresh the memory of the witness, or be read into the record if the witness is not available.
Direct Evidence - n. real, tangible or clear evidence of a fact, happening or thing that requires no thinking or consideration to prove its existence, as compared to circumstantial evidence.
Direct Examination - n. the first questioning of a witness during a trial or deposition (testimony out of court), as distinguished from cross-examination by opposing attorneys and redirect examination when the witness is again questioned by the original attorney.
Directed Verdict - n. a verdict by a jury based on the specific direction by a trial judge that they must bring in that verdict because one of the parties has not proved his/her/its case as a matter of law (failed to present credible testimony on some key element of the claim or of the defense). A judge in a criminal case may direct a verdict of acquittal on the basis that the prosecution has not proved its case, but the judge may not direct a verdict of guilty, since that would deprive the accused of the constitutional right to a jury trial.
Disability - n. 1) a condition which prevents one from performing all usual physical or mental functions. This usually means a permanent state, like blindness, but in some cases is temporary. In recent times society and the law have dictated that people with disabilities should be accommodated and encouraged to operate to their maximum potential and have the right to participate in societal and governmental activity without impediments. Hence, access by ramps, elevators, special parking places and other special arrangements have become required in many states. 2) a legal impediment, including being a minor who can- not make a contract, or being insane or incompetent.
Discovery - n. the entire efforts of a party to a lawsuit and his/her/its attorneys to obtain information before trial through demands for production of documents, depositions of parties and potential witnesses, written interrogatories (questions and answers written under oath), written requests for admissions of fact, examination of the scene and the petitions and motions employed to enforce discovery rights. The theory of broad rights of discovery is that all parties will go to trial with as much knowledge as possible and that neither party should be able to keep secrets from the other (except for constitutional protection against self-incrimination). Often much of the fight between the two sides in a suit takes place during the discovery period.
Dismissal - n. 1) the act of voluntarily terminating a criminal prosecution or a lawsuit or one of its causes of action by one of the parties. 2) a judge's ruling that a lawsuit or criminal charge is terminated. 3) an appeals court's act of dismissing an appeal, letting the lower court decision stand. 4) the act of a plaintiff dismissing a lawsuit upon settling the case. Such a dismissal may be dismissal with prejudice, meaning it can never be filed again, or dismissal without prejudice, leaving open the possibility of bringing the suit again if the defendant does not follow through on the terms of the settlement.
Diversity of Citizenship - n. when opposing parties in a lawsuit are citizens of different states (including corporations incorporated or doing business in different states) or a citizen of a foreign country, which places the case under federal court jurisdiction, pursuant to Article III, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and the federal Judicial Code, if the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000.
Docket - 1) n. the cases on a court calendar. 2) n. brief notes, usually written by the court clerk, stating what action was taken that day in court. 3) v. to write down the name of a case to be put on calendar or make notes on action in court.
Egress - n. way of departure. A word usually used in conjunction with "access" or "ingress."
Employee - n. a person who is hired for a wage, salary, fee or payment to perform work for an employer. In agency law the employee is called an agent and the employer is called the principal. This is important to determine if one is acting as employee when injured (for worker's compensation) or when he/she causes damage to another, thereby making the employer liable for damages to the injured party.
Employer - n. a person or entity which hires the services of another called a principal in the law of agency.
Employment - n. the hiring of a person for compensation. It is important to determine if acts occurred in the "scope of employment" to establish the possible responsibility of the employer to the employee for injuries on the job or to the public for acts of the employee.
Enter a Judgment - v. to officially record a judgment on the "judgment roll," which entry is normally performed by the court clerk once the exact wording of the judgment has been prepared or approved and signed by the trial judge. All times for appeal and other post-judgment actions are based on the date of the entry of judgment and not the date when the judgment is announced.
Equitable Estoppel - n. where a court will not grant a judgment or other legal relief to a party who has not acted fairly; for example, by having made false representations or concealing material facts from the other party. This illustrates the legal maxim: "he who seeks equity, must do equity." Example: Larry Landlord rents space to Dora Dressmaker in his shopping center but falsely tells her a Sears store will be a tenant and will draw customers to the project. He does not tell her a new freeway is going to divert traffic from the center. When she fails to pay her rent due to lack of business, Landlord sues her for breach of lease. Dressmaker may claim he is equitably estopped.
Equity - n. 1) a venerable group of rights and procedures to provide fairness, unhampered by the narrow strictures of the old common law or other technical requirements of the law. In essence courts do the fair thing by court orders such as correction of property lines, taking possession of assets, imposing a lien, dividing assets, or injunctive relief (ordering a person to do something) to prevent irreparable damage. The rules of equity arose in England where the strict limitations of common law would not solve all problems, so the King set up courts of chancery (equity) to provide remedies through the royal power. Most eastern states had courts of equity or chancery separate from courts of law, and others had parallel systems of law and equity with different procedural rules. Now most states combine law and equity and treat both under "one cause of action." 2) the net value of real property, determined by subtracting the amount of unpaid debts secured by (against) the property from the appraised value of the property.
Errors and Omissions - n. short hand for malpractice insurance which gives physicians, attorneys, architects, accountants and other professionals coverage for claims by patients and clients for alleged professional errors and omissions which amount to negligence.
Esquire - n. a form of address showing that someone is an attorney, usually written Albert Pettifog, Esquire, or simply Esq. Originally in England an Esquire was a rank just above "gentleman" and below "knight." It became a title for barristers, sheriffs and judges.
Evidence - n. every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case. It can include oral testimony of witnesses, including experts on technical matters, documents, public records, objects, photographs and depositions (testimony under oath taken before trial). It also includes so-called "circumstantial evidence" which is intended to create belief by showing surrounding circumstances which logically lead to a conclusion of fact. Comments and arguments by the attorneys, statements by the judge and answers to questions which the judge has ruled objectionable are not evidence. Charts, maps and models which are used to demonstrate or explain matters are not evidence themselves, but testimony based upon such items and marks on such material may be evidence. Evidence must survive objections of opposing attorneys that it is irrelevant, immaterial or violates rules against "hearsay" (statements by a party not in court), and/or other technicalities.
(ex par-tay, but popularly, ex party) adj. Latin meaning "for one party," referring to motions, hearings or orders granted on the request of and for the benefit of one party only. This is an exception to the basic rule of court procedure that both parties must be present at any argument before a judge, and to the otherwise strict rule that an attorney may not notify a judge without previously notifying the opposition. Ex parte matters are usually temporary orders (like a restraining order or temporary custody) pending a formal hearing or an emergency request for a continuance. Most jurisdictions require at least a diligent attempt to contact the other party's lawyer of the time and place of any ex parte hearing.
Examination - n. 1) the questioning of a witness by an attorney. Direct examination is interrogation by the attorney who called the witness, and cross-examination is questioning by the opposing attorney. A principal difference is that an attorney putting questions to his own witness cannot ask "leading" questions, which put words in the mouth of the witness or suggest the answer, while on cross-examination he/she can pose a question that seems to contain an answer or suggest language for the witness to use or agree to. 2) in bankruptcy, the questions asked of a debtor by the judge, trustee in bankruptcy, attorneys or even creditors, to determine the state of the debtor's affairs. 3) in criminal law, a preliminary examination is a hearing before a judge or other magistrate to determine whether a defendant charged with a felony should be held for trial. Usually this is held by a lower court and if there is any substantial evidence to show a felony has been committed by the defendant he/she is bound over to the appropriate court for trial, but otherwise the charge will be dismissed by the judge.
Exception - n. 1) a formal objection during trial ("We take exception, or simply, "exception")" to the ruling of a judge on any matter, including rulings on objections to evidence, to show to a higher court that the lawyer did not agree with the ruling. In modern practice, it is not necessary "to take exception" to a judge's adverse ruling, since it is now assumed that the attorney against whom the ruling is made objects. This also keeps the transcribed record from being cluttered with shouts of "exception." 2) in contracts, statutes or deeds, a statement that some matter is not included.
Execute - v. 1) to finish, complete or perform as required, as in fulfilling one's obligations under a contract or a court order. 2) to sign and otherwise complete a document, such as acknowledging the signature if required to make the document valid. 3) to seize property under court order. 4) to put to death pursuant to a sentence rendered by a court.
n. often called punitive damages, these are damages requested and/or awarded in a lawsuit when the defendant's willful acts were malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless. Examples of acts warranting exemplary damages: publishing that someone had committed murders when the publisher knew it was not true but hated the person; an ex-husband trashes his former wife's auto and threatens further property damage; a stockbroker buys and sells a widow's stocks to generate commissions resulting in her losing all her capital (money). These damages are awarded both as a punishment and to set a public example. They reward the plaintiff for the horrible nature of what she/he went through or suffered. Although often requested, exemplary damages are seldom awarded. There have been major awards in egregious (remarkable or outstanding) cases, such as fraud schemes, sexual harassment or other intentional and vicious actions even when the provable actual damages were not extensive.
n. 1) a document or object (including a photograph) introduced as evidence during a trial. These are subject to objections by opposing attorneys just like any evidence. 2) a copy of a paper attached to a pleading (any legal paper filed in a lawsuit), declaration, affidavit or other document, which is referred to and incorporated into the main document
Expert Testimony - n. opinions stated during trial or deposition (testimony under oath before trial) by a specialist qualified as an expert on a subject relevant to a lawsuit or a criminal case.
Expert Witness - n. a person who is a specialist in a subject, often technical, who may present his/her expert opinion without having been a witness to any occurrence relating to the lawsuit or criminal case. It is an exception to the rule against giving an opinion in trial, provided that the expert is qualified by evidence of his/her expertise, training and special knowledge. If the expertise is challenged, the attorney for the party calling the "expert" must make a showing of the necessary background through questions in court, and the trial judge has discretion to qualify the witness or rule he/she is not an expert, or is an expert on limited subjects. Experts are usually paid handsomely for their services and may be asked by the opposition the amount they are receiving for their work on the case. In most jurisdictions, both sides must exchange the names and addresses of proposed experts to allow pre-trial depositions.
Extension - n. granting of a specific amount of extra time to make a payment, file a legal document after the date due or continue a lease after the original expiration of the term.
Eyewitness - n. a person who has actually seen an event and can so testify in court.
Fact - n. an actual thing or happening, which must be proved at trial by presentation of evidence and which is evaluated by the finder of fact (a jury in a jury trial, or by the judge if he/she sits without a jury).
Fact Finder (Finder of Fact) - n. in a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, the jury or judge (if there is no jury) who decides if facts have been proven. Occasionally a judge may appoint a "special master" to investigate and report on the existence of certain facts.
Federal Courts - n. the court system which handles civil and criminal cases based on jurisdictions enumerated in the Constitution and federal statutes. They include federal district courts which are trial courts, district courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as specialized courts such as bankruptcy, tax, claims (against the government) and veterans' appeals.
Federal Tort Claims Act - n. a statute (1948) which removed the power of the federal government to claim immunity from a lawsuit for damages due to negligent or intentional injury by a federal employee in the scope of his/her work for the government. It also established a set of regulations and format for making claims, giving jurisdiction to federal district courts.
File - 1) v. to deposit with the clerk of the court a written complaint or petition which is the opening step in a lawsuit and subsequent documents, including an answer, demurrer, motions, petitions and orders. All of these are placed in a case file which has a specific number assigned to it which must be stated on every document. The term is used: "When are you going to file the complaint," or "The answer will be filed tomorrow." 2) n. the master folder of a lawsuit kept by the clerk of the court, including all legal pleadings (documents) filed by both sides. Each document in the file must have a stamp showing the date it was received and the name of the clerk who received it. Any document which is filed must be served on the opposing attorney, usually by mail, except that the first paper filed (summons complaint, petition, motion) must be served on all defendants personally (hand delivered by a process server). 3) n. the record an attorney keeps on a case, containing all papers deposited with the clerk, as well as all correspondence and notes on the case
Final Judgment - n. the written determination of a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial (or heard a successful motion to dismiss or a stipulation for judgment), which renders (makes) rulings on all issues and completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court. It is also called a final decree or final decision.
n. an agreement reached by the parties to a lawsuit, usually in writing and/or read into the record in court, settling all issues. Usually there are elements of compromise, waiver of any right to reopen or appeal the matter even if there is information found later which would change matters (such as recurrence of a problem with an injury), mutual release of any further claim by each party, a statement that neither side is admitting fault, and some action or payment by one or both sides. In short, the case is over, provided the parties do what they are supposed to do according to the final settlement's terms. With the glut of cases crowding court calendars and overwhelming the system and delays in getting to trial (due to three factors: increased criminal case load, increased litigious nature of society and an insufficient number of judges), judges encourage attempts to settle, including mandatory settlement conferences with judges or experienced settlement attorneys present.
Finding - n. the determination of a factual question vital (contributing) to a decision in a case by the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) after a trial of a lawsuit, often referred to as findings of fact. A finding of fact is distinguished from a conclusion of law which is determined by the judge as the sole legal expert. Findings of fact and conclusions of law, need not be made if waived or not requested by the trial attorneys, leaving just the bare judgment in the case.
Foreign Corporation - n. a corporation which is incorporated under the laws of a different state or nation. A "foreign" corporation must file a notice of doing business in any state in which it does substantial regular business. It must name an "agent for acceptance of service" in that state, or the Secretary of State in some jurisdictions will automatically be that agent so people doing business with a foreign corporation will be able to bring legal actions locally if necessary. Example: the Whoopee Widget Corporation is incorporated in Delaware. It has a sales office in Arizona, which does not make a guaranteed refund to Jack Jones of Arizona. Jones can sue Whoopee in Arizona and serve the Arizona Secretary of State or Whoopee's designated agent.
Foreseeable Risk - n. a danger which a reasonable person should anticipate as the result from his/her actions. Foreseeable risk is a common affirmative defense put up as a response by defendants in lawsuits for negligence. A skier hits a bump on a ski run, falls and breaks his leg. This is a foreseeable risk of skiing. A mother is severely injured while accompanying her child on a roller coaster when the car jumps the track and comes loose. While there is potential risk, she had the right to anticipate that the roller coaster was properly maintained and did not assume the risk that it would come apart. Signs that warn "use at your own risk" do not bar lawsuits for risks that are not foreseeable.
Forum - n. a court which has jurisdiction to hold a trial of a particular lawsuit or petition.
Four Corners of an Instrument - n. the term for studying an entire document to understand its meaning, without reference to anything outside of the document ("extrinsic evidence"), such as the circumstances surrounding its writing or the history of the party signing it. If possible a document should be construed based on what lies within its four corners, unless such examination cannot solve an ambiguity in its language.
Frivolous - adj. referring to a legal move in a lawsuit clearly intended merely to harass, delay or embarrass the opposition. Frivolous acts can include filing the lawsuit itself, a baseless motion for a legal ruling, an answer of a defendant to a complaint which does not deny, contest, prove or controvert anything, or an appeal which contains not a single arguable basis (by any stretch of the imagination) for the appeal. A frivolous lawsuit, motion or appeal can result in a successful claim by the other party for payment by the frivolous suer of their attorneys' fees for defending the case. Judges are reluctant to find an action frivolous, based on the desire not to discourage people from using the courts to resolve disputes.
Full Disclosure - n. the need in business transactions to tell the "whole truth" about any matter which the other party should know in deciding to buy or contract. In real estate sales in many states there is a full disclosure form which must be filled out and signed under penalty of perjury for knowingly falsifying or concealing any significant fact.
General Damages - n. monetary recovery (money won) in a lawsuit for injuries suffered (such as pain, suffering, inability to perform certain functions) or breach of contract for which there is no exact dollar value which can be calculated. They are distinguished from special damages, which are for specific costs, and from punitive (exemplary) damages for punishment and to set an example when malice, intent or gross negligence was a factor.
Good Faith - n. honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or to fulfill a promise to act, even when some legal technicality is not fulfilled. The term is applied to all kinds of transactions.
Guest - n. 1) in general, a person paying to stay in a hotel, motel or inn for a short time. 2) a person staying at another's residence without charge, called a "social guest." An important distinction is that a non-paying guest is not owed the duty of being provided a safe boarding space, as is a paying customer. Thus if a social guest trips on a slippery rug, he/she has no right to sue for negligence, but a paying guest might. 3) an "automobile" guest is one who is a passenger without paying, as distinguished from a taxi fare, bus rider or one who has paid a friend to drive. However, the so-called "guest statute" may give a non-paying passenger the right to sue. An automobile guest is somewhat (but not entirely) analogous to the "social guest" in a residence.
Hearsay - n. 1) second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her. 2) a common objection made by the opposing lawyer to testimony when it appears the witness has violated the hearsay rule. 3) scuttlebutt or gossip.
Hearsay Rule - n. the basic rule that testimony or documents which quote persons not in court are not admissible. Because the person who supposedly knew the facts is not in court to state his/her exact words, the trier of fact cannot judge the demeanor and credibility of the alleged first-hand witness, and the other party's lawyer cannot cross-examine (ask questions of) him or her. However, as significant as the hearsay rule itself are the exceptions to the rule which allow hearsay testimony such as: a) a statement by the opposing party in the lawsuit which is inconsistent with what he/she has said in court (called an "admission against interest"); b) business entries made in the regular course of business, when a qualified witness can identify the records and tell how they were kept; c) official government records which can be shown to be properly kept; d) a writing about an event made close to the time it occurred, which may be used during trial to refresh a witness's memory about the event; e) a "learned treatise" which means historical works, scientific books, published art works, maps and charts; f) judgments in other cases; g) a spontaneous excited or startled utterance ("oh, God, the bus hit the little girl"); h) contemporaneous statement which explains the meaning of conduct if the conduct was ambiguous; i) a statement which explains a person's state of mind at the time of an event; j) a statement which explains a person's future intentions ("I plan to?.") if that person's state of mind is in question; k) prior testimony, such as in deposition (taken under oath outside of court), or at a hearing, if the witness is not available (including being dead); l) a declaration by the opposing party in the lawsuit which was contrary to his/her best interest if the party is not available at trial (this differs from an admission against interest, which is admissible in trial if it differs from testimony at trial); m) a dying declaration by a person believing he/she is dying; n) a statement made about one's mental set, feeling, pain or health, if the person is not available-most often applied if the declarant is dead ("my back hurts horribly," and then dies); o) a statement about one's own will when the person is not available; p) other exceptions based on a judge's discretion that the hearsay testimony in the circumstances must be reliable.
Highway - n. any public street, road, turnpike or canal which any member of the public has the right to use, provided he/she/it follows the laws governing its use, such as having a driver's license if operating a vehicle. Thus, the use is really a privilege and not an absolute right.
Hit and Run - n. the crime of a driver of a vehicle who is involved in a collision with another vehicle, property or human being, who knowingly fails to stop to give his/her name, license number and other information as required by statute to the injured party, a witness or law enforcement officers. If there is only property damage and no other person is present, leaving the information attached to the damaged property may be sufficient, provided the person causing the accident makes a report to the police. Hit and run statutes vary from state to state. It is not a violation of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination to be required to stop and give this information since it is a report and not an admission of guilt. Some hit and run cases are difficult to determine, such as the driver leaves the accident scene to go a block to his/her house or the neighborhood repair garage, and then walks back to the scene.
Hold Harmless - n. a promise to pay any costs or claims which may result from an agreement. Quite often this is part of a settlement agreement, in which one party is concerned that there might be unknown lawsuits or claims stemming from the situation, so the other party agrees to cover them.
Impeach - v. 1) to discredit the testimony of a witness by proving that he/she has not told the truth or has been inconsistent, by introducing contrary evidence, including statements made outside of the courtroom in depositions or in statements of the witness heard by another. in camera adj. or adv. phrase. Latin for "in chambers." This refers to a hearing or discussions with the judge in the privacy of his chambers (office rooms) or when spectators and jurors have been excluded from the courtroom.
In Forma Pauperis - (in form-ah paw-purr-iss) adj. or adv. Latin for "in the form of a pauper," referring to a party to a lawsuit who gets filing fees waived by filing a declaration of lack of funds (has no money to pay). These declarations are most often found in divorces by young marrieds or poor defendants who have been sued.
Income - n. money, goods or other economic benefit received. Under income tax laws, income can be "active" through one's efforts or work (including management) or "passive" from rentals, stock dividends, investments and interest on deposits in which there is neither physical effort nor management. For tax purposes, income does not include gifts and inheritances received. Taxes are collected based on income by the federal government and most state governments.
Information and Belief - n. a phrase often used in legal pleadings (complaints and answers in a lawsuit), declarations under penalty of perjury, and affidavits under oath, in which the person making the statement or allegation qualifies it. In effect, he/she says: "I am only stating what I have been told, and I believe it." This makes clear about which statements he/she does not have sure-fire, personal knowledge (perhaps it is just hearsay or surmise) and protects the maker of the statement from claims of outright falsehood or perjury. The typical phraseology is: "Plaintiff is informed and believes, and upon such information and belief, alleges that defendant diverted the funds to his own use."
Ingress - 1) n. entrance. 2) n. the right to enter. 3) v. the act of entering. Often used in the combination "ingress and egress," which means entering and leaving, to describe one's rights to come and go under an easement over another's property.
Injury - n. any harm done to a person by the acts or omissions of another. Injury may include physical hurt as well as damage to reputation or dignity, loss of a legal right or breach of contract. If the party causing the injury was either willful (intentionally causing harm) or negligent then he/she is responsible (liable) for payment of damages for the harm caused. Theoretically, potential or continuing injury may be prevented by an order of the court upon a petition for an injunction.
Inspection of Documents - n. the right to examine and copy the opposing party's papers in a lawsuit which are relevant to the case. A demand (legal request) may be made, but the categories of documents must be stated so that the other party can know what he/she must produce. If the opposition either refuses to produce some documents or appears to hold back, the party wanting to see the documents can bring a "motion to produce" requesting a court order to produce and a penalty (sanctions) to be paid for failure to honor the demand. A party may also use a subpena duces tecum to obtain specific documents if they are known to exist. All of these procedures are part of the discovery process, intended to give both sides extensive pre-trial information. Such exchanges of documents can lead to settlement, minimize surprises at trial and keep one side from hiding material, thus preventing the other from being able to introduce relevant material at trial. However, it is well known that many law firms obfuscate, delay, pretend to misunderstand requests and fail to be forthcoming.
Insurance - n. a contract (insurance policy) in which the insurer (insurance company) agrees for a fee (insurance premiums) to pay the insured party all or a portion of any loss suffered by accident or death. The losses covered by the policy may include property damage or loss from accident, fire, theft or intentional harm; medical costs and/or lost earnings due to physical injury; long-term or permanent loss of physical capacity; claims by others due to the insured's alleged negligence (e.g. public liability auto insurance); loss of a ship and/or cargo; finding a defect in title to real property; dishonest employees; or the loss of someone's life. Life insurance may be on the life of a spouse, a child, one of several business partners or an especially important manager ("key man" insurance), all of which is intended to provide for survivors or to ease the burden created by the loss of a financial contributor. So-called "mortgage" insurance is life insurance which will pay off the remaining amount due on a home loan on the death of the husband or wife. Life insurance proceeds are usually not included in the probate of a dead person's estate, but the funds may be counted by the Internal Revenue Service in calculating estate tax. Insurance companies may refuse to pay a claim by a third party against an insured, but at the same time may be required to assume the legal defense (pay attorney's fees or provide an attorney) under the doctrine of "reservation of rights."
Insured - n. 1) the person or entity who will be compensated for loss by an insurer under the terms of a contract called an insurance policy. 2) the person whose life is insured by life insurance, after whose death the benefits go to others.
Insurer - n. an insurance company which agrees to pay someone who pays them for insurance for losses suffered pursuant to the terms of an insurance policy. For this benefit the customer pays the company a fee, called a premium.
Interrogatories - n. a set of written questions to a party to a lawsuit asked by the opposing party as part of the pre-trial discovery process. These questions must be answered in writing under oath or under penalty of perjury within a specified time (such as 30 days). Several states ask basic "form" interrogatories on a printed form, with an allowance for "supplemental" interrogatories specifically relevant to the lawsuit. Normal practice is for the lawyers to prepare the questions and for the answering party to have help from his/her/its attorney in understanding the meaning (sometimes hidden) of the questions and to avoid wording in his/her answers which could be interpreted against the party answering. Objections as to relevancy or clarity may be raised either at the time the interrogatories are answered or when they are used in trial. Most states limit the number of interrogatories that may be asked without the court's permission to keep the questions from being a means of oppression rather than a source of information. While useful in getting basic information, they are much easier to ask than answer and are often intentionally burdensome. In addition the parties may request depositions (pre-trial questioning in front of a court reporter) or send "requests for admissions" which must be answered in writing.
Intervening Cause - n. an event which occurs between the original improper or dangerous action and the damage itself. Thus, the "causal connection" between the wrong and damages is broken by the intervening cause. This is a "but for" situation, in which the intervention becomes the real reason harm resulted. The result is that the person who started the chain of events is no longer responsible and will not be found liable for damages to the injured person. Example: Fred Flameout negligently starts a wildfire by welding on his hay bailer next to a row of haystacks, some hay catches fire, and the fire spreads, heading toward the next-door ranch. However, just as the county fire department has the fire nearly contained, Peter Petrol drives his oil truck through the fireline against a fire fighter's orders and stops on the road between Flameout's property and Richard Rancher's. Sparks from the fire cause Petrol's truck to explode, sending the fire on the way to Rancher's barns and home, which burn down. Petrol's negligence is an intervening cause which gets Flameout off the liability hook. Sometimes this is called supervening cause or superseding.
Intoxication - n. 1) the condition of being drunk as the result of drinking alcoholic beverages and/or use of narcotics. In the eyes of the law this definition may differ depending on the situation to which it is applied. 2) as it applies to drunk driving (DUI, DWI) the standard of intoxication varies by state between .08 and .10 alcohol in the bloodstream, or a combination of alcohol and narcotics which would produce the same effect even though the amount of alcohol is below the minimum. 3) as it applies to public drunkenness the standard is subjective, meaning the person must be unable to care for himself, be dangerous to himself or others, be causing a disturbance or refuse to leave or move along when requested. 4) a defense in a criminal case in which the claim is made by the defendant that he/she was too intoxicated to form an intent to commit the crime or to know what he/she was doing, where the amount of intoxication is subjective but higher than for drunk driving. There is also the question if the intoxication was an intentional aforethought to the crime ("I wanted to get drunk so I had the nerve to kill her"). Unintentional intoxication can show lack of capacity to form an intent and thus reduce the possible level of conviction and punishment, as from voluntary (intentional) manslaughter down to involuntary (unintentional but through a wrongful act) manslaughter. However, in vehicular manslaughter, the intoxication is an element in the crime, whether getting drunk was intentional or not, since criminal intent was not a factor.
Irrelevant - adj. not important, pertinent, or germane to the matter at hand or to any issue before the court. This is the most common objection raised by attorneys to questions asked or to answers given during testimony in a trial. The objection is made as soon as an alert attorney believes the opposition is going into matters which are not concerned with the facts or outside the issues of the lawsuit. It is often stated in the trio: "Irrelevant, immaterial and incompetent" to cover the bases. The judge must then rule on the relevancy of the question. If the question has been answered before the lawyer could say "objection," the judge may order that answer stricken from the record. Blotting it from a jury's memory or conscience, though, is impossible.
Irreparable Damage or Injury - n. the type of harm which no monetary compensation can cure or put conditions back the way they were, such as cutting down shade trees, polluting a stream, not giving a child needed medication, not supporting an excavation which may cause collapse of a building, tearing down a structure, or a host of other actions or omissions. The phrase must be used to claim that a judge should order an injunction, writ, temporary restraining order or other judicial assistance, generally known as equitable relief. Such relief is a court order of positive action, such as prohibiting pollution or requiring the shoring up of a defective wall.
Issue - 1) n. a person's children or other lineal descendants such as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It does not mean all heirs, but only the direct bloodline. Occasionally, there is a problem in determining whether a writer of a will or deed meant issue to include descendants beyond his or her immediate children. While a child or children are alive, issue refers only to them, but if they are deceased then it will apply to the next living generation unless there is language in the document which shows it specifically does not apply to them. 2) n. any matter of dispute in a legal controversy or lawsuit, very commonly used in such phrases as "the legal issues are," "the factual issues are," "this is an issue which the judge must decide," or "please, counsel, let us know what issues you have agreed upon." 3) v. to send out, promulgate, publish or make the original distribution, such as a corporation selling and distributing shares of stock to its initial investors. 4) n. the shares of stock or bonds of a corporation which have been sold and distributed.
Joinder - n. the joining together of several lawsuits or several parties all in one lawsuit, provided that the legal issues and the factual situation are the same for all plaintiffs and defendants. Joinder requires a) that one of the parties to one of the lawsuits make a motion to join the suits and the parties in a single case; b) notice must be made to all parties; c) there must be a hearing before a judge to show why joinder will not cause prejudice (hurt) to any of the parties to the existing lawsuits; and d) an order of the judge permitting joinder. Joinder may be mandatory if a person necessary to a fair result was not included in the original lawsuit, or it may be permissive if joining the cases together is only a matter of convenience or economy.
Joinder of Issue - n. that point in a lawsuit when the defendant has challenged (denied) some or all of plaintiff's allegations of facts, and/or when it is known which legal questions are in dispute. This is stated in the expression: "the issue is joined," in the same manner as a military man would say: "the battle has been joined," meaning the fight is underway. Thus, the pre-trial legal underbrush has been cleared away, the motions made, and the pre-trial discovery (depositions, requests for documents, written questions and answers, and other demands for information) sufficiently completed, all of which makes clear what matters are to be decided by trial.
Joint - adj., adv. referring to property, rights or obligations which are united, undivided and shared by two or more persons or entities. Thus, a joint property held by both cannot be effectively transferred unless all owners join in the transaction. If a creditor sues to collect a joint debt, he/she must include all the debtors in the lawsuit, unless the debt is specifically "joint and several," meaning any one of the debtors may be individually liable. Therefore, care must be taken in drafting deeds, sales agreements, promissory notes, joint venture agreements and other documents. A joint tenancy is treated specially, since it includes the right of the survivor to get the entire property when the other dies (right of survivorship).
Joint and Several - adj. referring to a debt or a judgment for negligence, in which each debtor (one who owes) or each judgment defendant (one who has a judgment against him/her) is responsible (liable) for the entire amount of the debt or judgment. Thus, in drafting a promissory note for a debt, it is important to state that if there is more than one person owing the funds to be paid, the debt is joint and several, since then the person owed money (creditor, promisee) can collect the entire amount from any of the joint signers of the note, and not be limited to a share from each debtor. If a party injured in an accident sues several parties for causing his/her damages, the court may find that several people were "jointly" negligent and contributed to the damages. The entire judgment may be collected from any of the defendants found responsible, unless the court finds different amounts of negligence of each defendant contributed to the injury. Defense attorneys should require the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) to break down the amount of negligence of each defendant and the plaintiff if there is contributory negligence. Often the court will refuse to do so, allowing the plaintiff to collect from whichever defendant has the "deep pocket" (lots of money), and letting the defendant who pays demand contributions from the other defendants.
Joint Liability - n. when two or more persons are both responsible for a debt, claim or judgment. It can be important to the person making the claim, as well as to a person who is sued, who can demand that anyone with joint liability for the alleged debt or claim for damages be joined in (brought into) the lawsuit.
Joint Tortfeasors - n. two or more persons whose negligence in a single accident or event causes damages to another person. In many cases the joint tortfeasors are jointly and severally liable for the damages, meaning that any of them can be responsible to pay the entire amount, no matter how unequal the negligence of each party was. Example: Harry Hotrod is doing 90 miles an hour along a two-lane road in the early evening, Adele Aimster has stopped her car to study a map with her car sticking out into the lane by six inches. Hotrod swings out a couple of feet to miss Aimster's vehicle, never touches the brake, and hits Victor Victim, driving from the other direction, killing him. While Hotrod is grossly negligent for the high speed and failure to slow down, Aimster is also negligent for her car's slight intrusion into the lane. As a joint tortfeasor she may have to pay all the damages, particularly if Hotrod has no money or insurance. However, comparative negligence rules by statute or case law in most jurisdictions will apportion the liability by percentages of negligence among the tortfeasors (wrongdoers) and the injured parties.
Jones Act - n., adj. a federal law which covers injuries to crewmen at sea, gives jurisdiction to the federal courts and sets up various rules for conduct of these cases under maritime law. A claim for recompense (payment) for damages at sea is called a "Jones Act case."
Judge - 1) n. an official with the authority and responsibility to preside in a court, try lawsuits and make legal rulings. Judges are almost always attorneys. In some states, "justices of the peace" may need only to pass a test, and federal and state "administrative law judges" are often lawyer or non-lawyer hearing officers specializing in the subject matter upon which they are asked to rule. The word "court" often refers to the judge, as in the phrase "the court found the defendant at fault," or "may it please the court," when addressing the judge. The word "bench" also refers to the judge or judges in general. Judges on appeals courts are usually called "justices." Judges of courts established by a state at the county, district, city or township level, gain office by election, by appointment by the Governor or by some judicial selection process in case of a vacancy. Federal judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States with confirmation by the U.S. Senate. A senator of the same party as the President has considerable clout in recommending Federal judges from his/her home state. 2) v. to rule on a legal matter, including determining the result in a trial if there is no jury.
Judgment - n. the final decision by a court in a lawsuit, criminal prosecution or appeal from a lower court's judgment, except for an "interlocutory judgment," which is tentative until a final judgment is made. The word "decree" is sometimes used as synonymous with judgment.
Judgment Creditor - n. the winning plaintiff in a lawsuit to whom the court decides the defendant owes money. A judgment creditor can use various means to collect the judgment. The judgment is good for a specified number of years and then may be renewed by a filed request. If the defendant debtor files for bankruptcy, the judgment creditor will have priority (the right to share in assets) ahead of general creditors who are not secured by mortgages or deeds of trust and do not have judgments. However, if the bankrupt person has no assets, this becomes an empty advantage.
Judgment Debt - n. the amount of money in a judgment award to the winning party, which is owed to the winner by the losing party.
Judgment Debtor - n. the losing defendant in a lawsuit who owes the amount of the judgment to the winner.
Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict - (N.O.V.) n. reversal of a jury's verdict by the trial judge when the judge believes there was no factual basis for the verdict or it was contrary to law. The judge will then enter a different verdict as "a matter of law." Essentially the judge should have required a "directed verdict" (instruction to the jury to return with a particular verdict since the facts allowed no other conclusion), and when the jury "went wrong," the judge uses the power to reverse the verdict instead of approving it, to prevent injustice. This process is commonly called "judgment N.O.V." or simply "N.O.V.," for Latin non obstante veredicto.
Juris Doctor - (J.D.) n. the law degree granted upon graduation by many university law schools with accepted high standards of admission and grading. This often supersedes the Bachelor of Laws in recognition that the law curriculum entitles a person to a graduate degree.
Jurisdiction - n. the authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. It is vital to determine before a lawsuit is filed which court has jurisdiction. State courts have jurisdiction over matters within that state, and different levels of courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits involving different amounts of money. For example, Superior Courts (called District or County Courts in several states) generally have sole control of lawsuits for larger sums of money, domestic relations (divorces), probate of estates of deceased persons, guardianships, conservatorships and trials of felonies. In some states (like New York) probate and certain other matters are within the jurisdiction of so-called Surrogate Courts. Municipal courts (or other local courts) have jurisdiction over cases involving lesser amounts of money, misdemeanors (crimes not punishable by state prison), traffic matters and preliminary hearings on felony charges to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial by the Superior Court. Some states have police courts to handle misdemeanors. Jurisdiction in the courts of a particular state may be determined by the location of real property in a state (in rem jurisdiction), or whether the parties are located within the state (in personam jurisdiction). Thus, a probate of Marsha Blackwood's estate would be in Idaho where she lived and died, but jurisdiction over her title to real estate in Utah will be under the jurisdiction of the Utah courts. Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between citizens of different states, cases based on federal statutes such as fair labor standards and antitrust violations, charges of federal crimes, appeals from bankruptcy proceedings, maritime cases or legal actions involving federal constitutional questions. Sometimes regulatory agencies have the initial jurisdiction before any legal action may be filed in court. More than one court may have concurrent jurisdiction, such as both state and federal courts, and the lawyer filing the lawsuit may have to make a tactical decision as to which jurisdiction is more favorable or useful to his/her cause, including time to get to trial, the potential pool of jurors or other considerations. Appellate jurisdiction is given by statute to appeals courts to hear appeals about the judgment of the lower court that tried a case, and to order reversal or other correction if error is found. State appeals are under the jurisdiction of the state appellate courts, while appeals from federal district courts are within the jurisdiction of the courts of appeal and eventually the Supreme Court. Jurisdiction is not to be confused with "venue," which means the best place to try a case. Thus, any state court may have jurisdiction over a matter, but the "venue" is in a particular county.
Jurisdictional Amount - n. the range between the minimum and maximum amount of money or value in dispute in a lawsuit (generally based on the amount demanded in the lawsuit), which determines which court has jurisdiction to try the case. Example: in California, municipal courts have jurisdiction up to $25,000, superior courts have jurisdiction over that sum, and small claims courts (an alternative to formal municipal court filing) have a maximum jurisdictional amount of $5,000. Federal jurisdiction commences at the $10,000 level, if the lawsuit fits other federal requirements.
Jurisprudence - n. the entire subject of law, the study of law and legal questions.
Jury - n. one of the remarkable innovations of the English common law (from the Angles and Saxons, but also employed in Normandy prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066), it is a group of citizens called to hear a trial of a criminal prosecution or a lawsuit, decide the factual questions of guilt or innocence or determine the prevailing party (winner) in a lawsuit and the amount to be paid, if any, by the loser. Once selected, the jury is sworn to give an honest and fair decision. The legal questions are determined by the judge presiding at the trial, who explains those issues to the members of the jury (jurors) in "jury instructions." The common number of jurors is 12 (dating back a thousand years), but some states allow a smaller number (six or eight) if the parties agree. For a plaintiff (the party suing) to win a lawsuit with a jury, three-quarters of the jurors must favor the claim. Guilt or innocence in a criminal trial requires a unanimous decision of the jury, except two states (Oregon and Louisiana) allow a conviction with 10 of 12 jurors. Juries have greatly changed in recent decades, as the term "impartial jury" in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires that the pool of jurors must include all races, ethnic groups and women as well as men in percentages relative to the general population. Any failure to achieve that balance or systematic challenges to those of the same ethnicity of the accused, may result in a claim on appeal that the jury was not fair-in popular jargon, not "a jury of one's peers." This does not mean that a Samoan male must be tried by other Samoan males, but it does mean that the potential jurors must come from a balanced group. Members of the jury are supposed to be free of bias, have no specific knowledge of the case and have no connection with any of the parties or witnesses. Questions are asked by the judge and attorneys (called "voir dire") during jury selection to weed out those whom they may challenge on those grounds (challenge for cause). Some potential jurors are challenged (peremptory challenge) because the attorney for one side or the other feels there is some hidden bias. In well-financed cases this has led to the hiring of jury "specialists" and psychologists by attorneys to aid in jury selection. In a high-profile criminal case in which the jury might be influenced by public comment or media coverage during trial, the court may order the jury be sequestered (kept in a hotel away from family, friends, radio, television and newspapers.)
Just Compensation - n. 1) in general a fair and reasonable amount of money to be paid for work performed or to make one "whole" after loss due to damages. 2) the full value to be paid for property taken by the government for public purposes guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: "?nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." If the amount offered by the governmental agency taking the property is not considered sufficient, the property owner may demand a trial to determine just compensation.
K - n. the shorthand symbol for "contract" used almost universally by lawyers and law students.
Last Clear Chance - n. a rule of law in determining responsibility for damages caused by negligence, which provides that if the plaintiff (the party suing for damages) is negligent, that will not matter if the defendant (the party being sued for damages caused by his/her negligence) could have still avoided the accident by reasonable care in the final moments (no matter how slight) before the accident. The theory is that although the plaintiff may have been negligent, his/her negligence no longer was the cause of the accident because the defendant could have prevented the accident. Most commonly applied to auto accidents, a typical case of last clear chance would be when one driver drifts over the center line, and this action was noted by an oncoming driver who proceeds without taking simple evasive action, crashes into the first driver and is thus liable for the injuries to the first driver who was over the line. In the few states which apply the strict "contributory negligence" rule which keeps a negligent plaintiff from recovering damages from a negligent defendant, "last clear chance" can save the careless plaintiff's lawsuit.
Latent Defect - n. a hidden flaw, weakness or imperfection in an article which a seller knows about, but the buyer cannot discover by reasonable inspection. It includes a hidden defect in the title to land, such as an incorrect property description. Generally, this entitles the purchaser to get his/her money back (rescind the deal) or get a replacement without a defect on the basis of "implied" warranty of quality that a buyer could expect ("merchantability"). Even an "as is" purchase could be rescinded if it could be shown the seller knew of the flaw.
Law of Admiralty - n. statutes, customs and treaties dealing with actions on navigable waters. It is synonymous with maritime law.
Lawsuit - n. a common term for a legal action by one person or entity against another person or entity, to be decided in a court of law, sometimes just called a "suit." The legal claims within a lawsuit are called "causes of action."
Lay a Foundation - v. in evidence, to provide to the judge the qualification of a witness (particularly an expert witness) or a document or other piece of evidence which assures the court of the talent and experience of a witness or the authenticity of the document or article. Example: a medical report cannot be introduced unless the physician who wrote it testifies that he wrote it, or a photograph must be authenticated by the photographer or by testimony that it truly reflects a particular place or event. An expert witness is qualified by testimony as to experience and training.
Leading - 1) v. short for "leading the witness," in which the attorney during a trial or deposition asks questions in a form in which he/she puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer. Leading is improper if the attorney is questioning a witness called by that attorney and presumably friendly to the attorney's side of the case. Thus, the opposing attorney will object that a question is "leading," and if so the judge will sustain (uphold) the objection and prohibit the question in that form. However, leading questions are permissible in cross-examination of a witness called by the other party or if the witness is found to be hostile or adverse to the position of the attorney conducting the questioning. 2) adj. referring to a question asked of a witness which suggests the answer.
Leading Question - n. a question asked of a witness by an attorney during a trial or a deposition (questioning under oath outside of court), suggesting an answer or putting words in the mouth of the witness. Such a question is often objected to, usually with the simple objection: "leading." A leading question is allowable only when directed to the opposing party to the lawsuit or to an "adverse witness" during cross-examination (the chance to question after direct testimony) on the basis that such a witness can readily deny the proposed wording. Typical improper leading question: "Didn't the defendant appear to you to be going too fast in the limited visibility?" The proper question would be: "How fast do you estimate the defendant was going?" followed by "What was the visibility?" and "How far could you see?"
Leading the Witness - n. asking a question during a trial or deposition which puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer, which is improper questioning of a witness called by that attorney, but is proper in cross-examination or allowed if a witness is declared by the judge to be a hostile or adverse witness.
Legal Duty - n. the responsibility to others to act according to the law. Proving the duty (such as not to be negligent, to keep premises safe, or to drive within the speed limit) and then showing that the duty was breached are required elements of any lawsuit for damages due to negligence or intentional injuries.
Legal Services - n. the work performed by a lawyer for a client.
Lemon Law - n. statutes adopted in some states to make it easier for a buyer of a new vehicle to sue for damages or replacement if the dealer or manufacturer cannot make it run properly after a reasonable number of attempts to fix the car. Without a "lemon law" auto makers have often demanded the buyer come back a dozen times and give up use of the car for lengthy periods while they test it, claiming they are "still trying" to make it run right.
Liability - n. one of the most significant words in the field of law, liability means legal responsibility for one's acts or omissions. Failure of a person or entity to meet that responsibility leaves him/her/it open to a lawsuit for any resulting damages or a court order to perform (as in a breach of contract or violation of statute). In order to win a lawsuit the suing party (plaintiff) must prove the legal liability of the defendant if the plaintiff's allegations are shown to be true. This requires evidence of the duty to act, the failure to fulfill that duty and the connection (proximate cause) of that failure to some injury or harm to the plaintiff. Liability also applies to alleged criminal acts in which the defendant may be responsible for his/her acts which constitute a crime, thus making him/her subject to conviction and punishment. Example: Jack Jumpstart runs a stop sign in his car and hits Sarah Stepforth as she is crossing in the cross-walk. Jack has a duty of care to Sarah (and the public) which he breaches by his negligence, and therefore has liability for Sarah's injuries, giving her the right to bring a lawsuit against him. However, Jack's father owns the automobile and he, too, may have liability to Sarah based on a statute which makes a car owner liable for any damages caused by the vehicle he owns. The father's responsibility is based on "statutory liability" even though he personally breached no duty. A signer of a promissory note has liability for money due if it is not paid and so would a co-signer who guarantees it. A contractor who has agreed to complete a building has liability to the owner if he fails to complete on time.
Liable - adj. responsible or obligated. Thus, a person or entity may be liable for damages due to negligence, liable to pay a debt, liable to perform an act which he/she/it contracted to do, or liable to punishment for commission of a crime. Failure to meet the responsibility or obligation opens one up to a lawsuit, and committing a crime can lead to a criminal prosecution.
Lien - n. any official claim or charge against property or funds for payment of a debt or an amount owed for services rendered. A lien is usually a formal document signed by the party to whom money is owed and sometimes by the debtor who agrees to the amount due. A lien carries with it the right to sell property, if necessary, to obtain the money. A mortgage or a deed of trust is a form of lien, and any lien against real property must be recorded with the County Recorder to be enforceable, including an abstract of judgment which turns a judgment into a lien against the judgment debtor's property. There are numerous types of liens including: a mechanic's lien against the real property upon which a workman, contractor or supplier has provided work or materials, an attorney's lien for fees to be paid from funds recovered by his/her efforts, a medical lien for medical bills to be paid from funds recovered for an injury, a landlord's lien against a tenant's property for unpaid rent or damages, a tax lien to enforce the government's claim of unpaid taxes, or the security agreement (UCC-1) authorized by the Uniform Commercial Code. Most liens are enforceable in the order in which they were recorded or filed (in the case of security agreements), except tax liens, which have priority over the private citizen's claim.
Limitation of Actions - n. the period of time in which a person has to file with the clerk of the court or appropriate agency what he/she believes is a valid lawsuit or claim. The period varies greatly depending on what type of case is involved, whether the suit is against the government, whether it is by a minor, and most importantly, in what state or federal jurisdiction the right to sue arose. This is more commonly called the statute of limitations, which are specific periods for various claims in each state.
Litigant - n. any party to a lawsuit. This means plaintiff, defendant, petitioner, respondent, cross-complainant and cross-defendant, but not a witness or attorney.
Litigation - n. any lawsuit or other resort to the courts to determine a legal question or matter.
Long-Arm Statute - n. law which gives a local state court jurisdiction over an out-of-state company or individual whose actions caused damage locally or to a local resident. The legal test is whether the out-of-state defendant has contacts within the state which are "sufficiently substantial." An accident or injury within the state usually shows such a substantial contact. This is particularly important when a driver from one state is sued in another state for damages caused by his/her negligence there. It also can be employed if a product shipped from out-of-state fails, explodes or causes damage to a local person who sues in the state where he/she resides. The long-arm statute allows him/her to get local court jurisdiction over the defendant.
Loss of Use - n. the inability to use an automobile, premises or some equipment due to damage to the vehicle, premises or articles caused by the negligence or other wrongdoing of another. Examples: compensation for each day a car is out of commission during repairs or for the period of non-occupancy while a burned building is restored. A common standard of compensation (payment) is rental value of the automobile or premises, but the period of loss must be "reasonable," meaning the damages will be limited to a period in which a person would normally and promptly proceed to have the vehicle repaired or arrange reconstruction of the building or premises.
Make One Whole - v. to pay or award damages sufficient to put the party who was damaged back into the position he/she would have been in without the fault of another.
Malpractice - n. An act or continuing conduct of a professional which does not meet the standard of professional competence and results in provable damages to his/her client or patient. Such an error or omission may be through negligence, ignorance (when the professional should have known), or intentional wrongdoing. However, malpractice does not include the exercise of professional judgment even when the results are detrimental to the client or patient. Except in cases of extremely obvious or intentional wrongs, in order to prove malpractice there must be testimony of an expert as to the acceptable standard of care applied to the specific act or conduct which is claimed to be malpractice and testimony of the expert that the professional did not meet that standard. The defendant then can produce his/her own expert to counter that testimony. Professions which are subject to lawsuits based on claims of malpractice include lawyers, physicians, dentists, hospitals, accountants, architects, engineers and real estate brokers. In some states in order to file an action for malpractice against a medical caregiver, there must be a written demand or notice which gives the physician or hospital a chance to settle the matter before a suit is filed. In actions against attorneys it is mandatory that the plaintiff prove that the error, if any, caused damages. This means that a lawsuit, claim or negotiation the attorney was handling would have resulted in a win or better recovery except for the malpractice. Thus, there is a requirement of proving the original "case within the case" during the trial of the malpractice claim. Contrary to public perception, substantial judgments in malpractice actions are rare, with studies showing that only a small percentage of the claims result in recovery for the allegedly aggrieved client or patient. The principal reason is that most cries of malpractice are unfounded and are based on unhappiness with the result of the original services no matter how well handled, a breakdown in communication between attorney or doctor and client or patient, anger with the professional, retaliation for attempts to collect unpaid fees or greed.
Maritime Law - n. Also called "admiralty law" or "the law of admiralty," the laws and regulations, includ-ing international agreements and treaties, which exclusively govern activities at sea or in any navigable waters. In the United States, federal courts have jurisdiction over maritime law.
Master and Servant - n. the body of law, including statutes and legal decisions which are precedents, which relates to the relationship of an employer and employee.
Mediation - n. the attempt to settle a legal dispute through active participation of a third party (mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result. Mediation differs from arbitration, in which the third party (arbitrator) acts much like a judge in an out-of-court, less formal setting but does not actively participate in the discussion. Mediation has become very common in trying to resolve domestic relations disputes (divorce, child custody, visitation) and is often ordered by the judge in such cases. Mediation also has become more frequent in contract and civil damage cases. There are professional mediators or lawyers who do some mediation for substantial fees, but the financial cost is less than fighting the matter out in court and may achieve early settlement and an end to anxiety. However, mediation does not always result in a settlement.
Memorandum - n. 1) a brief writing, note, summary or outline. 2) A "memorandum of decision," or "memorandum opinion," is a brief statement by a judge announcing his/her ruling without detail or giving extensive reasons, which may or may not be followed by a more comprehensive written decision. Such memoranda (plural) are issued by appeals courts in language such as: "The petition of appellant is denied for the reasons stated in Albini v. Younger," or "The decision below is affirmed."
Mental Suffering - n. emotional pain synonymous with "mental anguish."
Mitigation of Damages - n. the requirement that someone injured by another's negligence or breach of contract must take reasonable steps to reduce the damages, injury or cost, and to prevent them from getting worse. Thus, a person claiming to have been injured by another motorist should seek medical help and not let the problem worsen. If a tenant moves out before a lease has expired, a landlord must make reasonable attempts to re-let the property and take in some rents (which are credited against the amount remainder of the lease) to mitigate his/her loss.
Moiety - (moy-et-tee) n. half. Generally a reference to interest in real property, moiety is seldom used today
Moot - adj. 1) unsettled, open to argument or debatable, specifically about a legal question which has not been determined by any decision of any court. 2) an issue only of academic interest.
Motion - n. a formal request made to a judge for an order or judgment. Motions are made in court all the time for many purposes: to continue (postpone) a trial to a later date, to get a modification of an order, for temporary child support, for a judgment, for dismissal of the opposing party's case, for a rehearing, for sanctions (payment of the moving party's costs or attorney's fees), or for dozens of other purposes. Most motions require a written petition, a written brief of legal reasons for granting the motion (often called "points and authorities"), written notice to the attorney for the opposing party and a hearing before a judge. However, during a trial or a hearing, an oral motion may be permitted.
Motion for a New Trial - n. a request made by the loser for the case to be tried again on the basis that there were significant legal errors in the way the trial was conducted and/or the jury or the judge sitting without a jury obviously came to an incorrect result. This motion must be made within a few days after the judgment is formally entered and is usually heard by the same judge who presided at the trial. Such a motion is seldom granted (particularly if the judge heard the case without a jury) unless there is some very clear error which any judge would recognize. Some lawyers feel the motion helps add to the record of argument leading to an appeal of the case to an appeals court.
Motion for a Summary Judgment - n. a written request for a judgment in the moving party's favor before a lawsuit goes to trial and based on testimony recorded outside court, affidavits (declarations under penalty of perjury), depositions, admissions of fact and/or answers to written interrogatories, claiming that all factual and legal issues can be decided in the moving party's favor. These alleged facts are accompanied by a written legal brief (points and authorities) in support of the motion. The opposing party needs to show by affidavits, written declarations or points and authorities (written legal argument in support of the motion) that there are "triable issues of fact" and/or of law by points and authorities. If there are any triable issues the motion must be denied and the case can go to trial. Sometimes, if there are several claims (causes of action) such a motion may cause the judge to find (decide) that some causes of action can be decided under the motion, leaving fewer matters actually to be tried. The paper- work on both sides is complex, burdensome and in many states, based on strict procedures.
Motion for Dismissal - (non-suit) n. application by a defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution asking the judge to rule that the plaintiff (the party who filed the lawsuit) or the prosecution has not and cannot prove its case. Attorneys most often make this motion after the plaintiff or prosecutor has presented all the evidence they have, but they can make it at the end of the evidence presentation but before judgment or upon evidence being presented that proves to the judge that the defendant cannot lose. Quite often this is an oral motion, and arguments are made in the judge's chambers where the jury cannot hear. It is also sometimes called a motion for nonsuit.
Motion in Limine - (lim-in-nay) n. Latin for "threshold," a motion made at the start of a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial. This is most common in criminal trials where evidence is subject to constitutional limitations, such as statements made without the Miranda warnings (reading the suspect his/her rights).
Motion to Strike - n. a request for a judge's order to eliminate all or a portion of the legal pleading (complaint, answer) of the opposition on any one of several grounds. It is often used in an attempt to have an entire cause of action removed ("stricken") from the court record. A motion to strike is also made orally during trial to ask the judge to order "stricken" answers by a witness in violation of rules of evidence (laws covering what is admissible in trial). Even though the jury is admonished to ignore such an answer or some comment, the jury has heard it, and "a bell once rung, cannot be unrung."
Movant - n. the party in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who makes a motion (application for a court order or judgment).
Move - v. to make a motion in court applying for a court order or judgment.
N.O.V. - adj. shorthand acronym of Latin for non obstante veredicto (nahn ahb-stan-tuh very-dick-toe) meaning "notwithstanding the verdict," referring to a decision of a judge to set aside (reverse) a jury's decision in favor of one party in a lawsuit or a guilty verdict when the judge is convinced the judgment is not reasonably supported by the facts and/or the law. The result is called a "judgment N.O.V." Granting a motion for such a ruling means the court realizes it should have directed the jury to reach an opposite verdict in the first place.
Negligence - n. failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not. Negligence is accidental as distinguished from "intentional torts" (assault or trespass, for example) or from crimes, but a crime can also constitute negligence, such as reckless driving. Negligence can result in all types of accidents causing physical and/or property damage, but can also include business errors and miscalculations, such as a sloppy land survey. In making a claim for damages based on an allegation of another's negligence, the injured party (plaintiff) must prove: a) that the party alleged to be negligent had a duty to the injured party-specifically to the one injured or to the general public, b) that the defendant's action (or failure to act) was negligent-not what a reasonably prudent person would have done, c) that the damages were caused ("proximately caused") by the negligence. An added factor in the formula for determining negligence is whether the damages were "reasonably foreseeable" at the time of the alleged carelessness. If the injury is caused by something owned or controlled by the supposedly negligent party, but how the accident actually occurred is not known (like a ton of bricks falls from a construction job), negligence can be found based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor (Latin for "the thing speaks for itself"). Furthermore, in six states (Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland) and the District of Columbia, an injured party will be denied any judgment (payment) if found to have been guilty of even slight "contributory negligence" in the accident. This archaic and unfair rule has been replaced by "comparative negligence" in the other 44 states, in which the negligence of the claimant is balanced with the percentage of blame placed on the other party or parties ("joint tortfeasors") causing the accident. In automobile accident cases in 16 states the head of the household is held liable for damages caused by any member of the family using the car under what is called the "family purpose" doctrine. Nine states (California, New York, Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island) make the owner of the vehicle responsible for all damages caused by a driver given permission to use the car, whether or not the negligent driver has assets or insurance to pay a judgment. Eight states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia) allow the owner to rebut a presumption that the driver was authorized to use the car. Negligence is one of the greatest sources of litigation (along with contract and business disputes) in the United States.
Negotiation - n. 1) the transfer of a check, promissory note, bill of exchange or other negotiable instrument to another for money, goods, services or other benefit. 2) give-and-take discussion or conference in an attempt to reach an agreement or settle a dispute.
Net - n., adj. the amount of money or value remaining after all costs, losses, taxes, depreciation of value and other expenses and deductions have been paid and/or subtracted. Thus the term is used in net profit, net income, net loss, net worth or net estate.
No Fault Insurance - n: a type of automobile insurance required of car owners by law in 19 states (New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota) and the District of Columbia, in which the persons injured in an accident are paid basic damages by the company that insured the vehicle in which they were riding or by which they were hit as a pedestrian. The amount of damages to be paid by the insurance is limited to actual medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost wages and necessary expenses (such as loss of use of the vehicle) with a low maximum and for a limited period. In addition, an injured person can sue the negligent driver for medical costs above the amount of the insurance, pain and suffering if the injuries required medical treatment or resulted in permanent injury, broken bones or disfigurement, or wrongful death. All registered automobiles must be insured. The benefits of no fault include rapid payment of all medical expenses in most cases; elimination of lawsuits except in cases involving lesser injuries, very serious injury or death; and elimination of extensive and costly investigation, proof of negligence, medical reports and depositions. The statutes vary in states requiring "no fault" insurance. There have been legal challenges to the statutes, primarily suggesting that limitations on the right to sue or establishment of narrow categories of injury for which a claim of "pain and suffering" may be included in a lawsuit are unconstitutional. State courts have struck down those restrictions which were arbitrary or prevented legitimate claims. The fight over no fault insurance laws continues state by state, with the insurance companies and some court reform advocates (who believe "no fault" alleviates a clogging of the courts) favoring it, and trial attorneys either opposing the proposal outright or wanting much more leeway for filing lawsuits.
Nominal Damages - n. a small amount of money awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit to show he/she was right but suffered no substantial harm. The most famous case of nominal damages was when Prime Minister Winston Churchill was awarded a shilling (about 25 cents) in a libel lawsuit he had brought against author Louis Adamic for writing that Churchill had been drunk during a dinner at the White House. The Prime Minister was vindicated, but the jury could not find that his towering reputation had been damaged
Non-Contestability Clause - n. an insurance policy provision which requires the insurance company to challenge any statement in the application for the insurance within a specific time. This prevents the company from denying coverage on the basis of fraud or error in the application when a claim is made by the policyholder.
Notice - n. 1) information, usually in writing in all legal proceedings, of all documents filed, decisions, requests, motions, petitions, and upcoming dates. Notice is a vital principle of fairness and due process in legal procedure and must be given to both parties, to all those affected by a lawsuit or legal proceeding, to the opposing attorney and to the court. In short, neither a party nor the court can operate in secret, make private overtures or conceal actions. Notice of a lawsuit or petition for a court order begins with personal service on the defendants (delivery of notice to the person) of the complaint or petition, together with a summons or order to appear (or file an answer) in court. Thereafter, if a party is represented by an attorney, notice can usually be given to the attorney by mail. If there is a so-called ex parte hearing (an emergency session with a judge with only the requesting party or his/her attorney present) the party wanting the hearing must make a diligent attempt to give notice to the other party. A court may allow "constructive" notice by publication in an approved legal newspaper of a summons in a lawsuit. Examples: in a divorce action, publication gives constructive notice to a spouse known to have left the state or hiding to avoid service; in a quiet title action, notice by publication is given to alert unknown descendants of a dead person who may have had an interest in the real property which is the subject of a lawsuit. Recordation of deeds, mortgages, deeds of trust, easements, leases and other documents affecting real property title give "constructive" notice to the general public, and thus "constructive" notice to anyone interested in the property, without delivering notice to individuals. 2) a writing informing a party to a contract, promissory note, lease, rental agreement or other legal relationship of a delinquency in payment, default, intent to foreclose, notice to pay rent or quit (leave) or other notice required by the agreement, mortgage, deed of trust or statute. 3) information. 4) being informed of a fact, or should have known based on the circumstances, as "he had notice that the roof was not water-tight."
Occupation - n. 1) fairly permanent trade, profession, employment, business or means of livelihood. 2) possession of real property or use of a thing.
Occupational Disease - n. an illness resulting from long-term employment in a particular type of work, such as black lung disease among miners, or cancer among asbestos installers. If the chances of being afflicted by such an illness are significantly higher than the average in the population, then a former employee may receive benefits from Social Security or worker's compensation for a work-related disability.
Of Counsel - adj. reference to an attorney who is not actively involved in the day-to-day work of a law firm, but may be available in particular matters or for consultation. This designation often identifies a semi-retired partner, an attorney who occasionally uses the office for a few clients or one who only consults on a particular case or on his/her specialty. Putting the name of the attorney "of counsel" on a law firm's stationery gives the office the prestige of the lawyer's name and reputation, without requiring his/her full-time presence.
Offer - n. a specific proposal to enter into an agreement with another. An offer is essential to the formation of an enforceable contract. An offer and acceptance of the offer creates the contract.
Officer of the Court - n. any person who has an obligation to promote justice and effective operation of the judicial system, including judges, the attorneys who appear in court, bailiffs, clerks and other personnel. As officers of the court lawyers have an absolute ethical duty to tell judges the truth, including avoiding dishonesty or evasion about reasons the attorney or his/her client is not appearing, the location of documents and other matters related to conduct of the courts.
Offset - 1) n. also called a "setoff," the deduction by a debtor from a claim or demand of a debt or obligation. Such an offset is based upon a counterclaim against the party making the original claim. Example: Harry Hardhead makes a claim or files a lawsuit asking for $20,000 from Danny Debtor as the final payment in purchase of a restaurant; as part of his defense Debtor claims an offset of $10,000 for alleged funds owed by Hardhead for repairs Debtor made on property owned by Hardhead, thus reducing the claim of Hardhead to $10,000. 2) v. to counterclaim an alleged debt owed by a claimant to reduce the demand of that claimant.
Omnibus Clause - n. 1) an automobile insurance policy clause which provides coverage no matter who is driving the car. 2) a provision in a judgment for distribution of an estate of a deceased person, giving "all other property" to the beneficiaries named in the will.
On All Fours - adj. a reference to a lawsuit in which all the legal issues are identical (or so close as to make no difference) to another case, particularly an appeals decision which is a precedent in deciding the suit before the court. Thus, an attorney will argue that the prior case of, for example, Steele v. Merritt is "on all fours" with the case before the court, and so the court must reach the same conclusion.
On the Merits - adj. referring to a judgment, decision or ruling of a court based upon the facts presented in evidence and the law applied to that evidence. A judge decides a case "on the merits" when he/she bases the decision on the fundamental issues and considers technical and procedural defenses as either inconsequential or overcome. Example: An attorney is two days late in filing a set of legal points and authorities in opposition to a motion to dismiss. Rather than dismiss the case based on this technical procedural deficiency, the judge considers the case "on the merits" as if this mistake had not occurred.
Open Court - n. the conduct of judicial proceedings (trials, hearings and routine matters such as trial settings) in which the public may be present. Some hearings and discussions are held in the judge's chambers ("in camera") or with the courtroom cleared of non-participants and/or the jury such as adoptions, sanity hearings, juvenile criminal charges and arguments over evidence and motions which might prejudice the jury. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, later applied to the states under the 14th Amendment, guarantees criminal defendants a "public trial," so all criminal proceedings are held in "open court." This does not apply to pre-trial negotiations and procedural and motion discussions with the judge, which are usually held in chambers.
Opening Statement - n. the explanation by the attorneys for both sides at the beginning of the trial of what will be proved during the trial. The defendant's attorney may delay the opening statement for the defense until the plaintiff's evidence has been introduced. Unlike a "closing argument," the opening statement is supposed to be a factual presentation and not an argument.
Opinion - n. the explanation of a court's judgment. When a trial court judgment is appealed to a court of appeals, the appeals judge's opinion will be detailed, citing case precedents, analyzing the facts, the applicable law and the arguments of the attorneys for the parties. Those opinions considered by the court to be worthy of serving as a precedent or involving important legal issues will be published in the official reports available in most law libraries. Since appeals courts have anywhere from three to nine judges, there are often "dissenting opinions" which disagree with the majority opinion, and "concurring opinions" which agree with the result, but apply different emphasis, precedents or logic to reach the determination. Normally the majority opinion identifies the author, but some brief opinions are labeled "in banc" (by the bench) or "per curiam" (by the court) in which the author is not specified.
Order - 1) n. every direction or mandate of a judge or a court which is not a judgment or legal opinion (although both may include an order) directing that something be done or that there is prohibition against some act. This can range from an order that a case will be tried on a certain date, to an order that a convicted defendant be executed at the state prison. 2) v. for a judge to direct that a party before the court perform a particular act or refrain from certain acts, or to direct a public official or court employee (like a sheriff) to take certain actions such as seizing property or arresting an AWOL defendant.
Ordinance - n. a statute enacted by a city or town.
ordinary course of business
n. conduct of business within normal commercial customs and usages. original jurisdiction n. the authority of a court to hold a trial, as distinguished from appellate jurisdiction to hear appeals from trial judgments.
Out of Court - adj. referring to actions, including negotiations between parties and/or their attorneys, without any direct involvement of a judge or the judicial system. Most commonly it refers to an "out-of-court settlement" in which the parties work out a settlement agreement, which they may present to the court for inclusion in a judgment approving the agreement so that the parties can request a court to enforce the settlement in case one of the parties reneges and fails to honor the terms of the settlement. Quite often a judgment approving an out-of-court settlement is held in abeyance and replaced by a dismissal if the terms are fulfilled. Some out-of-court settlements are kept confidential and the lawsuit is dismissed.
Out-of-Pocket Expenses - n. moneys paid directly for necessary items by a contractor, trustee, executor, administrator or any person responsible to cover expenses not detailed by agreement. They may be recoverable from a defendant in a lawsuit for breach of contract; allowable for reimbursement by trustees, executors or administrators; or deductible by a landlord from a tenant's security deposit for damages beyond normal wear and tear.
Overrule - v. 1) to reject an attorney's objection to a question to a witness or admission of evidence. By overruling the objection, the trial judge allows the question or evidence in court. If the judge agrees with the objection, he/she "sustains" the objection and does not allow the question or evidence. 2) to decide (by a court of appeals) that a prior appeals decision on a legal issue was not correct and is therefore no longer a valid precedent on that legal question.
Pain and Suffering - n. the physical and mental distress suffered from an injury, including actual broken bones and internal ruptures, but also the aches, pain, temporary and permanent limitations on activity, potential shortening of life, depression and embarrassment from scarring, all of which are part of the "general damages" recoverable by someone injured by another's negligence or intentional attack. The dollar value of damages for pain and suffering is subjective, as distinguished from medical bills, future medical costs and lost wages which can be calculated, called "special damages."
Panel - n. the list of people selected to appear for jury duty.
Paralegal - n. a non-lawyer who performs routine tasks requiring some knowledge of the law and procedures and who is employed by a law office or works free-lance as an independent for various lawyers. Usually paralegals have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes, which is much less demanding than those required for a licensed attorney. Paralegals are increasingly popular, often handling much of the paperwork in probates of estates, divorce actions, bankruptcies, investigations, analyzing depositions, preparing and answering interrogatories and procedural motions and other specialized jobs. Clients should be sure that the hourly rate charged for paralegals is much less than that for the attorneys.
Partial Disability - n. the result of an injury which permanently reduces a person's ability to function, but still permits some working or other activity. In worker's compensation cases an injured worker is often awarded a percentage rating of permanent partial disability, which will entitle him/her to a money settlement. The percentage payoff is often based on a physician's evaluation of what part of the person's normal functioning is gone.
Party - n. 1) one of the participants in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who has an interest in the outcome. Parties include plaintiff (person filing suit), defendant (person sued or charged with a crime), petitioner (files a petition asking for a court ruling), respondent (usually in opposition to a petition or an appeal), cross-complainant (a defendant who sues someone else in the same lawsuit), or cross-defendant (a person sued by a cross-complainant). 2) a person or entity involved in an agreement. 3) a common reference by lawyers to people or entities involved in lawsuits, transactions, contracts or accidents, as in "both parties knew what was expected," "he is a party to the contract," "he was not a party to the criminal conspiracy…."
Passenger - n. a rider who has paid a fare on a train, bus, airline, taxi, ship, ferry, automobile or other carrier in the business of transporting people for a fee (a common carrier). A passenger is owed a duty of care by such a carrier and has a right to sue for damages for injuries suffered while being transported without proof of negligence. One tricky issue is whether a person who has entered the depot, station or airport, but not yet purchased a ticket or has not boarded, is entitled to the rights of a passenger to recover for damages. A passenger without payment of fare who is injured must prove the driver's negligence in a suit for damages.
Patent Defect - n. an obvious flaw in a product or a document (such as leaving out the property description in a deed).
Peremptory - adj. absolute, final and not entitled to delay or reconsideration. The term is applied to writs, juror challenges or a date set for hearing.
Peremptory Challenge - n. the right of the plaintiff and the defendant in a jury trial to have a juror dismissed before trial without stating a reason. This challenge is distinguished from a "challenge for cause" (reason) based on the potential juror admitting bias, acquaintanceship with one of the parties or their attorney, personal knowledge about the facts, or some other basis for believing he/she might not be impartial. The number of peremptory challenges for each side will differ based on state law, the number of parties to a case, and whether it is a civil or criminal trial. The usual phrasing used by lawyers exercising the challenge is "Juror number seven may be excused."
Peremptory Writ of Mandate - (or mandamus) n. a final order of a court to any governmental body, government official or a lower court to perform an act the court finds is an official duty required by law. This is distinguished from an alternative writ of mandate (mandamus), which orders the governmental agency, court or officials to obey the order or show cause at a hearing why it should not. The usual practice is for anyone desiring such an order to file a petition for the alternative writ. If the officials do not comply with the order and fail to convince the court that the writ of mandate should be denied, then the court will issue the peremptory writ. In some emergency situations or when there is no conceivable reason for the government not to follow the law, then the peremptory writ will be issued after a notice of hearing without the alternative writ.
Perjury - n. the crime of intentionally lying after being duly sworn (to tell the truth) by a notary public, court clerk or other official. This false statement may be made in testimony in court, administrative hearings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, as well as by signing or acknowledging a written legal document (such as affidavit, declaration under penalty of perjury, deed, license application, tax return) known to contain false information. Although it is a crime, prosecutions for perjury are rare, because a defendant will argue he/she merely made a mistake or misunderstood.
Permanent Disability - n. an injury which impairs the physical and/or mental ability of a person to perform his/her normal work or non-occupational activities supposedly for the remainder of his/her life. Under worker's compensation laws (covering on-the-job injuries) once the condition is stable, a degree of permanent disability is established even if the employee is able to work despite the physical problem. Permanent disability is also one basis for awarding general damages in a lawsuit for injury suffered due to the negligence or intentional attack of another.
Permanent Injury - n. physical or mental damage which will restrict the employment and/or other activities of a person for the rest of his/her life. In a lawsuit to recover damages caused by the negligence or intentional wrongful act of another, a permanent injury can be a major element in an award of general damages.
Permissive - adj. 1) referring to any act which is allowed by court order, legal procedure, or agreement. 2) tolerant or allowing of others' behavior, suggesting contrary to others' standards.
Personal Service - n. delivering a summons, complaint, notice to quit tenancy or other legal document which must be served by handing it directly to the person named in the document. Personal service is distinguished from "constructive service," which includes posting the notice and then mailing a copy or publishing a summons on a person the court has found is hiding to avoid service, and from "substituted service," which is giving the document to someone else (another resident, a secretary or receptionist, or other responsible adult) at the address.
Petition - 1) n. a formal written request to a court for an order of the court. It is distinguished from a complaint in a lawsuit which asks for damages and/or performance by the opposing party. Petitions include demands for writs, orders to show cause, modifications of prior orders, continuances, dismissal of a case, reduction of bail in criminal cases, a decree of distribution of an estate, appointment of a guardian, and a host of other matters arising in legal actions. 2) n. a general term for a writing signed by a number of people asking for a particular result from a private governing body (such as a homeowners association, a political party, or a club). 3) in public law, a writing signed by a number of people which is required to place a proposition or ordinance on the ballot, nominate a person for public office, or demand a recall election. Such petitions for official action must be signed by a specified number of registered voters (such as five percent). 4) v. to make a formal request of a court; to present a written request to an organization's governing body signed by one or more members. 5) n. a suit for divorce in some states, in which the parties are called petitioner and respondent.
Physician-Patient Privilege - n. the right and obligation of a physician to refuse to testify in a trial or other legal proceeding about any statement made to him/her by a patient on the basis that any communication between doctor and patient is confidential. A patient could sue the physician for damages if the doctor breaches the confidence by testifying. Of course, in most trials involving injuries the physician will testify with the plaintiff's permission. Note: when the defendant's physician examines the injured plaintiff, the plaintiff has given permission for that examination and potential testimony, so a plaintiff must be cautious in making statements.
Pierce the Corporate Veil - v. to prove that a corporation exists merely as a completely controlled front (alter ego) for an individual or management group, so that in a lawsuit the individual defendants can be held responsible (liable) for damages for actions of the corporation. If a corporation has issued stock and held regular meetings of shareholders and directors, it is unlikely a judge will "pierce" the veil and limit the liability to the corporation, unless there is proof that the corporation was created to accomplish a fraud on those dealing with it.
Plaintiff - n. the party who initiates a lawsuit by filing a complaint with the clerk of the court against the defendant(s) demanding damages, performance and/or court determination of rights.
Plaintiff's Attorney - n. the attorney who represents a plaintiff (the suing party) in a lawsuit. In lawyer parlance a "plaintiff's attorney" refers to a lawyer who regularly represents persons who are suing for damages, while a lawyer who is regularly chosen by an insurance company to represent its insureds is called a "defense attorney."
Plead - v. 1) in civil lawsuits and petitions, to file any document (pleading) including complaints, petitions, declarations, motions and memoranda of points and authorities. 2) in criminal law, to enter a plea of a defendant in response to each charge of criminal conduct.
Pleading - n. 1) every legal document filed in a lawsuit, petition, motion and/or hearing, including complaint, petition, answer, demurrer, motion, declaration and memorandum of points and authorities (written argument citing precedents and statutes). Laypersons should be aware that, except possibly for petitions from prisoners, pleadings are required by state or federal statutes and/or court rules to be of a particular form and format: typed, signed, dated, with the name of the court, title and number of the case, name, address and telephone number of the attorney or person acting for himself/herself (in pro per) included. 2) the act of preparing and presenting legal documents and arguments. Good pleading is an art: clear, logical, well-organized and comprehensive.
Power of Attorney - n. a written document signed by a person giving another person the power to act in conducting the signer's business, including signing papers, checks, title documents, contracts, handling bank accounts and other activities in the name of the person granting the power. The person receiving the power of attorney (the agent) is "attorney in fact" for the person giving the power, and usually signs documents as "Melinda Hubbard, attorney in fact for Guilda Giver." There are two types of power of attorney: a) general power of attorney, which covers all activities, and b) special power of attorney, which grants powers limited to specific matters, such as selling a particular piece of real estate, handling some bank accounts or executing a limited partnership agreement. A power of attorney may expire on a date stated in the document or upon written cancellation. Usually the signer acknowledges before a notary public that he/she executed the power, so that it is recordable if necessary, as in a real estate transaction.
Pray - v. to formally request judicial judgment, relief and/or damages at the end of a complaint or petition.
Prayer - n. the specific request for judgment, relief and/or damages at the conclusion of a complaint or petition. A typical prayer would read: "The plaintiff prays for 1) special damages in the sum of $17,500; 2) general damages according to proof [proved in trial]; 3) reasonable attorney's fees; 4) costs of suit; and 5) such other and further relief as the court shall deem proper." A prayer gives the judge an idea of what is sought, and may become the basis of a judgment if the defendant defaults (fails to file an answer). Sometimes a plaintiff will inflate damages in the prayer for publicity or intimidation purposes, or because the plaintiff believes that a gigantic demand will be a better starting point in negotiations. However, the ridiculous multi-million prayers in smaller cases make plaintiffs look foolish and unrealistic.
Preemption - n. the rule of law that if the federal government through Congress has enacted legislation on a subject matter it shall be controlling over state laws and/or preclude the state from enacting laws on the same subject if Congress has specifically stated it has "occupied the field." If Congress has not clearly claimed preemption, a federal or state court may decide the issue on the basis of history of the legislation (debate in Congress) and practice. Example: federal standards of meat or other products have preempted state laws. However, federal and state legislation on narcotics control may parallel each other.
Premises - n. 1) in real estate, land and the improvements on it, a building, store, shop, apartment, or other designated structure. The exact premises may be important in determining if an outbuilding (shed, cabana, detached garage) is insured or whether a person accused of burglary has actually entered a structure. 2) in legal pleading, premises means "all that has hereinabove been stated," as in a prayer (request) at the end of a complaint asking for "any further order deemed proper in the premises" (an order based on what has been stated in the complaint).
Premium - n. 1) payment for insurance coverage either in a lump sum or by installments. 2) an extra payment for an act, option or priority.
Presumption - n. a rule of law which permits a court to assume a fact is true until such time as there is a preponderance (greater weight) of evidence which disproves or outweighs (rebuts) the presumption. Each presumption is based upon a particular set of apparent facts paired with established laws, logic, reasoning or individual rights. A presumption is rebuttable in that it can be refuted by factual evidence. One can present facts to persuade the judge that the presumption is not true. Examples: a child born of a husband and wife living together is presumed to be the natural child of the husband unless there is conclusive proof it is not; a person who has disappeared and not been heard from for seven years is presumed to be dead, but the presumption could be rebutted if he/she is found alive; an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. These are sometimes called rebuttable presumptions to distinguish them from absolute, conclusive or irrebuttable presumptions in which rules of law and logic dictate that there is no possible way the presumption can be disproved. However, if a fact is absolute it is not truly a presumption at all, but a certainty.
Prevailing Party - n. the winner in a lawsuit. Many contracts, leases, mortgages, deeds of trust or promissory notes provide that the "prevailing party" shall be entitled to recovery of attorney's fees and costs if legal action must be taken to enforce the agreement. Even if the plaintiff gets much less than the claim, he/she/it is the prevailing party entitled to include attorney's fees in the collectable costs. Usually there is no prevailing party when a complaint is voluntarily dismissed prior to trial or settled before or after trial has begun.
Prima Facie - (pry-mah fay-shah) adj. Latin for "at first look," or "on its face," referring to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial. A prima facie case presented to a Grand Jury by the prosecution will result in an indictment. Example: in a charge of bad check writing, evidence of a half dozen checks written on a non-existent bank account makes it a prima facie case. However, proof that the bank had misprinted the account number on the checks might disprove the prosecution's apparent "open and shut" case.
Principal - n. 1) main person in a business. 2) employer, the person hiring and directing employees (agents) to perform his/her/its business. It is particularly important to determine who is the principal since he/she/it is responsible for the acts of agents in the "scope of employment" under the doctrine of respondeat superior. 3) in criminal law, the main perpetrator (organizer and active committer) of a crime, as distinguished from an "accessory" who helps the principal in some fashion. The criminal principal is usually the person who originates the idea of committing the crime and/or directly carries it out, and is more likely to be charged with a higher degree of the crime, and receive a stiffer prison sentence. 4) adj. chief, leading, highest.
Principal Place of Business - n. location of head office of a business where the books and records are kept and/or management works. In most states corporations must report their principal place of business to the Secretary of State.
Private Carrier - n. one who provides transportation or delivery of goods for money, just for the particular instance, and not as a regular business. It is distinguished from a "common carrier" which is in the business, such as buses, railroads, trucking companies, airlines and taxis. However, a private carrier may be liable for injuries to anyone who pays or shares the cost of transport.
Pro Bono - adj. short for pro bono publico, Latin for "for the public good," legal work performed by lawyers without pay to help people with legal problems and limited or no funds, or provide legal assistance to organizations involved in social causes such as environmental, consumer, minority, youth, battered women and education organizations and charities.
Pro Se - (proh say) prep. Latin for "for himself." A party to a lawsuit who represents himself (acting in propria persona) is appearing in the case "pro se."
Procedure - n. the methods and mechanics of the legal process. These include filing complaints, answers and demurrers; serving documents on the opposition; setting hearings, depositions, motions, petitions, interrogatories; preparing orders; giving notice to the other parties; conduct of trials; and all the rules and laws governing that process. Every state has a set of procedural statutes (often called the Codes of Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure), and courts have so-called "local rules," which govern times for filing documents, conduct of the courts and other technicalities. Law practice before the federal courts operates under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Procedural law is distinguished from "substantive" law, which involves the statutes and legal precedents upon which cases are tried and judgments made.
Process - n. in law, the legal means by which a person is required to appear in court or a defendant is given notice of a legal action against him/her/it. When a complaint in a lawsuit is filed, it must be served on each defendant, together with a summons issued by the clerk of the court stating the amount of time (say, 30 days) in which the defendant has to file an answer or other legal pleading with the clerk of the court, and sent to the plaintiff. New York has an unusual system in which a summons may be served without a complaint. A subpena is similar to a summons but is a notice to a witness to appear at a deposition (testimony taken outside court), or at a trial. A subpena duces tecum is an order to deliver documents or other evidence either into court or to the attorney for a party to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. An order to show cause is a court order to appear in court and give a reason why the court should not issue an order (such as paying temporary child support). The summons, complaint, subpena, subpena duces tecum and order to show cause must all be "served" on the defendant or person required to appear or produce, and this is called "service of process." Service of process is usually made by an officer of the court such as a deputy sheriff or marshal, or a professional process server, but can be performed by others in most jurisdictions.
Process Server - n. a person who serves (delivers) legal papers in lawsuits, either as a profession or as a government official, such as a deputy sheriff, marshal or constable.
Product Liability - n. the responsibility of manufacturers, distributors and sellers of products to the public, to deliver products free of defects which harm an individual or numerous persons and to make good on that responsibility if their products are defective. These can include faulty auto brakes, contaminated baby food, exploding bottles of beer, flammable children's pajamas or lack of label warnings. Examples: Beauty Queen Hair Products makes a hair-permanent kit in which the formula will cause loss of hair to women with sensitive scalps, and Molly Makeup has her hair done at the Bon Ton Beauty Shop and suffers scalp burns and loss of hair. Molly has a claim for damages against Beauty Queen, the manufacturer. Big Boy Trucks makes a truck with a faulty steering gear, bought by Tom Holdtight. The gear fails and Holdtight runs off the road and breaks his back. Holdtight can sue Big Boy for the damages. The key element in product liability law is that a person who suffers harm need prove only the failure of the product to make the seller, distributor and/or manufacturer reliable for damages. An injured person usually need only sue the seller and let him/her/it bring the manufacturer or distributor into the lawsuit or require contribution toward a judgment. However, all those possibly responsible should be named in the suit as defendants if they are known.
Property Damage - n. injury to real or personal property through another's negligence, willful destruction or by some act of nature. In lawsuits for damages caused by negligence or a willful act, property damage is distinguished from personal injury. Property damage may include harm to an automobile, a fence, a tree, a home or any other possession. The amount of recovery for property damage may be established by evidence of replacement value, cost of repairs, loss of use until repaired or replaced or, in the case of heirlooms or very personal items (e.g. wedding pictures), by subjective testimony as to sentimental value.
Proximate Cause - n. a happening which results in an event, particularly injury due to negligence or an intentional wrongful act. In order to prevail (win) in a lawsuit for damages due to negligence or some other wrong, it is essential to claim (plead) proximate cause in the complaint and to prove in trial that the negligent act of the defendant was the proximate cause (and not some other reason) of the damages to the plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit). Sometimes there is an intervening cause which comes between the original negligence of the defendant and the injured plaintiff, which will either reduce the amount of responsibility or, if this intervening cause is the substantial reason for the injury, then the defendant will not be liable at all. In criminal law, the defendant's act must have been the proximate cause of the death of a victim to prove murder or manslaughter
Punitive Damages - n. (synony- mous with exemplary damages), damages awarded in a lawsuit as a punishment and example to others for malicious, evil or particularly fraudulent acts.
Quantum Meruit - (kwahn-tuhm mare-ooh-it) n. Latin for "as much as he deserved," the actual value of services performed. Quantum meruit determines the amount to be paid for services when no contract exists or when there is doubt as to the amount due for the work performed but done under circumstances when payment could be expected. This may include a physician's emergency aid, legal work when there was no contract, or evaluating the amount due when outside forces cause a job to be terminated unexpectedly. If a person sues for payment for services in such circumstances the judge or jury will calculate the amount due based on time and usual rate of pay or the customary charge, based on quantum meruit by implying a contract existed.
Quash - v. to annul or set aside. In law, a motion to quash asks the judge for an order setting aside or nullifying an action, such as "quashing" service of a summons when the wrong person was served.
Question of Fact - n. in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, an issue of fact in which the truth or falsity (or a mix of the two) must be determined by the "trier of fact" (the jury or the judge in a non-jury trial) in order to reach a decision in the case. A "question of fact" may also be raised in a motion for summary judgment which asks the court to determine whether there are any questions of fact to be tried, allowing the judge to rule on the case (usually to dismiss the complaint) at that point without a trial. "Questions of fact" are distinguished from "questions of law," which can only be decided by the judge.
Question of Law - n. an issue arising in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which only relates to determination of what the law is, how it is applied to the facts in the case, and other purely legal points in contention. All "questions of law" arising before, during and sometimes after a trial are to be determined solely by the judge and not by the jury. "Questions of law" are differentiated from "questions of fact," which are decided by the jury and only by the judge if there is no jury.
Quid Pro Quo - (kwid proh kwoh) n. Latin for "something for something," to identify what each party to an agreement expects from the other, sometimes called mutual consideration. Example of its use: "What is the quid pro quo for my entering into this deal?"
Reasonable - adj., adv. in law, just, rational, appropriate, ordinary or usual in the circumstances. It may refer to care, cause, compensation, doubt (in a criminal trial), and a host of other actions or activities.
Reasonable Care - n. the degree of caution and concern for the safety of himself/herself and others an ordinarily prudent and rational person would use in the circumstances. This is a subjective test of determining if a person is negligent, meaning he/she did not exercise reasonable care.
Rebuttable Presumption - n. since a presumption is an assumption of fact accepted by the court until disproved, all presumptions are rebuttable. Thus rebuttable presumption is a redundancy.
Rebuttal - n. evidence introduced to counter, disprove or contradict the opposition's evidence or a presumption, or responsive legal argument.
Reckless - adj. in both negligence and criminal cases, careless to the point of being heedless of the consequences ("grossly" negligent). Most commonly this refers to the traffic misdemeanor "reckless driving." It can also refer to use of firearms (shooting a gun in a public place), explosives or heavy equipment.
Reckless Disregard - n. gross negligence without concern for danger to others. Actually "reckless disregard" is redundant since reckless means there is a disregard for safety.
Reckless Driving - n. operation of an automobile in a dangerous manner under the circumstances, including speeding (or going too fast for the conditions, even though within the posted speed limit), driving after drinking (but not drunk), having too many passengers in the car, cutting in and out of traffic, failing to yield to other vehicles and other negligent acts. It is a misdemeanor crime. A "wet reckless" is a plea in a drunk driving prosecution allowed to lessen the penalty when the blood alcohol level is close to the legal limit.
Recover - v. to receive a money judgment in a lawsuit.
Recoverable - adj. referring to the amount of money to which a plaintiff (the party suing) is entitled in a lawsuit. Thus, a judge might rule "$12,500 is recoverable for lost wages, and $5,500 is recoverable for property damage to plaintiff's vehicle."
Recovery - n. the amount of money and any other right or property received by a plaintiff in a lawsuit.
Recusal - n. the act of a judge or prosecutor being removed or voluntarily stepping aside from a legal case due to conflict of interest or other good reason.
Release - 1) v. to give up a right as releasing one from his/her obligation to perform under a contract, or to relinquish a right to an interest in real property. 2) v. to give freedom, as letting out of prison. 3) n. the writing that grants a release.
Relevant - adj. having some reasonable connection with, and in regard to evidence in trial, having some value or tendency to prove a matter of fact significant to the case. Commonly, an objection to testimony or physical evidence is that it is "irrelevant."
Remand - v. to send back. An appeals court may remand a case to the trial court for further action if it reverses the judgment of the lower court, or after a preliminary hearing a judge may remand into custody a person accused of a crime if the judge finds that a there is reason to hold the accused for trial.
Remittitur - n. 1) a judge's order reducing a judgment awarded by a jury when the award exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff (person who brought the suit). 2) an appeal's transmittal of a case back to the trial court so that the case can be retried, or an order entered consistent with the appeals court's decision (such as dismissing the plaintiff's case or awarding costs to the winning party on appeal).
Repair - v. to restore to former condition or in some contracts to operational soundness. Contracts should spell out the repairs to be made and what the final condition will be. Example: roof repairs should be more than a half-baked patching to temporarily halt leaking.
Reply Brief - n. the written legal argument of the respondent (trial court winner) in answer to the "opening brief" of an appellant (a trial court loser who has appealed).
Res Adjudicata - n. a thing (legal matter) already determined by a court, from Latin for "the thing has been judged." More properly res judicata.
Res Ipsa Loquitur - (rayz ip-sah loh-quit-her) n. Latin for "the thing speaks for itself," a doctrine of law that one is presumed to be negligent if he/she/it had exclusive control of whatever caused the injury even though there is no specific evidence of an act of negligence, and without negligence the accident would not have happened. Examples: a) a load of bricks on the roof of a building being constructed by Highrise Construction Co. falls and injures Paul Pedestrian below, and Highrise is liable for Pedestrian's injury even though no one saw the load fall. b) While under anesthetic, Isabel Patient's nerve in her arm is damaged although it was not part of the surgical procedure, and she is unaware of which of a dozen medical people in the room caused the damage. Under res ipsa loquitur all those connected with the operation are liable for negligence. Lawyers often shorten the doctrine to "res ips," and find it a handy shorthand for a complex doctrine.
Res Judicata - (rayz judy-cot-ah) n. Latin for "the thing has been judged," meaning the issue before the court has already been decided by another court, between the same parties. Therefore, the court will dismiss the case before it as being useless. Example: an Ohio court determines that John is the father of Betty's child. John cannot raise the issue again in another state. Sometimes called res adjudicata.
Rescind - v. to cancel a contract, putting the parties back to the position as if the contract had not existed. Both parties rescind a contract by mutual agreement, since a unilateral cancellation of a contract is a "breach" of the contract and could result in a lawsuit by the non-cancelling party.
Respondent - n. 1) the party who is required to answer a petition for a court order or writ requiring the respondent to take some action, halt an activity or obey a court's direction. In such matters the moving party (the one filing the petition) is usually called the "petitioner." Thus, the respondent is equivalent to a defendant in a lawsuit, but the potential result is a court order and not money damages. 2) on an appeal, the party who must respond to an appeal by the losing party in the trial court (called "appellant") in the appeals court.
Respondeat Superior - (rehs-pond-dee-at superior) n. Latin for "let the master answer," a key doctrine in the law of agency, which provides that a principal (employer) is responsible for the actions of his/her/its agent (employee) in the "course of employment." Thus, an agent who signs an agreement to purchase goods for his employer in the name of the employer can create a binding contract between the seller and the employer. Another example: if a delivery truck driver negligently hits a child in the street, the company for which the driver works will be liable for the injuries.
Restatement of the Law - n. a series of detailed statements of the basic law in the United States on a variety of subjects written and updated by well-known legal scholars under the auspices of the American Law Institute since the 1930s. While not having the force of statutes or of decided precedents, the Restatement (as lawyers generally call it) has the prestige of the scholars who have studied the legal questions. Topics covered include agency, contracts, property, torts and trusts.
Result - n. common lawyer lingo for outcome of a lawsuit.
Retainer - n. the advance payment to an attorney for services to be performed, intended to insure that the lawyer will represent the client and that the lawyer will be paid at least that amount. Commonly in matters which will involve extensive work there will be a retainer agreement signed by the attorney and client. Further payments for services can be expected as the time spent on the legal matter increases. Most lawyers do not want to be owed money and wish to be paid either in advance or promptly as the work is performed. One reason for the retainer, and the problem a lawyer faces, is that he/she does not want to abandon a client, but at the same time does not want to be stuck with extensive unpaid fees.
Retrial - n. a new trial granted upon the motion of the losing party, based on obvious error, bias or newly discovered evidence, or after mistrial or reversed by an appeals court.
Return of Service - n. written confirmation under oath by a process server declaring that there was service of legal documents (such as a summons and complaint).
Reversal - n. the decision of a court of appeal ruling that the judgment of a lower court was incorrect and is therefore reversed. The result is that the lower court which tried the case is instructed to dismiss the original action, retry the case or change its judgment. Examples: a court which denied a petition for writ of mandate is ordered to issue the writ. A lower court which gave judgment with no evidence of damages is ordered to dismiss.
Reversible Error - n. a legal mistake at the trial court level which is so significant (resulted in an improper judgment) that the judgment must be reversed by the appellate court. A reversible error is distinguished from an error which is minor or did not contribute to the judgment at the trial.
Review - n. the judicial consideration of a lower court judgment by an appellate court, determining if there were legal errors sufficient to require reversal. The process requires notice of appeal, obtaining a transcript of the trial or hearing at the trial level, obtaining all the pleadings and other documents filed in the original trial, preparation of briefs citing precedents and arguing that there was reversible error. Then the respondent (winner at the trial court) may file a responsive brief, and the appellant (the one appealing the decision) has the chance to file a brief in response to the respondent. The next step is oral argument (if allowed) before the appellate court. Appeals on procedural issues normally do not include oral argument. If the appellate court denies the appeal a rehearing may be requested but is seldom granted.
Rider - n. 1) an attachment to a document which adds to or amends it. Typical is an added provision to an insurance policy, such as additional coverage or temporary insurance to cover a public event. 2) in legislatures, an amendment tacked on to a bill which has little or no relevance to the main purpose of the legislation, but is a way to get the amendment passed if the basic bill has support. 3) passenger.
Right - 1) n. an entitlement to something, whether to concepts like justice and due process or to ownership of property or some interest in property, real or personal. These rights include: various freedoms; protection against interference with enjoyment of life and property; civil rights enjoyed by citizens such as voting and access to the courts; natural rights accepted by civilized societies; human rights to protect people throughout the world from terror, torture, barbaric practices and deprivation of civil rights and profit from their labor; and such U.S. constitutional guarantees as the right to freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. 2) adj. just, fair, correct.
Risk - n. chances of danger or loss, particularly of property covered by an insurance policy or property being used or transported by another. Insurance companies assume the risk of loss and calculate their premiums by the value and the risk based on statistically determined chances. A trucking company assumes the risk of loss while carrying goods.
Rogatory Letters - n. a written request by a judge to a judge in another state asking that a witness in the other state have his/her testimony taken in the other state's court for use in the local court case.
Rule - 1) v. to decide a legal question, by a court, as in: "I rule that the plaintiff is entitled to the goods and damages for delay in the sum of $10,000." 2) v. to make a judicial command, such as: "I find that George Gonzo is the parent of Larry Gonzo and rule that he must pay support of $150 per month to the mother" for the support of Larry. 3) n. any regulation governing conduct. 4) n. one of the regulations of covering legal practice before a particular group of courts, collectively called "rules of court" adopted by local judges. 5) n. a legal principle set by the decision in an appellate case, as "the rule in the case of Murray v. Crampton is…."
Rules of Court - n. a set of procedural regulations adopted by courts which are mandatory upon parties and their lawyers on matters within the jurisdiction of those courts. Most states have statewide rules of court. Federal court rules are adopted by the district courts based on the Federal Rules of Procedure, and county, district and municipal court judges adopt what are called "local rules" of court. Local rules encompass the time allowed to file papers, the format of documents (including the paper colors of appeal court briefs), the number of copies to be filed, the procedure to file motions, the basis for calculating alimony and child support, fees for filing various documents and numerous other mundane but vital matters. These rules are violated or ignored at the peril of the client and his/her/its counsel.
Ruling - n. court decision on a case or any legal question.
Satisfaction - n. receiving payment or performance of what is due.
Satisfaction of Judgment - n. a document signed by a judgment creditor (the party owed the money judgment) stating that the full amount due on the judgment has been paid. The judgment creditor (the party who paid the judgment) is entitled to demand that the judgment creditor (the party to whom the money judgment is owed) sign the satisfaction of judgment, file it with the court clerk, acknowledge it before a notary public, and record the document with the County Recorder (or Recorder of Deeds) if there is an abstract of judgment (a document showing the amount of the judgment which is a lien on any real property belonging to the defendant) on record.
Save Harmless - v. 1) also called hold harmless, to indemnify (protect) another from harm or cost. 2) to agree to guarantee that any debt, lawsuit or claim which may arise as a result of a contract or contract performance will be paid or taken care of by the party making the guarantee. Example: the seller of a business agrees to "save harmless" the buyer from any unknown debts of the business.
Scope of Employment - n. actions of an employee which further the business of the employer and are not personal business, which becomes the test as to whether an employer is liable for damages due to such actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior (make the master answer). Example: Dick Deliver drives a truck delivering groceries for Super-Duper Market. If Dick negligently runs the truck into Victor Victim's VW while making deliveries or on the way back from a delivery, then Super-Duper is liable since the accident was in the scope of employment. If Dick goes outside the delivery route to have lunch with his girlfriend and on the way hits Victim then there is a strong inference he was outside the scope of employment.
Service of Process - n. the delivery of copies of legal documents such as summons, complaint, subpena, order to show cause (order to appear and argue against a proposed order), writs, notice to quit the premises and certain other documents, usually by personal delivery to the defendant or other person to whom the documents are directed. So-called "substituted service" can be accomplished by leaving the documents with an adult resident of a home, with an employee with management duties at a business office or with a designated "agent for acceptance of service" (often with name and address filed with the state's Secretary of State), or, in some cases, by posting in a prominent place followed by mailing copies by certified mail to the opposing party. In certain cases of absent or unknown defendants, the court will allow service by publication in a newspaper. Once all parties have filed a complaint, answer or any pleading in a lawsuit, further documents usually can be served by mail or even FAX.
Settle - v. to resolve a lawsuit without a final court judgment by negotiation between the parties, usually with the assistance of attorneys and/or insurance adjusters, and sometimes prodding by a judge. Most legal disputes are settled prior to trial.
Settlement - n. the resolution of a lawsuit (or of a legal dispute prior to filing a complaint or petition) without going forward to a final court judgment. Most settlements are achieved by negotiation in which the attorneys (and sometimes an insurance adjuster with authority to pay a settlement amount on behalf of the company's insured defendant) and the parties agree to terms of settlement. Many states require a settlement conference a few weeks before trial in an effort to achieve settlement with a judge or assigned attorneys to facilitate the process. A settlement is sometimes reached based upon a final offer just prior to trial (proverbially "on the courthouse steps") or even after trial has begun. A settlement reached just before trial or after a trial or hearing has begun is often "read into the record" and approved by the court so that it can be enforced as a judgment if the terms of the settlement are not complied with. Most lawsuits result in settlement.
Several Liability - n. referring to responsibility of one party for the entire debt (as in "joint and several") or judgment when those who jointly agreed to pay the debt or are jointly ordered to pay a judgment do not do so. A person who is stuck with "several liability" because the others do not pay their part may sue the other joint debtors for contribution toward the payment he/she has made.
Shifting the Burden of Proof - n. the result of the plaintiff in a lawsuit meeting its burden of proof in the case, in effect placing the burden with the defendant, at which time it presents a defense. There may be shifts of burden of proof on specific factual issues during a trial, which may impact the opposing parties and their need to produce evidence.
Small Claims Court - n. a division of most municipal, city or other lowest local courts which hear cases involving relatively small amounts of money and without a request for court orders like eviction. The highest (jurisdictional) amount that can be considered in small claims court varies by state, but goes as high as $5,000 in California. In small claims court, attorneys may not represent clients, the filing fee is low, there is no jury, the procedure is fairly informal, each side has a short time to present his/her case and the right to appeal only permits a trial de novo (a new trial) at the next court level. Often the judge is an experienced lawyer sitting as a pro tem judge. Small claims court is a quick, inexpensive way to settle lesser legal disputes, although the controversies are often important to the participants. The well-known television program People's Court is intended to be a good example of a small claims court.
Special Damages - n. damages claimed and/or awarded in a lawsuit which were out-of-pocket costs directly as the result of the breach of contract, negligence or other wrongful act by the defendant. Special damages can include medical bills, repairs and replacement of property, loss of wages and other damages which are not speculative or subjective. They are distinguished from general damages, in which there is no evidence of a specific dollar figure.
Speculative Damages - n. possible financial loss or expenses claimed by a plaintiff (person filing a lawsuit) which are contingent upon a future occurrence, purely conjectural or highly improbable. Speculative damages should not be awarded, and jury instructions should so state. Examples: a) plaintiff believes that ten years hence, as he ages, he may begin to feel pain from a healed fracture although no physician has testified that this is likely to happen; b) plaintiff claims that defendant's failure to deliver products for sale may hurt plaintiff's reputation with future customers.
Standard of Care - n. the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would exercise. If a person's actions do not meet this standard of care, then his/her acts fail to meet the duty of care which all people (supposedly) have toward others. Failure to meet the standard is negligence, and any damages resulting therefrom may be claimed in a lawsuit by the injured party. The problem is that the "standard" is often a subjective issue upon which reasonable people can differ.
Statute - n. a federal or state written law enacted by the Congress or state legislature, respectively. Local statutes or laws are usually called "ordinances." Regulations, rulings, opinions, executive orders and proclamations are not statutes.
Statute of Limitations - n. a law which sets the maximum period which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. The periods vary by state. Federal statutes set the limitations for suits filed in federal courts. If the lawsuit or claim is not filed before the statutory deadline, the right to sue or make a claim is forever dead (barred). The types of cases and statute of limitations periods are broken down among: personal injury from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, property damage from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, breach of an oral contract, breach of a written contract, professional malpractice, libel, slander, fraud, trespass, a claim against a governmental entity (usually a short time), and some other variations. In some instances a statute of limitations can be extended ("tolled") based on delay in discovery of the injury or on reasonable reliance on a trusted person (a fiduciary or confidential adviser who has hidden his/her own misuse of someone else's funds or failure to pay). A minor's right to bring an action for injuries due to negligence is tolled until the minor turns 18 (except for a claim against a governmental agency). There are also statutes of limitations on bringing criminal charges, but homicide generally has no time limitation on prosecution. The limitations (depending on the state) generally range from 1 to 6 years except for in Rhode Island, which uses 10 years for several causes of action. Louisiana has the strictest limitations, cutting off lawsuit rights at one year for almost all types of cases except contracts. California also has short periods, usually one year, with two years for most property damage and oral contracts and four years for written contracts. There are also statutes of limitations on the right to enforce a judgment, ranging from five to 25 years, depending on the state. Some states have special requirements before a lawsuit can be filed, such as a written warning to a physician in a claim of malpractice, making a demand upon a state agency and then waiting for the claim to be denied or ignored for a particular period, first demanding a retraction before filing a libel suit, and other variations. Vermont protects its ski resorts by allowing only one year for filing a lawsuit for injuries suffered in a skiing accident as an exception to that state's three-year statute of limitations for other personal injuries.
Stipulation - n. an agreement, usually on a procedural matter, between the attorneys for the two sides in a legal action. Some stipulations are oral, but the courts often require that the stipulation be put in writing, signed and filed with the court.
Strict Liability - n. automatic responsibility (without having to prove negligence) for damages due to possession and/or use of equipment, materials or possessions which are inherently dangerous, such as explosives, wild animals, poisonous snakes or assault weapons. This is analogous to the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in which control, ownership and damages are sufficient to hold the owner liable.
Subpena - (subpoena): (suh-pea-nah) n. an order of the court for a witness to appear at a particular time and place to testify and/or produce documents in the control of the witness (if a "subpena duces tecum"). A subpena is used to obtain testimony from a witness at both depositions (testimony under oath taken outside of court) and at trial. Subpenas are usually issued automatically by the court clerk but must be served personally on the party being summoned. Failure to appear as required by the subpena can be punished as contempt of court if it appears the absence was intentional or without cause.
Subpena Duces Tecum - (suh-pea-nah dooh-chess-take-uhm or dooh-kess-take-uhm): a court order requiring a witness to bring documents in the possession or under the control of the witness to a certain place at a certain time. This subpena must be served personally on the person subpenaed. It is the common way to obtain potentially useful evidence, such as documents and business records, in the possession of a third party. A subpena duces tecum must specify the documents or types of documents (e.g. "profit and loss statements of ABC Corporation for years 1987 through 1995, all correspondence in regard to the contract between ABC Corporation and Merritt") or it will be subject to an objection that the request is "too broad and burdensome." To obtain documents from the opposing party, a "Request for Production of Documents" is more commonly used. Failure to respond to a subpena duces tecum may subject the party served with the subpena to punishment for contempt of court for disobeying a court order.
Subrogation - n. assuming the legal rights of a person for whom expenses or a debt has been paid. Typically, subrogation occurs when an insurance company which pays its insured client for injuries and losses then sues the party which the injured person contends caused the damages to him/her. Example: Fred Farmer negligently builds a bonfire which gets out of control and starts a grass fire which spreads to Ned Neighbor's barn. Good Hands Insurance Co. has insured the barn, pays Neighbor his estimated cost of reconstruction of the barn, and then sues Farmer for that amount. Farmer will have all the "defenses" to the insurance company's suit that he would have had against Neighbor, including the contention that the cost of repairing the barn was less than Neighbor was paid or that Neighbor negligently got in the way of firefighters trying to put out the grass fire.
Suit - n. generic term for any filing of a complaint (or petition) asking for legal redress by judicial action, often called a "lawsuit." In common parlance a suit asking for a court order for action rather than a money judgment is often called a "petition," but technically it is a "suit in equity."
Summary Judgment - n. a court order ruling that no factual issues remain to be tried and therefore a cause of action or all causes of action in a complaint can be decided upon certain facts without trial. A summary judgment is based upon a motion by one of the parties that contends that all necessary factual issues are settled or so one-sided they need not be tried. The motion is supported by declarations under oath, excerpts from depositions which are under oath, admissions of fact and other discovery, as well as a legal argument (points and authorities), that argue that there are no triable issues of fact and that the settled facts require a summary judgment for the moving party. The opposing party will respond by counter-declarations and legal arguments attempting to show that there are "triable issues of fact." If it is unclear whether there is a triable issue of fact in any cause of action, then summary judgment must be denied as to that cause of action. The theory behind the summary judgment process is to eliminate the need to try settled factual issues and to decide without trial one or more causes of action in the complaint. The pleading procedures are extremely technical and complicated and are particularly dangerous to the party against whom the motion is made.
Tender - 1) v. to present to another person an unconditional offer to enter into a contract. 2) v. to present payment to another. 3) n. delivery, except that the recipient has the choice not to accept the tender. However, the act of tender completes the responsibility of the person making the tender.
Testify - v. to give oral evidence under oath in answer to questions posed by attorneys either at trial or at a deposition (testimony under oath outside of court), with the opportunity for opposing attorneys to cross-examine the witness in regard to answers given.
Testimony - n. oral evidence given under oath by a witness in answer to questions posed by attorneys at trial or at a deposition (questioning under oath outside of court).
Third Party - n. a person who is not a party to a contract or a transaction, but has an involvement (such as one who is a buyer from one of the parties, was present when the agreement was signed or made an offer that was rejected). The third party normally has no legal rights in the matter, unless the contract was made for the third party's benefit.
Tort - n. from French for "wrong," a civil wrong or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, from which injury occurs to another. Torts include all negligence cases as well as intentional wrongs which result in harm. Therefore tort law is one of the major areas of law (along with contract, real property and criminal law) and results in more civil litigation than any other category. Some intentional torts may also be crimes, such as assault, battery, wrongful death, fraud, conversion (a euphemism for theft) and trespass on property and form the basis for a lawsuit for damages by the injured party. Defamation, including intentionally telling harmful untruths about another-either by print or broadcast (libel) or orally (slander)-is a tort and used to be a crime as well.
Tort Claims Act - n. a federal or state act which, under certain conditions, waives governmental immunity and allows lawsuits by people who claim they have been harmed by torts (wrongful acts), including negligence, by government agencies or their employees. These acts also establish the procedure by which such claims are made. Before the enactment of tort claims acts, government bodies could not be sued without the specific permission of the government. The federal version is the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Tortfeasor - n. a person who commits a tort (civil wrong), either intentionally or through negligence.
Transcript - n. the written record of all proceedings, including testimony, in a trial, hearing or deposition (out-of-court testimony under oath). Jurisdictions vary as to whether the attorneys' final arguments are recorded, with the Federal Court Reporter Act, but not all states, requiring inclusion. A copy of the transcript may be ordered from the court reporter and a fee paid for the transcription and first copy; if the opposing party also wants a copy, the cost will not include the transcription fee. In most appeals a copy of the transcript is required so that the court of appeals can review the entire proceedings in the trial court. Copies of depositions may be ordered for a fee from the court reporter who took down the testimony. Transcripts are not printed from the record unless transcription is requested.
Treble Damages - n. tripling damages allowed by state statute in certain types of cases, such as not making good on a bad check or intentionally refusing to pay rent. Federal antitrust violations also carry treble damage penalties.
Trial - n. the examination of facts and law presided over by a judge (or other magistrate, such as a commissioner or judge pro tem) with authority to hear the matter (jurisdiction). A trial begins with the calling of the parties to come and be heard and selection of a jury if one has been requested. Each party is entitled to an opening statement by his/her attorney (or the party if he/she is representing himself/herself), limited to an outline of what each side intends to prove (the defense may withhold the opening statement until the defense is ready to present evidence), followed by the presentation of evidence first by the plaintiff (in a civil case) or prosecution (in a criminal case), followed by the defense evidence, and then by rebuttal evidence by the plaintiff or prosecution to respond to the defense. At the conclusion of all evidence each attorney (plaintiff or prosecution first) can make a final argument which can include opinion and comment on evidence and legal questions. If it is a jury trial, the judge will give the jury a series of instructions as to the law of the case, based on "jury instructions" submitted by the attorneys and approved, rejected, modified and/or added to by the judge. Then the jury retires to the jury room, chooses a foreperson and decides the factual questions. If there is no jury, the judge will determine legal issues and decide factual questions and render (give) a judgment. A jury will judge the factual issues and decide the verdict based on the law as given in the instructions by the judge. Final verdict or judgment usually concludes the trial, although in some criminal cases a further trial will be held to determine "special circumstances" (acts which will increase the punishment) or whether the death penalty should be imposed. Throughout a trial there may be various motions on legal issues, some of which may be argued in the judge's chambers. In most criminal cases the exact punishment will be determined by the judge at a hearing held at a later time.
Trial Court - n. the court which holds the original trial, as distinguished from a court of appeals.
Trial De Novo - n. a form of appeal in which the appeals court holds a trial as if no prior trial had been held. A trial de novo is common on appeals from small claims court judgments.
Trier of Fact - n. the judge or jury responsible for deciding factual issues in a trial. If there is no jury the judge is the trier of fact as well as the trier of the law. In administrative hearings, an administrative law judge, a board, commission or referee may be the trier of fact.
Uxor - n. Latin for "wife." In deeds and documents the term "et ux." is sometimes used to mean "and wife," stemming from a time when a wife was a mere legal appendage of a man and not worthy of being named.
Vacate - v. 1) for a judge to set aside or annul an order or judgment which he/she finds was improper. 2) to move out of real estate and cease occupancy.
Venire - (ven-eer-ay) n. the list from which jurors may be selected.
Venue - n. 1) the proper or most convenient location for trial of a case. Normally, the venue in a criminal case is the judicial district or county where the crime was committed. For civil cases, venue is usually the district or county which is the residence of a principal defendant, where a contract was executed or is to be performed, or where an accident took place. However, the parties may agree to a different venue for convenience (such as where most witnesses are located). Sometimes a lawsuit is filed in a district or county which is not the proper venue, and if the defendant promptly objects (asks for a change of venue), the court will order transfer of the case to the proper venue. Example: a promissory note states that any suit for collection must be filed in Washington County, Indiana, and the case is filed in Lake County, Indiana. In high profile criminal cases the original venue may be considered not the best venue due to possible prejudice stemming from pre-trial publicity in the area or public sentiment about the case which might impact upon potential jurors. For these various reasons either party to a lawsuit or prosecution may move (ask) for a change of venue, which is up to the discretion of a judge in the court where the case or prosecution was originally filed. Venue is not to be confused with "jurisdiction," which establishes the right to bring a lawsuit (often anywhere within a state) whether or not it is the place which is the most convenient or appropriate location.
Verdict - n. the decision of a jury after a trial, which must be accepted by the trial judge to be final. A judgment by a judge sitting without a jury is not a verdict. A "special verdict" is a decision by the jury on the factual questions in the case, leaving the application of the law to those facts to the judge, who makes the final judgment. A "directed verdict" is a decision following an instruction by the judge that the jury can only bring in a specific verdict ("based on the evidence you must bring in a verdict of 'not guilty'"). A "chance verdict" (decided by lot or the flip of a coin), a "compromise verdict" (based on some jurors voting against their beliefs to break a deadlock) and a "quotient verdict" (averaging the amount each juror wants to award) are all improper and will result in a mistrial (having the verdict thrown out by the judge) or be cause for reversal of the judgment on appeal.
Waive - v. to voluntarily give up something, including not enforcing a term of a contract (such as insisting on payment on an exact date), or knowingly giving up a legal right such as a speedy trial, a jury trial or a hearing on extradition (the transfer to another state's jurisdiction of one accused of a crime in the other state).
Whiplash - n. a common neck and/or back injury suffered in automobile accidents (particularly from being hit from the rear) in which the head and/or upper back is snapped back and forth suddenly and violently by the impact. The injury is to the "soft tissues" and sometimes to the vertebrae, does not always evidence itself for a day or two, and can cause pain and disability for periods up to a year. The degree of injury and the pain and suffering from whiplash are often in dispute in claims and lawsuits for damages due to negligent driving.
Work Product - n. the writings, notes, memoranda, reports on conversations with the client or witness, research and confidential materials which an attorney has developed while representing a client, particularly in preparation for trial. A "work product" may not be demanded or subpenaed by the opposing party, as are documents, letters by and from third parties and other evidence, since the work product reflects the confidential strategy, tactics and theories to be employed by the attorney.
Workers' Compensation Acts - n. state statutes which establish liability of employers for injuries to workers while on the job or illnesses due to the employment, and requiring insurance to protect the workers. Worker's compensation is not based on negligence of the employer, but is absolute liability for medical coverage, a percentage of lost wages or salary, costs of rehabilitation and retraining, and payment for any permanent injury (usually based on an evaluation of limitation). Worker's' Compensation Acts provide for a system of hearings and quasi-judicial determinations by administrative law judges and appeal boards. However, if worker's' compensation is granted, it becomes the only remedy against an employer and does not include general damages for pain and suffering. Thus, an injured worker may waive workers' compensation and sue the employer for damages caused by the employer's negligence. If a third party contributed to the damages, the injured worker may sue that party for damages even though he/she receives worker's' compensation, but recovery may be subject to a lien for moneys paid out by the workers' compensation insurance company
Workmen's Compensation - n. a former name for worker's compensation before the unisex title of the acts was adopted
Wrongful Death - n. the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. Such wrongful acts include: negligence (like careless driving), an inten- tional attack such as assault and/or battery, a death in the course of another crime, vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter or murder. Wrongful death is the basis for a lawsuit (wrongful death action) against the party or parties who caused the death filed on behalf of the members of the family who have lost the company and support of the deceased. Thus, a child might be entitled to compensation for the personal loss of a father as well as the amount of financial support the child would have received from the now-dead parent while a minor, a wife would recover damages for loss of her husband's love and companionship and a lifetime of expected support, while a parent would be limited to damages for loss of companionship but not support. A lawsuit for wrongful death may be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased or by the individual beneficiaries (family members).
Wrongful Termination - n. a right of an employee to sue his/her employer for damages (loss of wage and "fringe" benefits, and, if against "public policy," for punitive damages). To bring such a suit the discharge of the employee must have been without "cause," and the employee a) had an express contract of continued employment or there was an "implied" contract based on the circumstances of his/her hiring or legitimate reasons to believe the employment would be permanent, b) there is a violation of statutory prohibitions against discrimination due to race, gender, sexual preference or age, or c) the discharge was contrary to "public policy" such as in retribution for exposing dishonest acts of the employer. An employee who believes he/she has been wrongfully terminated may bring an action (file a suit) for damages for discharge, as well as for breach of contract, but the court decisions have become increasingly strict in limiting an employee's grounds for suit.
Your Honor - n. the proper way to address a judge in court.