Glossary of Legal Terms – The Layperson’s Law Guide


If you are involved in any type of legal matter, legal terms can be a foreign language – indeed, many legal terms in the American legal system come from French and Latin. It is important to familiarize yourself with common legal jargon in order to ensure you understand the components of your case and understand where your case is headed.

1. Affidavit – a written statement declared under oath. Once this document is signed, the individual signing the document swears all information is true.

2. Complaint and Summons – legal documents issued by the plaintiff and filed with the court notifying the individual receiving the complaint and summons that they have been sued and must answer the lawsuit and appear in court.

3. Damages – the measure of losses from an accident or injury – both economic losses (such as medical bills and lost wages/income), and non-economic losses (such as pain and suffering). Courts determine the magnitude of damages by assigning a dollar amount to them.

4. Deposition – this process occurs outside of the courtroom and a judge is not present. It is an opportunity for both parties – in the company of lawyers leading the deposition – to give questions to the other party and have them answered under oath. This occurs before the trial and can be thought of as time when both parties give information to the other in preparation for trial.

5. Motion – a request posed by either party for the judge to make a decision about the case. For example, a motion to dismiss is asking the court to come to the conclusion that the law cannot provide a remedy and to dismiss the case.

6. Settlement Mediation – this is meant to help prevent individuals from going to court. A third-party neutral mediator – or a go-between person – will help parties reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

7. Statute of Limitations – specific time limit a plaintiff has to settle a case or file a lawsuit after the incident, such as an accident or injury, has taken place.

8. Tort – when an individual causes injury to another, generally through negligence but sometimes intentionally. This leads to the harmed individual seeking compensation for damages due to the harm that was caused.

Knowing what these terms mean may benefit you during the legal process and make an already stressful situation a calmer one.


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