Glossary of Personal Injury Terms

As you pursue a personal injury claim, you are bound to encounter many unusual medical, insurance, and legal terms. 

Some of these, such as “negligence,” act as shorthand for complex concepts. Others, like “plaintiff” and “defendant,” are legal terms of art, which means they have distinct meanings and are used frequently by legal professionals.

When armed with an understanding of these phrases, you can prevent claims adjusters and insurance defense lawyers from confusing and frustrating you and thus maintain control over your claim. You will also be able to communicate more efficiently with your injury attorney.

Some terms you should understand will come from the doctors and therapists treating your injury. Insurance companies also use many terms of art that go unused in other industries. However, some of the most confusing terms you’ll come across when pursuing a personal injury claim will come from lawyers and judges. Nevertheless, once you get past the unusual nature of the following phrases, many of the concepts they represent should be relatively easy to comprehend.

Claims Adjuster

Claims Adjuster

A claims adjuster prevents the insurer from paying claims outside the scope of their policy. This individual may be an employee or an independent contractor, but in either case, they work to protect the insurer’s interests, not the claimant’s. 

Overzealous adjusters might use tactics like delaying or denying the claim to frustrate claimants to the point that they give up on their claims altogether.

Injury Compensation

Compensation for an injury can cover economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic losses encompass the financial costs of your injuries, which may include the following:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Wages lost due to time off
  • Diminished future earning capacity from disabilities

Your compensation can also include your non-economic losses, which represent the effect of your injuries on your quality of life due to the following factors:

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Disabilities

Your personal injury attorney will work to prove your losses using your financial records, medical records, and testimony.

Insurance Claim

An insurance claim will include information about the accident and the resulting injuries so the insurer can determine liability. The injured party must file an insurance claim to receive benefits. For example, a pedestrian can file an insurance claim with the insurer of the car that hit them. 


A lawsuit is a process for resolving disputes. It begins when a plaintiff files a complaint. In an accident case, the injured person is the plaintiff. Their complaint will explain the basis for the lawsuit and request compensation. 

The defendant, the individual accused of injuring the plaintiff, will then file an answer that responds to the complaint and outlines any affirmative defenses. 

Suppose someone suffered an injury while on a guided river rafting trip. If sued by the injured passenger, the guide company might respond by saying that the plaintiff assumed the obvious risk of injuries by joining in such a dangerous sport.

Over the next few months, the parties will exchange evidence and file motions to decide what can be presented at trial. At the same time, though, the parties will try to settle their dispute, and these negotiations often succeed. Only about 3% of injury lawsuits reach a trial verdict.

Nevertheless, if the case goes to trial, the parties will present their evidence to a judge or jury. If the plaintiff wins, a fact-finder will determine how much compensation they receive.

Liability Insurance

A liability insurance policy is a contract between an insurer and a policyholder. The insurer agrees to pay losses that result from a covered act or omission up to a predetermined policy limit. 

Liability insurance typically only covers acts of negligence. For example, a restaurant will carry property liability insurance to cover slip and fall accidents caused by negligent employees.


The concept of negligence was created to impose liability on parties that did not intend to harm anyone. It allows an injured person to pursue compensation for their losses by showing that the person knew (or should have known) that their actions created an unreasonable risk of injury.

Specifically, a personal injury lawyer will need to gather evidence of the following four elements to prove negligence:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty
  • Damages
  • Causation

The duty of care comes from the relationship between the parties. Drivers owe other road users a legal duty to drive reasonably carefully, for example.

A breach of duty, therefore, happens when the responsible party does something that fails to meet the care expected under the circumstances (or fails to do something that would). Thus, a doctor may be liable for medical malpractice for prescribing the wrong medication or failing to monitor a patient’s breathing during surgery.

Damages are determined by one’s injuries. If you were injured, you incurred damages, be they economical, non-economical, or both.

Lastly, causation has two parts. The breach of care must fall within the events that led to the injury, and it must also be the type of act or omission that could foreseeably result in an injury.

Permanent Disability

A permanent disability arises when a victim’s injuries will not heal regardless of time or treatment. A similar term used in workers’ compensation cases is “maximum medical improvement.” When either term is used, an insurer must assume that any remaining injuries will last for the rest of the claimant’s life.

Soft Tissue Injury

Generally speaking, your soft tissues can include anything except your bones. 

But many doctors use the term “soft tissues” to refer to those found within the musculoskeletal system, such as:

  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Cartilage
  • Bursae
  • Fascia

Soft tissue injuries, therefore, include things such as:

  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Torn cartilage
  • Tendinitis
  • Bursitis

Acute soft tissue injuries can require a range of treatments, from rest to physical therapy or even surgery. Some soft tissue injuries, such as torn cartilage, could take years to heal.

Strict Liability

Strict liability applies in some cases instead of negligence. A case involving strict liability means you, as the plaintiff, do not need to show intent, knowledge, or even carelessness.

For instance, manufacturers are strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products. Therefore, in a product liability case, you would only need to prove the product had a defect when it left the manufacturer’s hands and that the defect was what injured you.


Whiplash injuries affect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the neck. Whiplash often occurs when the neck experiences stress in keeping your body and head (which move independently of one another) together. 

For example, in a car accident, your body will likely be thrown forward until it hits your seat belt. Your head, however, can keep moving, hyperextending your neck and damaging the tissues within.

Contact an Injury Attorney To Learn More

An injury claim can be a confusing process. Contact Curiel & Runion Car Accident and Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss how we guide injured clients like you through their insurance claims and lawsuits.  Contact the lawyers Curiel & Runion Car Accident and Personal Injury Lawyers by calling (602) 595-5559 for a free consultation to discuss your case.