Ten Legal Terms Every Layperson Needs to Know

Knowing how lawyers talk and what they mean when they use legal terminology is useful even if you are not pursuing a career in law. All citizens, not just lawyers, should familiarize themselves with the most frequently used legal terms, so we have compiled a handy reference. 

Your understanding of legalese will improve greatly, allowing you to have fruitful conversations with attorneys in the future. 


This term can mean different things depending on the context. A claim is an attorney’s formal request or demand to a court for the payment of damages. 

The number of commercial vehicle accidents is rising, which is scary. This is especially true in states like Missouri, where the number of accidents is going up. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says that close to a quarter of all traffic accidents in Missouri happened in the St. Louis area. 

In St. Louis County in 2021, there were a lot of commercial vehicle accidents, and 156 of them killed people. The facts and numbers are sad, but we can’t do anything about everything.

But in this situation, you should try to take charge in any way you can and get legal help. If you or someone you know has been in an accident like this in Missouri, the first thing to do is find a St. Louis personal injury attorney. If you’ve been injured and want to seek compensation from the responsible party, you can file a personal injury claim.


Though the terms are often used interchangeably, a claim and a lawsuit are actually two distinct types of legal proceedings. A claim is a legal demand for compensation from an insurer. Filing a lawsuit, on the other hand, initiates the legal process by summoning the offending party to a courtroom to answer for their actions. Claim forms the basis of a lawsuit, but a summons must also be issued to the defendant to notify them of the impending legal action.


The plaintiff is the person who files the lawsuit against the defendant in a civil court case. You are the plaintiff in a catastrophic injury lawsuit if you were injured in an accident and retained legal counsel to pursue legal action.

As the person who brings the claim to court’s attention, a plaintiff is sometimes referred to as a claimant.


A defendant is a person or organization that is the subject of a lawsuit. The plaintiff files a lawsuit in civil court, while the state files criminal charges in criminal court. You are the defendant in a lawsuit if you have recently received a summons to appear in court.


Before going to trial, both parties in a lawsuit have an opportunity to conduct discovery to collect any evidence they may need to support their respective positions. An attorney for the defendant may ask the plaintiff for certain documents or other evidence.


In the context of law, liability refers to the degree of responsibility that an individual or group must bear for the consequences of their conduct or inaction. You and your lawyer must establish the defendant’s legal responsibility for your injuries in order to win a personal injury lawsuit.

It’s not the same thing as “guilt,” a term used in legal proceedings. The end result is the same either way: if the court rules that the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s damages, the defendant will be required to pay compensation.


In the courtroom, honesty and integrity are paramount. A credible person is one who can be trusted and who has a sound mind. When two parties’ testimonies drastically diverge from one another, establishing who can be trusted is of the utmost importance in any court case. 

The defense attorney and insurer of the defendant will likely try to discredit the plaintiff if the latter claims that the defendant was the true cause of the injury. They may try to find out if you’re lying about your injuries by asking you questions off the record or checking your social media accounts.

If you want to make a good first impression with your lawyer, being forthright and honest with them is crucial. Your credibility will be harder to undermine if you have documentation to support the claims you make.


The term “negligence” has a specific meaning in the law, but you might have your own idea of what it means. That which constitutes negligence is the failure to act as a reasonably prudent person would have under the same or similar circumstances. 

Negligence can be either an act, such as prescribing the wrong medication or an omission, such as failing to read a medical chart carefully before making a diagnosis. In cases of negligence, the overarching inquiry is whether “a reasonable person would have done this.”


Malpractice is akin to negligence but goes further in its scope. Professionals in the medical field have higher expectations placed upon them than, say, careless motorists. Malpractice is the intentional or careless disregard for patient safety on the part of a healthcare provider.

You and your attorney will need to prove a few things to the court in order to win a medical malpractice case. Your settlement is meant to make up for economic damages, which include things like medical bills and time away from work. 

Pain and suffering damages are a common type of non-economic damages awarded when someone has suffered an injury or illness that resulted in physical or mental distress. As the name suggests, punitive damages are meant to serve as punishment for the defendant’s wrongdoing.

With the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the road and poor infrastructure, the chances of accidents also increase. There were little more than 284 million vehicles on American roadways in the second quarter of 2022. The cases of drunk driving and road accidents are also rising, so it is better to be safe and keep your options open.  

With an understanding of these terms, you can communicate more clearly with your lawyer, even if you do not have a background in law. Knowing even this rudimentary legalese can make non-lawyers feel more confident and involved in the legal process.

Marlon Bee

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