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Legal Definitions

Cause of action – A legally recognizable claim. For example, a person who is injured as a result of a defective product can only recover once for his injuries sustained, but may have several causes of action against various Defendants in the case. There may be a cause of action for negligence against the manufacturer of the product, a cause of action for strict liability against the manufacturer of the product, and a breach of warranty cause of action against the manufacturer of the product. Each of these is a separate cause of action and is based on a different theory of liability.

Claimant – One who is asserting a right or claim. A personal injury victim is usually referred to as a claimant until suit is filed and then the victim is usually referred to as the Plaintiff.

Contingent fee – A percentage fee that is contingent or dependent upon a recovery being made. Where the client receives a recovery, the attorney earns a percentage of the recovery as the attorney’s fee. Where no recovery is made, no contingent fee is due.

Court Reporter – A certified legal stenographer who records testimony given under oath at depositions, hearings, and Court proceedings, and later prepares a transcript of the recording, certifying the accuracy of the transcription.

Defendant – Any party against whom relief or recovery is sought in an action or suit.

Discovery – The part of a lawsuit where the facts of a case are investigated (or discovered) by all parties. Discovery proceedings include written questions (interrogatories), requests for documents, and oral examinations under oath (depositions).

Industrial Commission – Legislatively created entity in Illinois that is responsible for adjudicating all Workers’ Compensation claims.

Insurance, first party – The phrase first party generally refers to a contract relationship, such as a relationship between a driver and his own auto insurance carrier.

Insurance, third party – This refers to the insurance coverage of an adverse driver who is responsible for the injuries and damages to someone else. If the driver of vehicle A is negligent and hits vehicle B injuring the driver of vehicle B, the insurance carrier for vehicle A is third party insurance as to the injuries and damages to vehicle B and vehicle B’s driver.

Liability – Legal responsibility for injuries and/or damages.

Litigation – A proceeding that involves adjudication of a legal controversy utilizing the court system. Commonly known as a lawsuit.

Mediation – A settlement conference attended by all parties to a controversy, usually conducted by a mediator. Typically a mediator is a senior lawyer or retired judge, whose purpose is to help all parties resolve the case by settlement.

Medical lien – A lien by a medical provider who has provided medical care and/or treatment to the claimant, but who has not been paid in full. The medical provider places a lien on claimant’s claim against any adverse party so at the time of any recovery by claimant, the medical lien holder is paid directly out of the claimant’s recovery proceeds.

MedPay coverage – This is insurance coverage found in a first party insurance policy that pays for medical expenses incurred by someone injured while on or in the insured’s property, without regard to liability. For example, if passenger C is injured while riding in A’s car, if A’s auto insurance policy includes MedPay coverage, passenger C’s medical expenses will be paid under A’s MedPay coverage, up to the limits of liability of the coverage.

Minor – A person under the age of legal competence. In Illinois, a minor is anyone less than 18 years of age.

Negligence – A failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Negligent conduct is not intentional conduct but is carelessness, inadvertence, thoughtlessness, inattention, and the like.

Plaintiff – A person who files a lawsuit and is named as the party filing suit on the record.

Specials – This is short for special damages, which are a claimant’s medical expenses, lost wages or earnings, and other “out-of-pocket” expenses

Subrogation – The substitution of one person in place of another with reference to a claim or right. For example, where your own auto insurance company pays for the property damages to your vehicle that was caused by another driver, your insurance company has a right to bring a claim against the driver who caused the damage to your vehicle (this is a right of subrogation) to recover the money they paid for these damages. Your insurance company is said to be subrogated to your right to pursue a claim for this property damage against the driver at fault.

Tort – A private wrong or injury in which the claim is not based on a contract between the parties. Most injury claims are tort claims. For example, where the driver of vehicle A causes damage through his negligence to vehicle B and its driver, driver B’s claim against driver A will be based on driver A’s negligence, which is a tort claim.

Tortfeasor – A person who commits a tort.

About the Firm


Ronald F. Wittmeyer, Jr. practices plaintiffs' personal injury law at his office in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

About Ron

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