Legal Terms

Below is a list of terms commonly used by lawyers and judges in lawsuits and other legal matters.


Damages are money compensation awarded to a person who has any past, present or future injury caused by another person.  In North Carolina, these damages typically can include medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, scars or disfigurement, loss of use of a part of the body and permanent injury.  In some situations, punitive damages and damages for loss of consortium may also be awarded.  No personal injury case is like another and the amount or the types of damages that may be available are heavily dependent upon the facts of your particular case and applicable law.  In addition, it is not uncommon for a jury to reach a compromise verdict on damages when there is a dispute over the cause of your injury.

Laws governing the types of damages that may be awarded in a personal injury case and the rules of evidence used to prove those damages are complex.  Settling a personal injury claim before an attorney has an opportunity to carefully determine what damages may be available is not recommended.

A claim for damages due to personal injury may include many of the following types of damages:

  • Pain and Suffering – Damages for pain and suffering are intended to compensate an injured party for the physical pain resulting from the injuries as well as the mental distress accompanying the physical injuries.  There is no formula for determining these damages and, in North Carolina, the jury is instructed to apply their logic and common sense to the evidence to arrive at fair compensation for pain and suffering.  In some unusual factual situations, a Defendant’s conduct can be so outrageous that damages may be awarded solely for emotional distress when there is no actual physical injury.
  • Medical Expenses – Expenses incurred in the care, treatment and hospitalization of an injured person can be compensated by damages in a personal injury claim.  These expenses include hospital charges, doctor bills, drug bills, physical therapy and medical supplies.
  • Loss of Earnings – If a person is working at the time of injury, and loses time from work as a result of the injury, damages may include compensation for past, present and future lost earnings.  Even if the injured person were not working at the time of injury, that person may be able to recover damages for loss of the ability to earn money in the future as a result of the injury.  In some personal injury cases, evidence of business losses may be admissible to determine lost earnings or damage to the ability to earn money.
  • Scars or Disfigurement – Some injuries leave a permanent scar or disfigurement and compensation for that permanent injury may be included as damages in a personal injury claim.
  • Loss of Use of Part of the Body – In some cases, a person may lose a part of the body, such as an arm or leg, or lose the use of a part of their body, either temporarily or permanently.
  • Permanent Injury – Some of the effects of an injury may continue throughout an injured person’s life and a jury may award damages for the injury over the entire time of a Plaintiff’s life expectancy.
  • Loss of Consortium – Often times a serious personal injury can have an effect on the social and physical relationship between the injured party and their spouse.  This disruption of the marital relationship is called a “loss of consortium.”  Damages for loss of consortium are intended to compensate either the spouse or the injured party for the impact of the injury on their sexual relations, companionship and affection.
  • Punitive Damages – Punitive damages may be awarded where the conduct that caused the injury was outrageous or aggravated.  North Carolina law only permits punitive damages to be awarded for cases in which fraud, malice or willful or wanton conduct are present and punitive damages cannot exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.  The $250,000 limit does not apply to a claim for punitive damages arising from a defendant operating a motor vehicle while impaired.
Wrongful Death

When the death of a person is caused by another person under circumstances that would have allowed an action for personal injury, North Carolina permits a claim for wrongful death.  An action for wrongful death must be brought by the Executor, Administrator or Collector of the deceased person’s estate.  However, even though the claim must be brought by the Personal Representative or Collector, the persons that will actually receive the damages are those persons who would inherit from the deceased person in the absence of a will.

Under the North Carolina Wrongful Death Statute, damages that may be recovered for death by wrongful act include expenses for care, treatment and hospitalization incident to the injury resulting in death; compensation for pain and suffering of the decedent; the reasonable funeral expenses of the decedent; the present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered, including the loss of net income of the decedent, the loss of services, protection, care and assistance of the decedent, the loss of the society, companionship, comfort, guidance and advice of the decedent; and punitive damages, if permitted by law.  The expenses for care, treatment and hospitalization, compensation for pain and suffering of the decedent and punitive damages are similar to those that could be recovered in an action for personal injury.  For additional information on these items of damages please click here.

There is no rule or precise formula for measuring the present monetary value of the decedent.  Damages awarded will vary according to the age of the deceased person, the ages of the beneficiaries and the relationship between the beneficiaries and the deceased.  The law governing the types of damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death case and the evidence used to prove those damages is complex.  Settling a personal injury claim until your attorney has an opportunity to carefully determine what damages may be available to you and prepare the most convincing evidence of those damages is not recommended.

Common Legal Terms by Lawyers and Judges

Plaintiff and Defendant: Plaintiff is the name of the party bringing the lawsuit.  Defendant is the name of the party against whom the lawsuit is brought.

Complaint: This is the document filed with the court and served on a Defendant that begins a lawsuit.  It states the facts and legal claims that describe why the lawsuit is being filed.

Answer and Defensive Pleadings: The answer is filed on behalf of the Defendant and responds to each statement in the complaint by stating whether the Defendant believes the statement to be true or untrue.  In addition, the Defendant may sometimes state that he/she is unable to determine whether the statement is true or untrue because they do not have enough information.  Affirmative defenses may also be included in the answer raising certain legal defenses that would prevent the Plaintiff from recovering even if the statements in the complaint are true.

Crossclaim: Where there are multiple Defendants involved in a lawsuit each Defendant may bring a claim against the other Defendants for any legal issues that arise out of the lawsuit.

Counterclaim: A counterclaim is filed by a Defendant in response to a complaint and describes claims that the Defendant asserts back against the Plaintiff.

Discovery: Discovery is the general term used by the legal system to describe the process by which information is obtained about the claims and defenses of the parties prior to the trial of the case.  Discovery typically includes the following:

Interrogatories: Interrogatories are questions directed to the opposing party seeking information about the claims or defenses of that party.  It is very important that you provide us with complete and truthful answers to all interrogatories served upon you.  Failure to provide us with all of the information related to the interrogatories could lead to the Court dismissing your answer or complaint, or the Court issuing an order requiring you to pay attorneys fees to the opposing party.

Request for Production of Documents:  A request for production of documents requires you to provide copies of relevant documents to the opposing party.  As with interrogatories, failure to provide us with all documents requested can have very serious consequences to your case.

Request for Admissions: Parties may serve requests for admission on opposing parties asking that certain facts or contentions of law be admitted for purposes of your lawsuit so as to streamline the process and avoid discovery on issues that are not in dispute.

Depositions: Frequently, parties and witnesses are required to come to a lawyer’s office and answer questions under oath.  The questions and answers are recorded and transcribed by a court reporter and are used in motions and at trial in the event that a party seeks to change their story.  These statements are called depositions and may be used to find out additional information about the case or to pin down the facts prior to trial.  We will meet prior to any deposition you are required to give so that you can be prepared for your deposition.

Subpoenas: Subpoenas may be issued to witnesses and other non-parties requiring them to give a deposition and/or provide documents in their possession relevant to the case.  A subpoena is an official court document requiring the person served to be present and testify and/or provide documents to an attorney.

Motions & Hearings:  Motions are written requests by an attorney to have the court order something done (require a party to respond to discovery, for example) or asking the Court to rule in favor of one side or the other on all or part of the case.  A hearing is a court proceeding where the judge hears arguments for attorneys regarding the motion.  You will not be required to attend motion hearings but are certainly welcome to attend.

Mediation: Mediation is a process, required in all Superior Court cases, in which the parties meet with a certified mediator to explore settlement of the case.  Typically the parties will meet around a table and outline their position in the case.  The parties will then separate and the mediator will go back and forth between the parties bringing information, offers and counter-offers in an attempt to find a settlement of the case.  Although you are required to be present in a mediation any settlement reached is voluntary and must be agreed to by all parties.  We will have a meeting with you before the mediation in order to prepare you for it.