Glossary of Common Litigation Words
Adjudication. The formal giving or pronouncing of judgment or decree in a cause; also the judgment given. The equivalent of a “determination.”
ADR. See Alternative dispute resolution.
Affidavit. A written or printed declaration or statement of facts, made voluntarily, and confirmed by the oath or affirmation of the party making it, taken before a person having authority to administer such oath or affirmation.
Allegation. The assertion, claim, declaration, or statement of a party to an action, made in a pleading setting out what he expects to prove.
Alternative dispute resolution. Also called ADR. Any method used to resolve disputes other than traditional trial proceedings. For example, mediation. ADR programs speed up the disposition of civil cases.
Answer. A pleading by which defendant endeavors to resist the plaintiff’s demand by an allegation of facts, either denying allegations of plaintiff’s complaint or confessing them and alleging new matter in avoidance, which defendant alleges should prevent recovery on facts alleged by plaintiff.
Appeal. Resort to a superior (i.e. appellate) court to review the decision of an inferior (i.e. trial) court or administrative agency. There are two stages of appeal in the federal and many state court systems; to wit, appeal from trial court to intermediate appellate court and then to Supreme Court.
Arbitration. The reference of a dispute to an impartial (third) person chosen by parties to the dispute who agree in advance to abide by arbitrator’s award issued after hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.
Bench trial. Trial held before judge sitting without a jury; jury waived trial.
Breach of contract. Failure, without legal excuse, to perform any promise which forms the whole or part of a contract. Prevention or hindrance by party to contract of any occurrence or performance requisite under the contract for the creation or continuance of a right in favor of the other party or the discharge or a duty by him. Unequivocal, distinct and absolute refusal to perform agreement.
Brief. A written statement prepared by the counsel arguing a case in court. It contains a summary of the facts of the case, the pertinent laws, and an argument of how the law applies to the facts supporting counsel’s position.
Case. A judicial proceeding for the determination of a controversy between parties wherein rights are enforced or protected, or wrongs are prevented or redressed; any proceeding judicial in its nature.
Cause of action. The fact or facts which give a person a right to judicial relief. A situation or state of facts which would entitle party to sustain action and give him right to seek a judicial remedy in his behalf.
Civil action. Action brought to enforce, redress, or protect private rights. In general, all types of actions other than criminal proceedings.
Claim. To demand as one’s own or as one’s right; to assert; to urge; to insist. Cause of action. Means by or through which claimant obtains possession or enjoyment of privilege or thing. Demand for money or property, e.g. insurance claim.
Class or representative action. A class action provides a means by which, where a large group of persons are interested in a matter, one or more may sue or be sued as representatives of the class without needing to join every member of the class. This procedure is available in federal court and in most state courts under Rule of Civil Procedure 23.
Commercial or business litigation. General commercial litigation involves virtually every type of dispute that can arise in the business context, including breach of contract cases, partnership/joint venture disputes, class actions, business torts, civil RICO claims, breach of fiduciary duty allegations, and shareholder issues.
Common law. The body of those principles and rules of action, relating to the government and security of persons and property, which derive their authority solely from usages and customs of immemorial antiquity, or from the judgments and decrees of the courts recognizing, affirming, and enforcing such usages and customs; and, in this sense, particularly the ancient unwritten law of England.
Compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are such as will compensate the injured party for the injury sustained, and nothing more, such as will simply make good or replace the loss caused by the wrong or injury.
Complaint. The original or initial pleading by which an action is commenced under codes or Rules of Civil Procedure. The pleading which sets forth a claim for relief.
Consumer law. Consumer protection law or consumer law is considered as an area of law that regulates private law relationships between individual consumers and the businesses that sell those goods and services. Consumer protection covers a wide range of topics, including but not necessarily limited to product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation, and other consumer/business interactions.
Consumer product. Any tangible personal property which is distributed in commerce and which is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.
Contempt of court. Any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct court in administration of justice, or which is calculated to lessen its authority or its dignity.
Contract. An agreement between two or more persons which creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing. Its essentials are competent parties, subject matter, a legal consideration, mutuality of agreement, and mutuality of obligation. The writing which contains the agreement of parties, with the terms and conditions, and which serves as a proof of the obligation.
Costs. A pecuniary allowance, made to the successful party (and recoverable from the losing party), for expenses in prosecuting or defending an action or a distinct proceeding within an action.
Count. In pleading, the plaintiff’s statement of her cause of action. A separate and independent claim.
Court. An organ of the government, belonging to the judicial department, whose function is the application of the laws to controversies brought before it and the public administration of justice.
Cross-examination. The examination of a witness upon a trial or hearing, or upon taking a deposition, by the party opposed to the one who produced him, upon evidence given in chief, to test its truth, to further develop it, or for other purposes.
Damages. A pecuniary compensation or indemnity, which may be recovered in the courts by any person who has suffered loss, detriment, or injury, whether to his person, property, or rights, through the unlawful act or omission or negligence of another. A sum of money awarded to a person injured by the tort of another. Damages may be compensatory or punitive according to whether they are awarded as the measure of actual loss suffered or as punishment for outrageous conduct and to deter future transgressions.
Defective condition. A product is in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user when it has a propensity for causing physical harm beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary user or consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the foreseeable class of users as to its characteristics. A product is not defective or unreasonably dangerous merely because it is possible to be injured while using it.
Defense. That which is offered and alleged by the party proceeded against in an action or suit, as a reason in law or fact why the plaintiff should not recover or establish what he seeks. That which is put forward to diminish plaintiff’s cause of action or defeat recovery.
Defendant. The person defending or denying; the party against whom relief or recovery is sought in an action or suit or the accused in a criminal case.
Default judgment. When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead (i.e. answer) or otherwise defend, he is in default and a judgment by default may be entered by the clerk or the court.
Deposition. A discovery device by which one party asks oral questions of the other party or of a witness for the other party. The person who is deposed is called the deponent. The deposition is conducted under oath outside of the courtroom, usually in one of the lawyer’s offices. A transcript — word for word account — is made of the deposition.
Discovery. The pre-trial devices that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party in order to assist the parties preparation for trial. Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (and in states which have adopted rules patterned on such), tools of discovery include depositions upon oral and written questions, written interrogatories, production of documents or things, permission to enter upon land or other property, physical and mental examinations and requests for admission.
Discrimination. Unfair treatment or denial of normal privileges to persons because of their race, age, nationality or religion. A failure to treat all persons equally where no reasonable distinction can be found between those favored and those not favored.
Dismissal. An order or judgment finally disposing of an action, suit, motion, etc., without trial of the issues involved. Such may be either voluntary or involuntary.
Dispute. A conflict or controversy; a conflict of claims or rights; an assertion of a right, claim, or demand on one side, met by contrary claims or allegations on the other. The subject of litigation; the matter for which a suit is brought and upon which issue is joined, and in relation to which jurors are called and witnesses examined.
Docket. A formal record, entered in brief, of the proceedings in a court of justice. The name “docket” or “trial docket” is sometimes given to the list or calendar of causes set to be tried at a specified term, prepared by the clerks for the use of the court and bar.
Duty. In negligence cases, term may be defined as obligation, to which law will give recognition and effect, to conform to particular standard of conduct toward another. The word “duty” is used throughout the Restatement of Torts to denote the fact that the actor is required to conduct himself in a particular manner at the risk that if he does not do so he becomes subject to liability to another to whom the duty is owed for any injury sustained by such other, of which the actor’s conduct is a legal cause.
Evidence. Any species of proof, or probative matter, legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention.
Ex parte. A judicial proceeding, order, injunction, etc., is said to be ex parte when it is taken or granted at the instance and for the benefit of one party only, and without notice to, or contestation by, any person adversely interested.
FINRA. An acronym for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. FINRA operates the largest securities dispute resolution forum in the United States, and has extensive experience in providing a fair, efficient and effective venue to handle a securities-related dispute. The resolution of problems and disputes is accomplished through two non-judicial proceedings: arbitration and mediation.
Financial services. The economic services by the finance industry, which encompasses a broad range of businesses that manage money, including credit unions, banks, credit-card companies, insurance companies, accountancy company, consumer-finance companies, stock brokerages, investment funds, individual managers and some government-sponsored entities.
Fraud. A false representation of a matter of fact, whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of that which should have been disclosed, which deceives and is intended to deceive another so that he shall act upon it to his legal injury.
Harassment. Used in a variety of legal contexts to describe words, gestures and actions which tend to annoy, alarm and abuse (verbally) another person.
Hearsay. A statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
Hung jury. A jury so irreconcilably divided in opinion that they cannot agree upon any verdict.
Injunction. A prohibitive, equitable remedy issued or granted by a court at the suit of a party complainant, directed to a party defendant in the action, or to a party made a defendant for that purpose, forbidding the latter to do some act, or to permit his servants or agents to do some act, which he is threatening or attempting to commit, or restraining him in the continuance thereof, such act being unjust and inequitable, injurious to plaintiff, and not such as can be adequately redressed by an action at law.
Interrogatories. A discovery device consisting of written questions about the case submitted by one party to the other party or witness. The answers to the interrogatories are usually given under oath, i.e. the person answering the questions signs a sworn statement that the answers are true.
Judge. A public officer, appointed to preside and to administer the law in a court of justice.
Judgment. The official and authentic decision of a court of justice upon the respective rights and claims of the parties to an action or suit therein litigated and submitted to its determination.
Jurisdiction. Areas of authority; the geographic area in which a court has power or types of cases it has power to hear.
Juror. Member of jury. In addition to regular jurors, term includes special and alternate jurors.
Jury. A certain number of men and women selected according to law, and sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact, and declare the truth upon evidence to be laid before them.
Jury instructions. A statement made by the judge to the jury informing them of the law applicable to the case in general or some aspect of it.
Law. That which is laid down, ordained, or established. Law, in its generic sense, is a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority, and having binding legal force.
Lawsuit. A vernacular term for a suit, action, or cause instituted or pending between two private persons in the courts of law; an action or proceeding in a civil court; a process in law instituted by one party to compel another to do him justice.
Liability. Duty to pay money or perform some other service.
Lien. A claim or charge on property for payment of some debt, obligation or duty.
Litigant. A party to a lawsuit; one engaged in litigation.
Litigate. To seek relief in a court of law; to carry on a suit; to bring into or engage in litigation.
Litigation. A lawsuit. Contest in a court of law for the purpose of enforcing a right or seeking a remedy.
MDL. See Multidistrict litigation.
Mediation. Intervention; interposition; the act of a third person in intermediating between two contending parties with a view to persuading them to adjust or settle their dispute. Settlement of dispute by action of intermediary (neutral party).
Mass tort. A civil action involving numerous plaintiffs against one or a few defendants in state or federal court. Mass tort lawsuits arise out of the defendants causing numerous injuries through the same or similar act of harm.
Motion. Written or oral application to court for ruling or order, made before (e.g. motion to dismiss) during (e.g. motion for directed verdict), or after (e.g. motion for new trial) trial.
Movant. One who makes a motion before a court; the applicant for a rule or order.
Multidistrict litigation. Also called MDL. When civil actions involving one or more common (and often complex) questions of fact are pending in several different federal district courts, such actions may be transferred to one district for coordinated and consolidated management and trial under a single judge. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1407. The types of cases in which massive filings of multidistrict litigation are reasonably certain to occur include common disaster (air crash) actions, products liability actions and securities law violation actions, among others.
Negligence. The omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those ordinary considerations which ordinarily regulate human affairs, would do, or the doing of something which a reasonable and prudent man would not do.
Nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement. A legal contract between at least two parties that outlines confidential material, knowledge, or information that the parties wish to share with one another for certain purposes, but wish to restrict access to or by third parties.
Notary public. One who is authorized by the state or federal government to administer oaths, and to attest to the authenticity of signatures.
Objection. The act of a party who objects to some matter or proceeding in the course of a trial, or an argument or reason urged by him in support of his contention that the matter or proceeding objected to is improper or illegal Used to call the court’s attention to improper evidence or procedure.
Opinion. The statement by a judge or court of the decision reached in regard to a cause tried or argued before them, expounding the law as applied to the case, and detailing the reasons upon which the judgment is based.
Party. A “party” to an action is a person whose name is designated on record as plaintiff or defendant.
Perjury. A person is guilty of perjury if in any official proceeding he makes a false statement under oath or equivalent affirmation, or swears or affirms the truth of a statement previously made, when the statement is material and he does not believe it to be true.
Personal injury. In a narrow sense, a hurt or damage done to a man’s person, such as a cut or bruise, a broken limb, or the like, as distinguished from an injury to his property or his reputation.
Plaintiff. A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a civil action and is so named on the record.
Pleadings. The formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and defenses.
Privileged communications. Those statements made by certain persons within a protected relationship such as husband-wife, attorney-client, priest-penitent and the like which the law protects from forced disclosure on the witness stand at the option of the witness, client, penitent, spouse.
Product liability. Refers to the legal liability of manufacturers and sellers to compensate buyers, users, and even bystanders, for damages or injuries suffered because of defects in goods purchased. A tort which makes a manufacturer liable if his product has a defective condition that makes it unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer.
Punitive damages. Damages awarded to the plaintiff over and above what will barely compensate him for his loss, where the wrong done to him was aggravated by circumstances of violence, oppression, malice, fraud, or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant, and are intended to solace the plaintiff for mental anguish, laceration of his feelings, shame, degradation, or other aggravations of the original wrong, or else to punish the defendant for his evil behavior or to make an example of him, for which reason they are called “punitive” or “exemplary” damages.
Record. The official collection of all the trial pleadings, exhibits, orders and word-for-word testimony that took place during the trial.
Retainer agreement. A contract between attorney and client stating the nature of the services to be rendered and the cost of the services.
Service of process. The service of writs, summonses, etc., signifies the delivering to or leaving them with the party to whom or with whom they ought to be delivered or left; and, when they are so delivered, they are then said to have been served.
Show cause order. An order to a person or corporation to appear in court and explain why the court should not take a proposed action. If the person or corporation fails to appear or to give sufficient reasons why the court should take no action, the court will take the action.
Statute. An act of the legislature declaring, commanding, or prohibiting something.
Statute of limitations. A statute prescribing limitations to the right of action on certain described causes of action or criminal prosecutions; that is, declaring that no suit shall be maintained on such causes of action, nor any criminal charge be made, unless brought within a specified period of time after the right accrued.
Stay. A stay is a suspension of the case or some designated proceedings within it. It is a kind of injunction with which a court freezes its proceedings at a particular point.
Stipulation. An agreement, admission or confession made in a judicial proceeding by the parties or their attorneys.
Subpoena. A subpoena is a command to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony upon a certain matter. A subpoena duces tecum requires production of books, papers and other things.
Summary judgment. Rule of Civil Procedure 56 permits any party to a civil action to move for a summary judgment on a claim, counterclaim, or crossclaim when he believes that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.
Summons. Instrument used to commence a civil action or special proceeding and means of acquiring jurisdiction over a party.
Testify. To bear witness; to give evidence as a witness, to make a solemn declaration, under oath or affirmation, in a judicial inquiry, for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact.
Testimony. Evidence given by a competent witness under oath or affirmation; as distinguished from evidence derived from writings, and other sources. Testimony is particular kind of evidence that comes to tribunal through live witnesses speaking under oath or affirmation in presence of tribunal, judicial or quasi-judicial.
Tort. A private or civil wrong or injury, other than a breach of contract, for which the court will provide a remedy in the form of an action for damages. Three elements of every tort action are: Existence of a legal duty from defendant to plaintiff, breach of duty, and damage as a proximate result. The three main types of torts are negligence, strict liability (product liability), and intentional torts.
Tortfeasor. A wrongdoer. One who commits or is guilty of a tort.
Trial. A judicial examination and determination of issues between parties to action. A judicial examination, in accordance with law of the land, of a cause, either civil or criminal, of the issues between the parties, whether of law or fact, before a court that has proper jurisdiction.
Trial by jury. A trial in which the issues of fact are to be determined by the verdict of a jury, duly selected, impaneled, and sworn.
Trial practice. A law practice encompassing litigation management, and pretrial, trial, and appellate practice.
TRO. Temporary restraining order.
Vacate. To annul; to set aside; to cancel or rescind.
Venue. The particular county, or geographical area, in which a court with jurisdiction may hear and determine a case.
Verdict. The formal decision or finding made by a jury, impaneled and sworn for the trial of a cause, and reported to the court (and accepted by it), upon the matters or questions duly submitted to them upon the trial. The definitive answer given by the jury to the court concerning the matters of fact committed to the jury for their deliberation and determination.
Voir dire. This phrase denotes the preliminary examination which the court may make of one presented as a witness or juror, where his competency, interest, etc., is objected to.
Warranty. A promise that a proposition of fact is true. A promise that certain facts are truly as they are represented to be and that they will remain so, subject to any specified limitations. In certain circumstances a warranty will be presumed, known as an “implied” warranty.
Witness. One who testifies to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.
Writ. An order issued from a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority to have it done.
Wrongful act. Any act which in the ordinary course will infringe upon the rights of another to his damage unless it is done in the exercise of an equal or superior right. Term is occasionally equated to term “negligent,” but generally has been considered more comprehensive term, including criminal, willful, wanton, reckless and all other acts which in the ordinary course will infringe upon rights of another to his damage.
Wrongful death action. Type of lawsuit brought on behalf of a deceased person’s beneficiaries that alleges death was attributable to the willful or negligent act of another.
Sources: Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979); Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (2020).