Texas Personal Injury Law Glossary Terms and Definitions

Legal terms and phrases are used between the attorneys, clients, the insurance companies and the courts in a personal injury case. These words and phrases may be derived from historical legal definitions or developed in the personal injury practice over the years and even centuries.

Below is a glossary of terms and phrases you might encounter during your free consultation with a Dallas personal injury attorney and throughout the representation in your injury case. To learn more about these terms and how they might apply to your case, consult with a Dallas personal injury attorney, Robert C. Slim.

Ad Litem

Also known as Guardian Ad-Litem or Attorney Ad-Litem: Literally translated from Latin, “for the suit.” An ad-litem is a person, who is usually an attorney, that is appointed by the court to stand in on behalf of another person or party who has a material interest in the case, but who is unable to understand or appreciate the proceedings. An ad-litem is usually appointed in cases involving minor children or incompetent adults.

Assumption of Risk

A legal defense when a person acts with knowledge of a risk of harm or danger. For instance, a person assumes the risk of serious bodily injuries or death when they go sky diving. “Assumption of Risk” is a defensive theory in order to avoid a potential claim by an injured person seeking monetary damages.

Bench Trial

A trial in which the presiding judge makes the final verdict, without a jury.

Breach of Duty

The failure to act within a certain standard of care or responsibility. In a negligence case, a person breaches a duty of care when that person fails to exercise the care that a person, exercising ordinary prudence, would use under the same or similar circumstances.  See also, “Duty.”


In the legal context, a complaint or theory of recovery asserted by someone who has a dispute or has been harmed by another. A “personal injury claim” involves a complaint by a person against another person who caused the injury or accident. In the insurance business, a claim is the process of seeking insurance benefits under a policy.

Collision Coverage

Insurance coverage that a person purchases through an auto policy that covers damages to their vehicle regardless of fault in the accident.

Comparative Negligence

Also known a “proportionate responsibility” under Texas law, it’s a legal defense used to reduce the liability of a defendant by shifting some of the blame to other persons or parties in a legal dispute, including the Plaintiff. The term comes from the process of “comparing” the negligence of two or more persons in any given accident and usually involves a judge or jury assigning a percentage of responsibility to the parties for causing a certain incident or injury. Under Texas law, an injured Plaintiff is barred from recovering damages if they are found to be more than 50% negligent in causing the injury or accident.

Compensation (or Compensatory Damages)

An amount of money awarded in order to compensate or reimburse the plaintiff for injuries or damages caused by the defendant in a civil case.  Examples of compensatory damages in a personal injury case include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.  Compensatory damages may also be characterized as “economic” and “non-economic” in nature.


The resulting loss, injury or harm sustained by a person involved in an injury or accident. For instance, a person who is injured in a car accident may sustain damages in the form of vehicle repair costs, medical expenses, and lost wages. Other from of damages in a personal injury case can also include pain and suffering, mental anguish, and physical impairment.


The party who is being sued by a plaintiff. The party against who a claim is brought in a court.

Discovery (Texas litigation)

The pre-trial process in which each party requests and obtain information, documents and/or other physical items that may be relevant to a pending lawsuit. It is also includes the opportunity to obtain testimony of the parties or other witnesses prior to the trial of the case.


Generally referring to an obligation or responsibility to act within a certain standard of care. For instance, the driver of an automobile has the “duty” to observe and obey the traffic laws and rules of the road. The failure to meet a certain duty of care is called a “breach of duty,” and may be the basis for a negligence claim against the offending party.

Economic Damages

Damages which are calculated by reference to some written evidence, billing statement or financial accounting.  Examples of economic damages in a personal injury case would include medical expenses and lost wages.  That is because these damages can be proved by some written evidence, medical bills, or mathematical calculations.

Exemplary Damages

Also referred to as “punitive damages.”  An award made to a plaintiff for the purpose of punishing the defendant for conduct which is intentional, egregious, or reckless in nature.  Exemplary damages are awarded to make an “example” of the defendant so that others are deterred from engaging in the same or similar conduct.

Family Member Exclusion

An exclusionary clause found in most automobile insurance policies that exclude family members from making a liability claim under a policy covering another family member involved in the same collision.  A family member is usually defined as someone who is related by blood, marriage or adoption that resides in the same household as the claimant.  However, under Texas case law, the family member exclusion will not prohibit a family member from making a claim up to the minimum required statutory liability limits.

Gross Negligence

Acting recklessly or with an intentional disregard of a known risk of harm to others, although not necessarily intending to cause the resulting harm. Referring to an act that greatly exceeds the minimum standard of negligence. For instance, a drunk driver who kills someone in an auto accident is not only negligent but may also be guilty of gross negligence. Although the drunk driver does not necessarily intend to kill anyone, they are engaging in an act that is so reckless that their decision to drive while intoxicated is considered an intentional disregard of the risks they pose to everyone else on the road.

Hospital Lien (Texas)

A legal interest granted to a hospital for recovery of medical expenses out of the proceeds of any settlement or judgment obtained by the injured person.  A hospital lien in Texas is governed by Chapter 55 of the Texas Property Code.

Jury Trial

A trial in which a duly sworn and empaneled jury makes the final verdict, and not the judge.  A right to a jury trial is guaranteed by the United States Constitution and Texas Constitution in certain civil cases.  However, a trial by jury must be requested by at least one party in the case.

Lawsuit (or Suit)

A formal action filed in a court by a plaintiff against a defendant, for the purpose of seeking compensation for some wrongful conduct of the defendant.

Letter of Protection

An arrangement, usually by some written document, by one person to protect the obligation of another person.  In the personal injury context, an attorney might issue a “letter of protection” to a doctor or healthcare provider promising to pay or “protect” the provider’s bill for treatment of the client out of the proceeds collected in the client’s personal injury claim.

Liable or Liability

A legal obligation that one person owes to another because of some wrongful conduct recognized under the law. For instance, you could be held “liable” if you run red light an cause an accident.


The legal process a lawsuit takes after a lawsuit is filed including the final trial.

Loss of Consortium

Damages awarded to the family member of a deceased or injured person. “Consortium” refers to the love, society, and companionship one enjoys with a spouse or close family member. The term refer to the inability to enjoy that relationship because of an injury or death of that family member.


The process of having an impartial person, called a “mediator,” facilitate a settlement of a dispute between two or more parties.  Mediation is an informal process used by Texas courts to help settle cases.

Medical Payments Coverage (Med-Pay)

Insurance coverage that a person purchases through an auto policy that covers medical expenses as a result of an auto accident.  Unlike Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Med-Pay is not specifically regulated under the Texas Insurance Code.

Mitigate or Mitigation

Referring to a duty to take reasonable measures to lessen or minimize the accumulation or increase of expenses resulting from an incident. For instance, a person in a car accident has the duty to “mitigate” the rental car expenses by getting their vehicle repaired in a timely manner.


The failure of someone to use a certain degree of care usually dictated by the circumstances. Generally speaking, everyone has the duty to act within the standard of care that a person of exercising ordinary prudence would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.

Non-Economic Damages

Damages which are awarded for an injury or loss that is not calculated by reference to some written evidence or mathematical calculation.  Examples of non-economic damages in an injury case would include pain and suffering, mental anguish, or physical impairment.

Personal Injury Claim

A legal claim arising from some physical harm or damage to the body or a bodily function as the result of an accident caused by someone else’s carelessness or negligence.  Also referring to the area of law specializing in representing those who have been physically harmed by the negligence of another. Auto accidents and premises liability (slip/fall) are two common types of personal injury cases.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Insurance coverage provided through an auto insurance policy that covers medical expenses and lost wages as a result of an auto accident.  PIP is regulated by the Texas Insurance Code and is required to be included in every policy issued in Texas unless it is expressly rejected in writing.  PIP is not to be confused with “Medical Payments” or “Med-Pay.”


In a lawsuit, the person or party who files the legal action in order to recover damages or get some legal relief.

Premises Liability

A claim for injury arising from the failure to maintain land or property in a reasonably safe condition. Also refers to the duty of a property owner to maintain their property or take certain actions to avoid or lessen the risk of injury to others.

Preponderance of Evidence

Referring to the standard for evaluating evidence in favor of one party or the other in most civil cases. In civil cases, a plaintiff must show that, more likely than not, the Plaintiff has established their case. In other words, the evidence “preponderates,” or “tips the scales” in favor of the Plaintiff. It is the lowest standard of proof required under the law compared with other burdens of proof, such as “clear and convincing” evidence, and “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as used in criminal cases.

Proportionate Responsibility

Under Texas law, referring to Texas Civil Practice a Remedies Code, Chapter 33, which governs the responsibility of a defendant to a plaintiff is circumstances where the plaintiff is found to be partially negligent for any injury or damages sustained.  See also Comparative Negligence, above.

Punitive Damages

An award made to a plaintiff for the purpose of punishing the defendant for conduct which is intentional, egregious, or reckless in nature.  Punitive damages are also awarded in order to make an example of the defendant so that others are deterred from engaging in the same or similar conduct.  Thus, punitive damages are also referred to a “exemplary damages.”

Release (of Claim)

A documents that waives or otherwise extinguishes a party’s right to bring a lawsuit or assert a claim against another person.  A release is usually the result of a settlement between the parties to a dispute.


A binding agreement between two or more parties to resolve a dispute, lawsuit or claim.

Statute of Limitations

The time period in which a party must file a certain lawsuit in order to preserve their right to be awarded damages. Filing a lawsuit beyond the applicable statute of limitations can result in the claim being expired and dismissed regardless of whether the claim has merit or not. There may be different statutes of limitations for different types of personal injury cases.

Strict Liability

A legal principle where a party may be liable for damages regardless of whether they were negligent or not. Commonly, this doctrine applies in cases involving defective products.

Subrogation or Subrogate

The process of inheriting the rights of some other person by virtue of reimbursing that person for some injury or loss.  For instance, if you are injured in a car accident and your health insurance pays for your medical expenses, then your health insurance company will have a “subrogation” claim, or will “subrogate,” against the liable party for reimbursement of the medical expenses paid.

Survival Claim

A claim arising from the death of an individual that “survives” in favor of the deceased person’s estate. This legal concept derives from the theory that a person should not escape legal liability just because the deceased is no longer able to bring a lawsuit on their own behalf. A survival action under Texas law can be brought by the heirs of the deceased to recover damages due to the deceased person’s estate because of the negligent actions of the liable person.


A formal legal term referencing a wrongdoing by some party against another that results in some injury to that person or damage to the person’s property. For example, a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence is considered a “tort claim.”


The final proceeding in the litigation process where the parties put on their evidence and the dispute is finally determined by either a judge or a jury.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A head injury that impairs a person’s cognitive ability, physical ability, or psychological and behavioral function. For example, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM)

Insurance coverage that a person purchases through an auto policy that provides benefits for injury or damages sustained in an auto accident when the liable party did not have the state mandated minimum liability insurance coverage.  The Texas Insurance Code requires that UM coverage be included in every automobile insurance policy issued in Texas unless it is expressly rejected in writing.

Under-Insured Motorist Coverage (UIM)

Insurance coverage that a person purchases through an auto policy that provides benefits for injury or damages sustained in an auto accident when the liable party did not have sufficient coverage to fully compensate the person for the injuries or damages sustained. In Texas, UIM coverage is part of the UM coverage and is not purchased separately.  Therefore, like UM coverage, the Texas Insurance Code requires that UIM coverage be included in every automobile insurance policy issued in Texas unless it is expressly rejected in writing.


A final decision rendered by a judge or jury in a lawsuit.

Vicarious Liability

The transfer of liability from one person to another. For example, an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees done in the course and scope of their employment duties.

Wrongful Death Claim

A claim filed by certain family members of a deceased person for the losses sustained by the death. Under Texas law, only the spouse, children and parents of a deceased person have a claim for wrongful death. These family members would seek damages for the loss of the consortium, financial support, medical expenses, and funeral costs of the deceased from the person who caused the wrongful death. Wrongful Death claims are not to be confused with “survivor claims.”


Robert C. Slim Personal Injury Attorney in Dallas

Robert C. Slim, Dallas/Fort Worth Injury AttorneyWe hope this glossary will help you understand the terms and concepts that you may encounter in your personal injury claim under Texas law.

Robert C. Slim Law Firm offers free consultations and personal case reviews for anyone injured by the carelessness or negligence of another.  We can help clarify the issues in your particular case, but only if you call.  Contact Dallas personal injury attorney, Robert C. Slim, today to better understand your rights and options so that you can make a informed decision about your case.

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