A Legal Terminology Cheat Sheet

Some common legal terms and their meanings include:

  • Lawsuit – A lawsuit is any proceeding that must take place in a court of law. This may be a civil or criminal matter.
  • Civil Lawsuit – A civil lawsuit is when one individual sues another person or a company for damages caused by them which may be health related, injury or other means. This type of lawsuit does not determine criminal liability or whether any laws were broken, but rather whether a person’s rights were violated by causing them harm or injury.
  • Criminal Lawsuit – A criminal lawsuit typically involves a prosecuting attorney acting on behalf of a given jurisdiction such as a city, county or a state brings someone who has broken a law in some way to trial for breaking this law. If a person is found guilty when brought to trial this way they may be sentenced according to the severity of their crime and may or may not get jail or prison time sentenced to them.
  • Class Action Lawsuit – A class action lawsuit is similar to a civil lawsuit, except that there are generally a number of different people who are the plaintiffs in a class action case. This number can total into the thousands or it can be just a few.
  • Judgment – A judgment is usually a monetary amount set by the court that a losing party in a civil case is liable to pay to the party who won the case. Most typically, if a judgment is entered, then the plaintiff won his or her lawsuit and the defendant must pay the judgment. In some cases, a defendant may file a counter suit, and the same thing occurs if they win their counter suit. There have been cases know such as this where one offsets the other and no judgment will be entered. A judgment is important because it becomes part of a legal record, and is typically entered onto your credit report and will show whether or not it has been paid, and it could prevent the person from receiving a loan, mortgage or any other type of financing.
  • Damages – When a civil suit is entered, the plaintiff will seek damages for the harm or other inconvenience that was brought to him because of the negligence of others. If the plaintiff wins his case, then the court will award him damages based on the perceived losses.
  • Appeal – When a person is convicted in criminal court of any crime, he is typically permitted under the US Constitution to file an appeal in an effort to get his case overturned in a higher court. Appeals are not always granted and depend on whether there has been some sort of technical issue such as poor representation, or evidence was withheld that may have caused a jury to vote another way or something like that. In a civil lawsuit, things can be dragged out for some time when a losing party appeals the case to the next higher court. This can go on all the way through to the Supreme Court, and the actual time it takes depends on court schedules.
  • Product Recalls – Product recalls unfortunately in many cases do not occur until someone has already been injured or otherwise affected by a problem with a product. When a problem is found, most companies will voluntarily recall a product and either pay for the fix that is necessary to correct the issue, or they will refund the full amount paid for a product.
  • Subpoena – A subpoena is a court order which compels a person to appear in court to testify for one reason or another. The subpoena may be issued in the case of a criminal or civil proceeding and failure to obey the subpoena could result in a person being charged with contempt and a warrant being issued for their arrest.