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Glossary of Legal Terms

Affidavit: An affidavit is a sworn written statement signed under oath before a notary public or some other person authorized to administer oaths.

Answer: An answer is a document written by a defendant in response to a lawsuit filed against them. In it, they may admit, deny, or any combination of the two, the charges brought against them. They may also cite allegations, such as contributory negligence, against the plaintiff in order to dispute the claims.

Compensatory damages: Compensatory damages are monetary compensation for injury or economic loss due to an accident. Compensatory damages include medical expenses, and loss of earnings, permanent injury, pain and suffering, scars and disfugurement and other losses arising from an injury.

Complaint: A complaint is the basis and beginning of a lawsuit. It is a document the plaintiff files which summarizes the legal basis for the damages sought against the defendant.

Contributory negligence: Under North Carolina law, if an injured person’s own negligence contributes in any way to their injury, that party is not entitled to collect any damages regardless of the relative negligence of the other party. Their negligence is considered ‘contributory’ to the accident, resulting in a complete bar to recovery.

Court reporter: Court reporters transcribe everything said in a courtroom, deposition, or other legal proceedings, and are authorized to give an official oath.

Deposition: A deposition is a pre-trial recording of a testimony of a witness away from the courtroom. Depositions are arranged for the testimonies of defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, or experts under oath.

Design defect – A design defect is a harmful defect in a product that is a part of the product’s design. Typically, a product is considered defective if it is not safe for its intended purpose. A design defect mayl still exist even if the product is manufactured perfectly.

Discovery: Discovery is a pre-trial process in which a party’s lawyers try to obtain as much knowledge of the opposing party’s evidence as possible before trial begins. Discovery includes depositions, requests for production of documents, interrogatories and requests for admissions.

E.R.I.S.A. – The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is a federal statute that establishes minimum standards for pension plans in private industry and provides for extensive rules on the federal income tax effects of transactions associated with employee benefit plans.

Expert witness: An expert witness is a witness who is permitted to testify in the form of an opinion based on their knowledge, skill, experience and training in a particular subject.

Gross negligence: Gross negligence is extreme carelessness with a disregard to the safety of other people. It involves a conscious or wilful disregard for the safety of others.

Interrogatories: Interrogatories are sets of questions written by one party in a lawsuit that must be answered under oath by the opposite party as part of the discovery process.

Liability Coverage: There are two types of liability coverage for car insurance: bodily injury coverage and property damage coverage. Bodily injury coverage compensates the other driver for damages incurred as a result of an accident if it was the insured’s fault. Damages may include medical bills, loss of income, and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Property damage coverage pays compensation for objects the insured may have damaged or destroyed in an accident that was their fault. This includes paying for the other party’s car(s), fences, utility poles, or damage to buildings.

Manufacturing defect – A manufacturing defect differs from a design defect in that it will only occur in a small number of the total products. It is not intended to be a part or function of the product and typically is a result of a mistake in the manufacturing process. It can also be said that if the product were manufactured perfectly, the defect would not exist.

Mediation: Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution whereby the parties attempt to settle a legal dispute with the aid of a neutral third party, whose presence is designed to help reach a settlement.

Medicaid – Medicaid is a social welfare program that aims to provide health coverage for people or families with lower incomes. It is jointly funded at the federal, state, and occasionally county level.

Medical Payments Coverage or “Med Pay”: MedPay is a type of insurance that covers the insured in a car accident regardless of who is at fault, even if the insured is a pedestrian who has been hit by a car.

Medical malpractice: Malpractice is the failure by a health care professionalo to act in accordance with the standard of care; to use their best judgment in the care of their patient or the failure to use reasonable diligence in the application of their knowledge to the patient’s care. A violation of any one of these duties is negligence.

Medicare – Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people aged over 65 or who meet other requirements. It is designed to help the elderly pay for hospital visits, medical bills, and some prescription pills.

Negligence: Negligence is the failure to act in the manner a reasonable person would act under the same or similar circumstances. Many accidents resulting in personal injury or damage to property are the result of negligence. Examples of negligence range from speeding or reckless driving resulting in a car crash to improper handling of construction materials resulting in a construction accident.Request for Admission: A request for admission is a discovery procedure in which one party asks the opposing party to admit if a series of facts are true. If the other party does not respond or does admit that they are true, they may be treated as true throughout the trial.

O.S.H.A. – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or the OSHA, was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act by Congress and signed in 1970. The purpose of the OSHA is to minimize work-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths through implementing occupational standards.

Premises liability – Premises liability is the responsibility of a landowner to provide reasonable care to a person on their property. This includes the duty of keeping the property in a reasonably safe condition and warning known visitors of any dangerous conditions that may exist.

Product liability – Product liability is the duty of the manufacturers and distributors of a product to offer products that are free of defects that may harm its users or those around them. This also includes the duty of these companies to correct and compensate for damages due to these harmful defects.

Punitive damages: Punitive damages are damages awarded to the injured party in the event of gross negligence or malicious acts against them by the defending party. These are awarded in addition to compensatory damages.

Request for Production of Documents: A request for production of documents is a discovery procedure in which one party requests access to certain documents the opposition has in their possession or under their control.

Subpoena: A subpoena is a court order for a witness to appear at a certain time and place to testify. Subpoenas may be issued to appear at either a deposition or at trial, and failure to appear as directed may be punishable by law.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): A government sponsored insurance program that provides benefits to disabled individuals

“Stacked” Insurance Coverage: In North Carolina, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage contained in separate insurance policies can be “stacked.” When you stack your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, the limit for that coverage is multiplied by the number of cars you insure. If you insure two cars with separate policies, your limits will double, and if you insure three, your limits will triple.

Standard of care: The standard of care defined as the attention and caution that a reasonable person would demonstrate in a given circumstance. A person’s failure to meet the standard of care is considered negligence.

Summons – A form prepared by the plaintiff and issued by a court that informs the defendant that he or she has been sued. The summons requires that the defendant file a response with the court or appear in person within a given time period or risk losing the case under the terms of a default judgment.

Tort: A tort is a wrongful act that results in injury to another person. A tort can be accidental or intentional. Torts include civil cases due to negligence in addition to intentional wrongdoing that results in harm to another party. Some intentional torts are crimes, such as fraud and trespass, and may result in lawsuits for damages to the afflicted party.

Uninsured/under insured motorist coverage: Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage provides coverage for damages incurred by the insured when they exceed the coverage of an at-fault party in an accident. If the at-fault party has no insurance, your insurance company will step in and cover any damages that may be incurred from the accident up to the limit of your coverage.

Unsworn statement – A statement that is not bound by or stated on oath.

Worker’s compensation Insurance: Worker’s compensation insurance compensates employees for injuries that occur during the course and scope of employment in exchange for waiving the right to sue the employer for negligence. Worker’s compensation does not provide compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

General Medical Terms

Abdominal catastrophe: Abdominal catastrophe is a much more fatal form of peritonitis, which is an inflamation due to infection of the membrane which lines the abdominal wall.

Anoxia: Anoxia, or hypoxia, is the lack of adequate oxygen to an organ or limb despite proper blood flow. The organ most sensitive to oxygen deprivation is the brain, which is why anoxia most often involves a brain injury. The effects of these types of brain injuries are long-lasting and debilitating. Anoxia and hypoxic brain injury are a problem during difficult births and result in permanent brain damage to the newborn.

Arthroscopy: Arthroscopy is a type of surgery that is performed using a small camera probe inserted through a small incision as opposed to an open wound. It is much less invasive, has a quicker recovery time and is used for many joint surgeries.

Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle movement and coordination. It appears in early childhood but does not worsen over time. It is caused by damage to the motor control portions of the brain during pregnancy, birth, or infancy.

Cerebrospinal fluid: Cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid that fills open spaces in the brain and in the skull around the brain, as well as in the spinal cord.

Concussion: Concussions are the most common form of brain injury. A concussion results in impaired brain function, especially memory, reflexes, and coordination. While many people are familiar with concussions, most do not invoke a loss of consciousness and some people may have had a concussion without even realizing it. Most people will fully recover from a concussion but some will experience permanent effects.

CT scan: A CT scanner is a machine that takes many cross-sectional x-rays of a patient. These x-rays can be reviewed in ‘slices’ individually or computed into a 3-dimensional image of the interior of the body.

Differential diagnosis: Identification of a disease by comparison of the symptoms of two or more similar diseases.

Disectomy: A disectomy is the surgery in which a herniated disc that is pressing on the spinal cord is removed.

Endotracheal intubation: The insertion of an endotracheal tube through the nose or mouth into the trachea to maintain the airway to administer anesthetic gas or oxygen, or to aspirate secretions.

Endotracheal tube, cuffed: A tube, surrounded by an inflatable cuff, used inside the trachea to provide an airway through the trachea while preventing aspiration of foreign materials into the bronchus. The tube is inflated after being placed in the trachea.

Hypoxic brain injury: Hypoxic brain injury results from a of lack of oxygen to the brain despite adequate blood flow. This may be the result of choking, suffocation, head trauma or complications from anesthesia or surgery. Permanent damage may occur within minutes.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)- Damage to the brain caused by a combination of reduced blood flow and low blood oxygen levels.

Infection: An infection occurs when other organisms such as bacteria or fungi enter the body and then begin to grow and spread. Infections are the reason for absolute cleanliness in surgery such that no organisms can enter the open surgical sites.

Intubate: To insert a tube into the larynx.

Laminectomy: A laminectomy is a surgical procedure in which the lamina, a part of the vertebrae, is removed.

Lumbar puncture: A lumbar puncture is usually a diagnostic procedure in which a needle is inserted into the spine between vertebrae in order to obtain cerebrospinal fluid for analysis.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs are similar to CT scans in how they produce ‘slices’ that can be reviewed individually. However, because they use magnetic fields to image instead of x-rays, they offer a much better visualization of soft tissues and are much more useful for mapping brain and heart tissues and can be used to spot cancerous tumors.

MRSA: MRSA is a bacterium responsible for a staph infection resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics. It is prevalent in hospitals and can be fatal.

Nerve conduction test (EMG): An EMG is a test that measures the electric potential generated across muscles in order to verify that the nerves and muscles are functioning properly.

Open fracture: An open fracture, or compound fracture, is a fracture in a bone that results in part of the broken bone emerging from the skin. When this happens, there is a high risk for infection and immediate treatment is necessary. The penetrated area needs to be cleaned as soon as possible to minimize the risk of infection, especially in the bone. If there is an infection in the bone, it may require multiple surgeries, extensive antibiotics and yet still may result in more long-term difficulties.

Optic nerve: The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain.

O.R.I.F.: Open reduction internal fixation, or ORIF, is the attachment of plates and screws to broken bones to ensure proper positioning during healing.

Peritonitis: Peritonitis is an inflammation due to infection of the membrane along the abdominal wall responsible for holding organs in place.

Post-concussive syndrome: Post-concussive syndrome occurs when concussion symptoms persist for an extended period of time after the concussion. These symptoms commonly include headaches, dizziness, and lack of coordination. Post-concussion syndrome occurs in up to 80 percent of people who have experienced a brain injury, and almost 20 percent of those cases last for over a year after the injury.

Pressure sore/ulcer: A pressure sore, or bed sore, is the result of skin dying after constant pressure reduces the blood flow to that skin area. This constant pressure is caused by laying in the same position for many hours.

Radiation: The use of a radioactive substance in the diagnosis or treatment of disease.

Ruptured disc: A ruptured disc, also known as a herniated disc, is damage to the discs between the bones in the spine responsible for cushioning and absorbing load on the spine. A ruptured or herniated disc is one that has damaged the hard outer shell surrounding the gel-like inside, rupturing it. When a herniated disc presses against the spinal cord, it results in pain and sometimes numbness in the legs.

Sepsis: Sepsis is a serious and dangerous medical condition caused when infection enters the bloodstream resulting in an inflammatory symptoms across the body.

Shoulder dystocia: Shoulder dystocia occurs when the shoulder of the baby is stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone after the head has been delivered. This situation is an obstetric emergency which must be properly managed by the attending health care provider. This situation can be effectively managed into a successful delivery if proper procedures are followed. The failure to initiate proper maneuvers to dislodge the shoulder may result in permanent brain damage or an injury to the brachial plexus.

Subdural hematoma: A subdural hematoma is a collection of blood pools beneath the dura, which is a leathery membrane which covers the brain. It is a potentially life threatening condition.

Torn meniscus: The menisci are two regions of cartilage in the kneecap that serve to distribute the weight of the body across the joint. Without the menisci, the uneven application of weight across the joint would lead to early onset arthritis, making the menisci crucial to the health of the knee. One of the menisci may be torn in a traumatic incident, leading to lasting leg pain and sometimes surgery.

Torn rotator cuff: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that hold the ball of the upper arm (humerus) in the shoulder joint. The tear in the rotator cuff commonly occurs in the muscle that covers the ball of the humerus itself. The rotator cuff can be torn in a single traumatic injury and pain in the shoulder lasts for months or more.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI): A traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain caused by external force. Traumatic brain injuries are classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Even mild brain injuries may cause permanent damage, but some symptoms may be subtle, resulting in a failure to detect the injury or, if detected, to properly assess it. A brain injury may occur without loss of consciousness during the event, or even without an impact to the head, as in violent whiplash.

Vertebral fusion: Vertebral fusion is when two adjacent vertebrae are fused with bone tissue growth in order to lock the joint between them.

Birth-Related Medical Terms

Amniotic fluid: The liquid or fluid contained in the amniotic sack. This fluid is transparent and almost colorless. The liquid protects the fetus from injury, helps maintain even temperature, prevents formation of adhesions between the amnion and the skin of the fetus, and prevents conformity of the sac to the fetus.

Amniotic sac: A thin transparent sac that holds the fetus suspended in the liquid or amniotic fluid. Commonly called the bag of waters.

Amniotomy: Surgical rupture of the fetal membranes to induce or expedite labor.

Apgar score: A system for evaluating an infant’s physical condition at birth. The infant’s heart rate, respiration, muscle tone, response to stimuli and color are rated at 1 minute and again at 5 minutes after birth. Each factor is scored 0, 1, or 2; the maximum total score is 10. Interpretation of scores: 7-10, good to excellent, 4 to 6, fair; less than 4, poor condition. A low score at 1 minute is a sign of perinatal asphyxia and the need for immediate assisted ventilation.

AROM: artificial rupture of membranes

Ballotable fetal head: The fetus or a fetal part rebounds when displaced by a light tap of the examining finger through the vagina.

Biophysical profile (BPP): A system of estimating current fetal status determined by analysis of five variables via ultrasonography and non stress testing. Fetal breathing movements, gross body movement, fetal tone, amniotic fluid volume and fetal heart rate reactivity are compared to specific criteria. Each expected normal finding is rated as 2; each abnormal finding is rated as 0. Scores 8 to 10 with normal amniotic fluid volume indicate satisfactory fetal status.

Birth injury: Birth related injury can occur to the mother or baby during childbirth. It can be mechanical, meaning physical damage to the baby’s body or nervous system, or may be metabolic or the result of low oxygen levels. Mechanical damage may involve fractures to the baby’s skull during birth, causing permanent brain damage, or nerve damage to the brachial plexus causing permanent partial paralysis. There may also be physical effects on the mother due to allowing labor to continue too long or using excessive force.

Cervix: The neck of the uterus, round and conical and a portion protrudes into the vagina. It is penetrated by the by the cervical canal through which the fetus and menstrual flow escape.

Cesarean section: Delivery of the fetus by means of incision into the uterus. Operative approaches and techniques vary. A horizontal incision through the lower uterine segment is the most common; the classic vertical midline incision may be used in times of profound fetal distress. The most common reason for emergency cesarean delivery is fetal distress.

Compound presentation: Presentation during labor in which a prolapsed limb is alongside the main presenting part.

Dilatation: Expansion of an organ or vessel.

Electronic fetal monitor: The use of an electronic device to monitor vital signs of the fetus.

Engagement: The entrance of the fetal head or the part being presented into the superior pelvic strait.

Meconium: First feces of a new born infant. This substance is greenish black, almost odorless and tarry.

Occult cord prolapse: Occult prolapse occurs when the cord descends alongside, but not past, the presenting part. It can occur with intact or ruptured membranes. The diagnosis should be considered in the setting of a sudden, prolonged fetal heart rate deceleration. An occult prolapse often cannot be diagnosed with certainty, but is suggested by clinical features (eg, fetal bradycardia) and findings at cesarean delivery.

Placenta: The oval spongy structure in the uterus from which the fetus derives its nourishment and oxygen.

Polyhydramnios: An excess of amniotic fluid in the bag of waters in pregnancy.

Presentation: The position of the fetus presenting itself to the examining finger in the vagina; the fetal body part that first enters the maternal pelvis.

Prolapsed umbilical cord: Premature expulsion of the umbilical cord in labor before the
fetus is delivered.

Spontaneous rupture of membranes (SROM): The rupture of the amniotic sac as a
normal result of dilation of the cervix in labor.

SVE: sterile vaginal examination

Umbilical cord: A reproductive organ for containing and nourishing the embryo and fetus from the time that the fertilized egg is implanted to the time the fetus is born.

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