Glossary of Personal Injury Terms

During your personal injury case, you will run into many new terms from the medical, insurance, and legal industries. You must know these terms to understand the status of your case and make informed decisions.

Medical Terms

After you suffer an injury due to someone else’s negligent or wrongful actions, you should seek appropriate medical care. By seeing a doctor early in the process, you create medical records that will:

  • Diagnose all injuries or conditions resulting from your trauma
  • Identify any hidden injuries like concussions
  • Establish a treatment plan, including any work restrictions

Your lawyer will use your medical records to support your injury claim. There are many terms you might read in your medical records.


Whiplash describes a type of neck injury and the motion that causes it. A whiplash motion occurs when you accelerate or decelerate suddenly. Your body tries to keep moving at the same speed and direction as before the collision. When your body stops, your head whips back and forth, pulling your neck. This movement hyperextends muscles, tendons, and ligaments.


A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It happens when your brain shakes inside your skull due to head trauma, rapid acceleration or deceleration, or an explosion. The resulting inflammation of your brain tissue causes symptoms such as loss of consciousness, headache, and confusion.

Soft Tissues

Everything in your body except your teeth and bones is soft. But doctors often use “soft tissues” as shorthand for the soft tissues in the musculoskeletal system, including:

  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Cartilage

Used this way, some common soft tissue injuries include strains, sprains, and torn cartilage.

Spinal Cord

The spinal cord is a bundle of spinal nerves that runs through your spine. It connects your brain to all of your muscles and most of your organs below your neck. When you suffer a spinal cord injury, you can suffer temporary or permanent paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of the injury.


Your spine includes 24 vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Discs are collagen cushions that sit between adjacent vertebrae. They have a tough outer layer surrounding a soft nucleus. Traumatic compression of the discs can cause the discs to deform. A herniated or bulging disc destabilizes your spine. It may also compress nerve roots near your spine.

Insurance Terms

Almost all injury cases involve an insurance claim. You might hear some insurance terms during your injury case.


The contract between an insurer and a policyholder is called an insurance policy. Liability insurance is an agreement that obligates the insurer to pay third parties injured by the policyholder’s actions. Some examples of liability insurance that might arise in a personal injury case include:

The policy sets out the terms of the agreement between the insurer and policyholder, including policy limits.

Policy Limits

Policy limits set the maximum amount the insurer will pay to third parties under the policy’s terms. For example, suppose that you have $25,000 in losses, and the at-fault party has insurance with a $15,000 policy limit. The insurer will pay up to $15,000, and the at-fault party will be responsible for the remaining $10,000 of your damages.

State law sets the minimum policy limits for auto insurance coverage. Pennsylvania requires vehicle owners to carry bodily injury liability coverage of $15,000 per person up to $30,000 per accident. This means the insurer will pay up to $15,000 to each accident victim and up to $30,000 if multiple victims suffer injuries.

Insurance Claim

An insurance claim refers to the legal right of third parties to pursue payment under a liability policy. It is also the name of the filing process for obtaining that payment. Your injury attorney starts your insurance claim by submitting a description of your accident and the resulting injuries to the insurer, along with proof of your losses, such as medical records and doctor’s bills.

Claims Adjuster

Insurance claims get assigned to claims adjusters. The adjuster investigates claims to determine whether policies cover them. Insurance companies exist to make a profit, not to pay the full value of the claims they review. Adjusters use various methods to further their employer’s interests.


If your injury lawyer convinces an adjuster to accept your claim, they will negotiate a settlement. A settlement agreement usually involves a payment to you in exchange for a release of all your legal claims against the insurer.

The law uses many terms that have their origins in old English or even Latin. These terms often describe legal concepts that have centuries of history and can confuse non-lawyers. 


A liability is an obligation imposed by law. The liabilities in injury cases come from tort law. This field of law defines the rights and obligations between private parties like people and businesses in the absence of property or contract rights.

Tort liability takes three forms:

  • Intentional torts for deliberate actions like battery and assault
  • Negligence for injuries caused unintentionally
  • Strict liability for certain activities like keeping dogs or manufacturing products

While your injury case might involve any of these three, insurance claims typically only cover negligence and strict liability. At-fault parties are usually on their own if they intentionally injure others.


Negligence law creates legal liabilities for injuries that result from unintentional but preventable causes. Specifically, “negligence” obligates parties to pay for injuries they cause due to a failure to exercise reasonable care. A close synonym for negligence is “carelessness.”

The standard of care will vary depending on the type of case. For example, drivers must follow traffic laws and customs. Doctors must exercise reasonable judgment and skill when treating patients. Property owners, managers, and tenants must keep their premises reasonably free from hazardous conditions.


A lawsuit happens when you seek a court’s assistance to enforce your legal rights. In the case of an injury, tort law creates the right to compensation from the party liable for injuring you. If the court finds that the other party is liable for your injuries, it can award damages and issue an order requiring them to pay you.


Damages describe the losses for which you can seek compensation. Your damages include economic losses, like medical bills and income losses, and non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Contact a Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer for Help With Your Case

A common mistake happens when injured victims settle their claims without full knowledge of their injuries, the insurance claim process, and their legal rights. Contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates to learn about these topics and discuss how we can guide you through your injury claim. Schedule a free consultation or call us at (717) 231-1640.