Understanding Personal Injury Claims: Key Terms You Should Know

Getting to know personal injury law is a lot like learning a new language. The words lawyers use are often hard to understand, but if you have been injured in an automobile accident, have slipped and fallen, or been hurt because of someone else being careless, it's really important to understand these terms. Here's a quick guide to some of the familiar terms you might hear which can help you handle your case confidently.


Negligence is a fundamental concept in personal injury law, referring to a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one's previous conduct).

Duty of Care

Duty of care refers to the responsibility one person or entity must avoid causing harm to another. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed them a duty of care and that such duty was breached, leading to their injury.

An example of duty of care would be a school planning a field trip. Schools must safeguard their students' safety and well-being. Teachers should perform risk assessments, arrange safe transportation, and brief chaperones beforehand. On the trip, vigilant student supervision, readiness for emergencies with first aid supplies, and clear activity instructions showcase the school's adherence to this rule.

Breach of Duty

A breach of duty occurs when a party fails to fulfill its duty of care. This happens when one acts in a negligent way or does not act when action is required, leading to someone else’s harm or injury.

A frequently encountered instance of breach of duty occurs within the healthcare industry. When a medical professional does not meet the necessary standard of care, for example by overlooking a diagnosis of a manageable medical condition, and this oversight leads to patient harm, the provider may be held liable for negligence.


Causation in legal terms is about connecting the breach of duty to the injuries sustained. It involves showing that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries. There are two types of causation in personal injury law: actual cause (cause in fact) and proximate cause (legal cause).


Damages refer to the compensation sought by the injured party in a personal injury lawsuit. They include tangible losses like medical expenses and lost wages, as well as intangible losses like pain and suffering.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative Negligence is a principle that may reduce the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover based on the degree to which their own negligence contributed to the cause of their injuries.

An example of comparative negligence would be of a pedestrian illegally crossing a street and is struck by a speeding driver. Both are responsible for the accident. If the pedestrian is 30% at fault in a $100,000 claim, the pedestrian would receive $70,000, highlighting the laws focus on equitable damage allocation.

Statute of Limitations

The Statute of Limitations is a law that sets the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. When it comes to personal injury claims, the statute of limitations varies by state and can impact your ability to file a lawsuit. In the state of Pennsylvania, the Statute of Limitations is two years.


A Settlement is an agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant (or their respective insurance companies) to resolve the personal injury case out of court. Most personal injury cases are settled before reaching a trial. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a mere 3-4% go to trial.


Litigation is the process of taking legal action or filing a lawsuit in court to resolve disputes between parties. In the context of personal injury, this involves presenting the case in court to obtain compensation for injuries suffered due to someone else’s negligence.

Contingency Fee

A Contingency Fee is a payment structure commonly used in personal injury cases, where the lawyer's fees are contingent upon winning the case. The client doesn't pay anything upfront but agrees to pay the attorney a percentage of the settlement or judgment.

How the Law Offices of Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk Can Help

Understanding these personal injury terms is essential for successfully maneuvering through the complex world of personal injury law. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney, like those at Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, represents a critical ally and can provide clear insights into legal terminologies. They help you navigate the judicial maze while protecting your rights and assisting in obtaining the compensation you deserve. Their professional representation is accessible in both Williamsport and Lewisburg areas.


140 East Third Street, Williamsport (570) 323-3768
320 Market Street, Lewisburg (570) 522-0505
Northern Tier Pennsylvania (570) 673-4081
(800) 422-5396
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