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21 Insights To Understanding Civil Legal Terms

Dale Gribow Dec. 20, 2014

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the meaning of criminal terms. Steve from La Quinta wrote "most of us do not get arrested but almost all of us deal with civil issue." These can be issues regarding: contracts, credit card disputes, leases, a suit by a car dealership, business, neighbors slip and fall on your property or your dog biting them.

Steve was correct so herein I share civil term information lawyers use. If I get a positive feedback I will present more.

  1. Admissible: Describes evidence that may be considered by a jury or judge.

  2. Appeal: A request by the losing party for a higher courts review. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the "appellant;" the other party is the "appellee."

  3. Brief: A written statement to the court explaining your position on issues.

  4. Case law: The law from previous court decisions. A synonym for legal precedent. Akin to common law, which springs from tradition and judicial decisions.

  5. Caseload: The number of cases handled by a court.

  6. Cause of action: A legal claim.

  7. Chambers: A judge's office.

  8. Class action: A lawsuit in which one or more members of a large group, or class, of individuals or other entities sue on behalf of the entire class. The district court must find that the claims of the class members contain questions of law or fact in common before the lawsuit can proceed as a class action.

  9. Common law: The legal system we now use, from England.

  10. Complaint: A civil lawsuit's written statement detailing the claims against the defendant.

  11. Contract: An agreement between two or more people that creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing. The 3 Rules of Contract Law: The law does not protect you from a bad bargain, the law does not protect you from a bad bargain, the law does not protect you from a bad bargain

  12. Court reporter: A person making a word-for-word record of what is said in court using a stenographic machine, shorthand or audio recording, and then transcribing the proceedings upon request.

  13. Damages: Money a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case... if the plaintiff wins. Damages may be compensatory (for loss or injury) or punitive (to punish and deter future misconduct).

  14. Defendant: An individual (or business) against whom a lawsuit is filed.

  15. Deposition: An oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial.

  16. Discovery: Procedures used to obtain disclosure of evidence before trial. One of the first things a trial lawyer learns is to NEVER ASK A QUESTION FOR WHICH YOU DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWER.......think of the glove in the OJ case, leading to "if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit"

  17. Dismissal with prejudice: Court action that prevents an identical lawsuit from being filed later.

  18. Dismissal without prejudice: Court action that allows the later filing.

  19. Evidence: Testimony or documents used to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury) to decide the case in your favor.

  20. File: Placing a paper in the official custody of the court clerk to enter into the record.

  21. Hearsay: Evidence presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. With some exceptions, hearsay generally is not admissible as evidence at trial.

If you have any questions regarding this column or ideas for future columns please contact Dale Gribow Attorney at Law at



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