Medical Glossary for Personal Injury Victims in California


pain and suffering

Personal Injury Terms & Meanings

Legal processes can be mystifying to most people. To add to the complexity, many a personal injury attorney often use terms that can leave you scratching your head. Here are some common personal injury medical terms that you need to know if you are in the process of filing a personal injury claim.

  • Abduction: Pulling away a body part from the midline axis or center of the body. Muscles that perform this function are called abductors.
  • Abscess: A concentration of pus (made largely of white blood cells) in a part of the body indicating an infection.
  • Adduction: Opposite of abduction. Movement of body parts to the center of the body. Muscles that Muscles that perform this function are called adductors.
  • Arthroplasty: A surgical procedure to reconstruct or replace a damaged joint.
  • Arthroscope: An instrument used to inspect or operate the interior of a joint.
  • Articulation: A place where two or bones comes together.
  • Atrophy: A decrease in size or wasting away of a tissue or organ due to non-use or insufficient blood flow.
  • Blood pressure: The pressure exerted by the blood against the veins and arteries when flowing from the heart.
  • Brain scan: A scan of the brain to identify the cerebral blood flow and to detect intracranial masses, tumors, lesions and infarcts. CT scan (or CAT scan) and MRI are the two methods of brain scans.
  • C-Spine series: A series of x-rays of the neck to diagnose abnormalities and injuries of the bones and soft tissues of the cervical spine.
  • Carotid artery: Either of the two large blood vessels located on each side of the head. These arteries carry blood to the head.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A numbing and painful condition caused by the pressure exerted by the median nerve running through the wrist.
  • Cephalgia: Pain in the head caused by muscle contractions or dilation of cerebral arteries.
  • Coccyx: Another name for tailbone, the lowest part of the spine.
  • Comminuted fracture: A break or splinter of a bone into multiple fragments.
  • Compound fracture: A fracture of a bone causing the bone to protrude out of the skin.
  • Concussion: A condition caused by a blow to the head resulting in unconsciousness or confusion.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): A clinical syndrome of an unknown cause and variable course characterized by swelling, pain and vasomotor dysfunction of an extremity.
  • Contusion: An area of the skin where the blood capillaries have ruptured. A bruise.
  • Cyst: A cavity or membranous sac of abnormal character filled with fluid.
  • Diskectomy: A surgical procedure to remove damaged portions of a herniated disk in the spine.
  • Effusion: The escape of a fluid from anatomical vessels due to rupture or exudation.
  • Embolism: Obstruction of an artery, typically by a clot of blood or an air bubble.
  • Epidural: The space inside the spinal column between the vertebral canal and the dura (membrane that covers the spinal cord).
  • Fistula: An abnormal or surgically created passage between organs and the outer layer of the skin, usually to drain out pus from an abscess.
  • Flexion: A bending movement around a joint in a limb, such as the knee and elbow.
  • Fracture: A rupture of the bone.
  • Hematoma: A solid swelling of clotted blood within the tissues.
  • Hernia: A condition in which part of an organ protrudes through the wall of the cavity containing it.
  • Herniated Nucleus Pulposis (HNP): A condition in which part or all of an intervertebral disk is forced through a weakened part of the disk, resulting in back pain and nerve root irritation.
  • Hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure.
  • Hypotension: Abnormally low blood pressure.
  • Hypoxia: Deficiency in oxygen supply the tissues.
  • Infarction: Obstruction of the blood supply to an organ or region of tissue causing death of the local tissue.
  • Intervertebral: Located between vertebrae.
  • Ischemia: An inadequate supply of blood to an organ or part of the body, especially the heart muscles.
  • Laparotomy: A surgical incision into the abdominal cavity, either for diagnosis or to prepare for a major surgery.
  • Lesion: A region in an organ or tissue which has been damaged by injury or disease.
  • Lordosis: An excessive inward curvature of the spine.
  • Meninges: The three membranes (the dura mater, pia mater and arachnoid,) that surround the brain and spinal cord.
  • Myelogram: An s-ray of the spinal canal after injecting it with a dye to assess the nerve roots.
  • Necrosis: The death of the cells in an organ or tissue due to disease, injury, or failure of the blood supply.
  • Neuralgia: Intense pain along the course of a nerve, especially in the head or face.
  • Occipital: Of or relating to the occipitalbone in the back of the head.
  • Open reduction: The surgical procedure to repair a fracture by repositioning the pieces of the bone.
  • Orthopedics: The branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and correction of deformities of bones or muscles.
  • Osteoarthritis: Degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone, causing pain and stiffness in the hip, knee, and thumb joints.
  • Osteomyelitis: Inflammation of bone and bone marrow, usually caused by infection.
  • Paravertebral: Situated, occurring or performed beside or adjacent to the spinal column.
  • Paraplegia: Paralysis of the lower body and legs, usually caused by spinal injury or disease.
  • Phalanges: Bones of the fingers or toes.
  • Plasma: The colorless fluid part of blood, lymph, or milk, in which corpuscles or fat globules are suspended.
  • Quadriplegia: Paralysis of all four limbs.
  • Radiculopathy: A set of conditions that impair the functions of one or more nerves (a neuropathy).
  • Range of motion: The ability of a body part such as a hand to move around an axis, measured in degrees.
  • Resection: A surgical procedure to remove a portion of an organ.
  • Spondylitis: Inflammation of the spinal vertebrae.
  • Whiplash: Trauma caused to the muscles and bones of the neck (cervical spine) by a sudden back and forth movement of the head. If you have suffered whiplash in a car accident, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you explore your legal options.

Important Personal Injury Terms

Most people find the legal processes so complex that they never wish to get involved in a lawsuit. To complicate matters further, there are the legal jargons used by personal injury lawyers. You can hardly make sense of most of them. Here are the common personal injury terms (listed in alphabetical order) that you will need to know if you have filed, or are about to file, or are thinking of filing a personal injury claim.

  • Abuse: Physical or emotional ill-treatment of a person resulting in physical or emotional injury. There are several different types of abuse, such as sexual abuse, child abuse and nursing home abuse.
  • Accident: An undesirable and usually unexpected incident that causes economic or non-economic harm. It can be the result of mistake, negligence or misconduct.
  • Appeal: A legal process that allows you to request a higher court to review the decision in order to have it reversed or reduced.
  • Arbitration: The use an arbitrator (an independent person) to settle a dispute. (See mediation).
  • Attorney: A person who is authorized by a federal or state court to practice law and represent a client in legal matters.
  • Beneficiary: A person who is entitled to receive property or benefits in a will or trust.
  • Cause: An action that produces a result or an effect. Also called causation, it is a matter to be decided by a court.
  • Claim: A declaration of your legal right to seek compensation in the form of either money or benefits after you have sustained injuries or losses.
  • Comparative negligence: A method by which liability and damages are proportionally assigned among the parties at fault.
  • Compensation: A payment made to an individual to make up for a loss or injury caused to him or her. For personal injuries, it can be made for injuries (physical or emotional), economic loss, loss of consortium and economic loss.
  • Contributory negligence: A way to assign liability and damages taking into consideration the plaintiff’s actions or behavior that contributed to the harm.
  • Damages: Monetary compensation given to the plaintiff by the order of the court for the losses he or she endured.
  • Decision: A written decision given by a court based on the facts presented by the plaintiff and defendant.
  • Defendant: An individual or entity who is accused by another individual of causing an injury or loss endured by him or her.
  • Disability: A medical condition or injury that interferes with your ability to make an earning.
  • Dispute: A disagreement between the plaintiff and the defendant to be resolved in court or by other legal processes.
  • Fault: A failure to act reasonably or according to law through either negligence or intention.
  • Guardian: A person designated by a court to care for another person and his or her property.
  • Immunity: A status that gives an individual or entity from being sued or prosecuted.
  • Income: Money earned by an individual on a reoccurring basis.
  • Injury: Harm, loss or damages caused to an individual through the negligence of another person.
  • Judgment: The final ruling or decision of a court in a lawsuit. In personal injury cases, it could be an award of money for the injuries and damages caused to the plaintiff.
  • Juvenile: An individual deemed by law to be too young to be prosecuted as an adult. Such a person should be 17 years old or younger.
  • Liability: Accountability or responsibility for causing injuries and losses to another person.
  • Loss: The monetary value assigned to an injury or damage caused to an individual by another person’s negligence. The loss may be emotional, physical or property.
  • Maine Liquor Liability Act: A statute that provides an individual with a limited right of legal recourse against a bar, restaurant or server of alcohol for causing injury or death of a visibly intoxicated person by over serving him or her.
  • Maine Tort Claims Act: A statute that provides an individual with a limited right of legal recourse to claim and collect monetary damages from a municipal or state agency.
  • Malpractice: A negligent act of a professional resulting in injury to an individual. The act can be a negligence, breach of duty or lack of required skill.
  • Mediation: A way of resolving disputes between the plaintiff and the defendant, usually before the case goes to the court. (See arbitration)
  • Mental anguish: Emotional suffering inflicted on an individual.
  • Negligence: Failure of an individual or entity to exercise reasonable care to prevent another individual from being harmed.
  • Personal injury: An injury caused to an individual. It may be physical, emotional or to his/her reputation.
  • Premises: The land and building considered as a property.
  • Premises liability: The liability for injuries arising from a land or building.
  • Product liability: The liability for injuries arising from a product’s design, make or marketing.
  • Proof: Evidences presented in a court.
  • Property: The material possession of an individual, such as land, building and products.
  • Property damage: The damage or destruction done to an individual’s property by another person.
  • Recover: To get compensation for injuries and losses as a result of a lawsuit or negotiated settlement.
  • Risk: A known chance of an injury or loss.
  • Settlement: An agreement made between opposing parties to resolve a dispute. The settlement is made by personal injury lawyers on behalf of their clients.
  • Statute of limitation: The window of time during which an individual can file a lawsuit against another individual for causing injury or loss. It generally begins when the injured person discovers his or her injuries or losses.
  • Witness: An individual who saw the events that led to the lawsuit.
  • Wrongful death: A death of an individual caused by the negligence, wrongful act or willful act of another person or entity.

What Are Pain and Suffering Damages?

When filing a personal injury lawsuit, you may seek compensation for the pain and suffering you have endured as a result of the injury you have sustained. Pain and suffering is the legal term for the physical pain and emotional distress that the plaintiff has suffered due to an injury. Emotional distress (or mental anguish, as it is also called) may include anxiety, fear, insomnia, irritability and depression.

There are two categories of damages awarded to an accident victim: special damages and general damages. Pain and suffering falls in the general damages category. They are awarded in addition to the special damages, which include compensation for the actual monetary losses incurred, such as medical bills, lost wages and cost of therapy.

For example, let’s say a man named Bill was injured in a car crash. Even after treatment and recovery, the accident left him with a lingering back pain, which prevented him from working to his full capacity, sleeping soundly at night and having unhindered physical intimacy with his wife. As a result, he is anxious, frustrated and depressed. When filing a personal injury claim, he can seek pain and suffering damages.

How is pain and suffering calculated?

Since there is no way to put an exact price on pain and suffering, it is estimated by reviewing the injured person’s symptoms of physical pain and emotional distress, with due consideration to their severity and duration. Calculating the exact value can be tricky, but you can make informed guesses with help from your personal injury lawyer. This is why it is important for you to keep a record of all your treatments, therapies and medications.

The claims adjusters also follows the same method. But mostly, they rely on past experiences (it’s a part of their job) when calculating the monetary value of your pain and suffering. Additionally, they may also have a computer program that returns a figure based on the claim data you have provided. This means that the more evidence you can provide, the higher the compensation they will offer.

The value of the damages also depends on your power of persuasion. If you can persuade the claim’s adjuster to see things from your point of view, then he or she may be willing to offer you a higher amount. So the value the claims adjuster comes up with depends on his or her experience, the value returned by the computer, the evidence you have provided, and the strength of your claim.

What are the main factors considered?

To determine the monetary value of pain and suffering, attorneys and adjusters often use the 1-5x system, where 1 represents the lowest and 5 represents the highest level of pain and suffering. They take into account the following factors to arrive at a multiplying factor they believe is fair and justified.

  • Seriousness of injury: If you have suffered minor injuries, such as sprains, bruising and laceration, you may be offered 1-2 times the amount of your special damages. If you have suffered a hard injury, such as a broken collarbone or ruptured disk, then you may be offered 2-3 times the amount of your special damages. Only for very severe damages, such as severe brain damage and permanent paralysis, will you be offered 5 times the amount.
  • Future prognosis: If you have a serious injury that requires extended periods of treatment and therapy, then a higher multiplying factor will be applied to your compensation amount.
  • Comparative liability: If the adjuster believes that you were partially liable for your injury, then you will be given a lower multiplying factor.
  • History of verdicts: The adjuster also looks the history of verdict. If a court in the county or state had awarded a certain amount to a plaintiff in a similar case, the adjuster will use that amount as the base.

As you have seen, calculating the monetary value of your pain and suffering is complicated. Talk to a skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer to find out how much you can claim.

What Is a Discovery of Harm?

The injuries sustained in an accident or assault may appear immediately or in the course of time. If your injuries appear immediately or within a few hours, then they are obvious to everyone. But if they appear after several days or months, then an investigation into the cause of the injuries may be required. In legal parlance, this investigation is known as discovery of harm. In order to fully understand the term, it is necessary to understand another legal term: ‘statute of limitation’.

What is Statute of Limitation?

In any personal injury case, the injured party is allowed a window of time within which he or she can file a personal injury claim. Once the window has passed, you cannot file a claim. This is called statute of limitation. Discovery of harm must take place before the statute of limitation expires.

Statute of limitation for personal injury can be as long as four years, depending on the nature of the injury and the state you are in. In California the statute of limitation to file a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the date of injury.

When Does Statute of Limitation Begin?

Statute of limitation in a person injury claim can begin on the date of accident, or the date the injury was discovered, or the date the injury was diagnosed by a doctor, or the date on which the plaintiff should have discovered the injury. Under specials circumstances, a judge may decide the starting point.

For example, let’s say that you were hit by a car while you were walking. You did not sustain any visible injuries. No cuts, no bruises and no fractured or broken bones. But after several weeks, you began to feel pain in your chest. You went to see a doctor. After conductive several tests, your doctor told you that you had bleeding around your lungs. He suspected that it happened due to the accident. You then contact a personal injury lawyer, who tells you that the statute of limitation begins the day the injury was diagnosed.

What is Discovery of Harm Rule?

The discovery of harm rule states that the statute of limitations may not begin immediately after the accident or event that caused the injury. It begins on the day you find out that you have been injured. Since you may not know when exactly you found out, you can give the judge the date you were diagnosed.

This rule helps you get justice and compensation even after the legal deadline for filing the case has expired, provided you can prove that you had not known or could not reasonably have found out about your injury. In other words, it allows you to extend the statute of limitation for filing a personal injury case.

The discovery of harm rule doesn’t apply in all personal injury cases. It doesn’t apply in a cases where the date of injury and the discovery of injury are the same; for example, motor vehicle accidents and slip and fall accidents. This rule is most often used in cases of product liability and medical malpractice.

What Is Reasonable Discovery of Harm?

When talking about discovery of harm, the word ‘reasonable’ is often mentioned. What it means is that for the rule to apply, you must have been known to have exercised reasonable diligence in investigating the symptoms of your injuries. Failure to do so means that you are intentionally delaying the formal discovery of your injury, which can result in the loss of your right to file a lawsuit.

What’s the Role of Your Insurance Company?

Your insurance company can play either a positive or a negative role in your discovery of harm. Insurance companies often deliberately delay the payment of claims as long as possible to earn money through interests. If the claim is not paid out before the expiry of statute of limit, they may not even have to pay. When your insurance company operates in bad faith like this, there is not much you can do apart from filing a bad faith claim which may extend your statute of limitation. If your insurance company is playing truant, talk to a reliable personal injury lawyer immediately.

What Is the Assumption of Risk Doctrine?

Assumption of risk is a defense that the defendant can use to deny or reduce the plaintiff’s right to recovery by asserting that the plaintiff had prior knowledge and understanding of the risks associated with the activity that he was involved in at the time his injury or loss. The assumption of risk doctrine is also known by its Latin name volenti non fit injuria. Big businesses often use this defense to avoid paying damages of large amounts. But it doesn’t mean you can’t fight. Talk to skilled and experienced personal injury attorneys to find out if you have a strong case.

Situations that Give Rise to Assumption of Risk

Situations that lend themselves to the assumption of risk doctrine are classified into the following three broad categories:

  1. First situation: In the first situation, the plaintiff had given his consent in advance to relieve the defendant of an obligation towards him arising from a known risk. The consequence of this is that the defendant cannot be held liable for negligence. This means that if the plaintiff had prior knowledge of the risks and had consented to take a chance of injury, then the defendant wins the case straightway. For example, a plaintiff was found to have consented to be driven in car knowing that its steering system was defective.
  2. Second situation: In the second type of situation, the plaintiff had voluntarily entered into a relationship with the defendant, with the full knowledge that the defendant would not safeguard him against the risks. In this case, the plaintiff can be assumed to have tacitly or implicitly consented to the negligence. For example, a plaintiff was found to have ridden in a car with the knowledge that the steering was defective.
  3. Third situations: In the third type of situation, the plaintiff had continued to be involved in an activity being fully aware of the risks previously created by the negligence of the defendant or had continued to be involved in the activity even after the risk had been detected. If the plaintiff had voluntarily involved himself in the activity, then he or she is deemed to have assumed the risks.

Express vs. Implied Assumption of Risk

  • Express assumption of risk: In the first situation discussed above, the assumption of risk is known as primary or express assumption of risk since the plaintiff had given his consent to be involved in the activity by signing an agreement or by his conduct. It involves a written contract or document, in which an individual acknowledges the associated risks and consents to assume those risks. For example, the plaintiff had entered into a written agreement to work in a steel plant being fully aware of the risks involved.
  • Implied assumption of risk: In the second and third situations discussed above, the assumption of risk is known as implied assumption of risk since there was no written contract or agreement, but the individual was aware of the risks before being involved the activity. It implies that he For example, the plaintiff had tacitly or implicitly agreed to assume the risk. For example, the plaintiff had volunteered to play hockey being fully aware of the risks.

Assumption of Risk As an Affirmative Defense

Under the rules of Civil Procedure, assumption of risk is an affirmative defense, in which the defendant in a negligence case must plead and prove his or her innocence. Civil Procedures are the methods, practices and procedures used in civil cases. Affirmative defense means a new fact or a set of facts that can be used to defeat a claim even if the facts that have been present to support the claim are true.

Affirmative defenses allow a defendant in a criminal or civil lawsuit to justify his actions or to limit his liability. The defendant admits to the allegations made by the plaintiff, but provides explanations and evidences to justify his conduct or action. If you were injured or have suffered damages while being involved in any activity knowing the risks associated with it, talk to reputed personal injury attorneys to explore your options.

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By submitting this form, you agree to receive telephone calls and text messages at anytime, which include hours outside of business hours (8:00 a.m. PST - 9:00 p.m. PST). This is so that we may reach you as soon as possible in order to consult on your potential case. By providing a telephone number and submitting this form you are consenting to be contacted by SMS text message. Message & data rates may apply. You can reply STOP to opt-out of further messaging. You can STOP messaging by sending STOP and get more help by sending HELP. Privacy Policy