If you are confused by the lingo used in legal documents or notices, you aren’t alone. The legal profession is full of dictionaries of complex terms. If you haven’t heard them before, some of these terms can leave you wondering exactly what you just read or heard.
Here are six common legal terms and their definitions:
Fiduciary. A fiduciary is often someone who has a legal duty to act in the best interest of others. Examples of two common fiduciary roles in estate and probate law are trustees (managing trust assets for others) and executors or administrators of someone’s estate after their death. Fiduciaries are legally bound to act appropriately or to a certain standard; if there is a concern someone abused that responsibility, they might have grounds for legal action against them for breach of fiduciary responsibility.
Injunction. Injunctions are remedies available to courts if grounds exist for stopping someone from doing something or forcing them to take a specific action. For example, in a products liability case, if sufficient cause and proof existed, a court might issue an injunction against a manufacturer to make them stop making their defective product in a certain way.
Opinion. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion in a non-legal sense, in the legal world, the word opinion is regularly used to describe the judge’s ruling in a case. If more than one judge is ruling on your case at the same time (for example, in a U.S. Supreme Court case), the “majority opinion” explains the rationale of a majority of the judges, while a “dissenting opinion” would describe the rationale of a judge who did not agree with the majority.
Precedent. Legal precedent refers to an earlier line of case law or rulings which may provide guidance to a subsequent dispute before a court. The legal precedent is what the court, or a sister court within the same state, or applicable federal jurisdiction, determined in the earlier case. Generally speaking, courts will continue to follow precedent. This means that if a matter was decided a certain way in the past, the court is likely to make the same determination if a case is substantially similar. In such cases, the precedent usually has more force than it does if the facts are different. However, courts may disregard precedent if there are circumstances about a case that are different from the earlier case, or if you can prove that the first ruling was wrong, inapplicable, or should otherwise be ignored.
The Statute of Limitations. Under the law, most claims have some form of time limits. Generally, there are limits on how long a party may have to take legal action on any claim. That time period is often called the statute of limitations, and it varies depending on the type of claim, the facts, and applicable state or federal law. Even when these statutes of limitation don’t apply, other legal doctrines such as laches and/or estoppel may apply to bar a claim which is otherwise stale.
Torts. No, torts are not cakes. In the legal world, a tort is a civil action, often arising when someone suffers damages from a negligent or intentional injury. For instance, if someone was hurt or killed because of a defective product or an automobile accident, tort law usually applies. Tort law also applies in the area of business transactions as well, where for example, someone intentionally interferes with the contractual relations or prospective economic advantage of another and causes damages.
While it isn’t critical to be fluent in “legalese,” understanding these basic terms can give you more confidence and can help you better understand what’s going on in your legal case. Of course, there are many other legal terms that may be used; don’t ever be afraid to ask your attorney what something means if you don’t understand it. Have questions about the legal process or want a free consultation? Check out my website or click here to contact me today.