Decoding the Core Terminology of Personal Injury Lawsuits

When it comes to personal injury law, understanding the terminology can be as helpful as understanding the legal process itself.  The following is a brief overview of some of the most common terms you may hear throughout the course of your own personal injury case. Your Virginia Beach personal injury lawyer from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp can provide more details as they navigate you through this legal process.


Negligence forms the legal bedrock of your personal injury case. It refers to the failure to exercise ordinary care while having a duty to do so, which results in harm to another person or damage to property.

Generally speaking, to establish negligence, four elements must be proven:

  • The defendant (at-fault party) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (injured party).
  • The defendant breached that duty of care.
  • The defendant’s breach of the duty of care resulted in damages to the plaintiff.
  • The defendant’s breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Negligence can involve anything from driving a vehicle in such a way as to cause a car accident to medical malpractice resulting in patient harm.


Damages represent the monetary compensation awarded to the injured party in a personal injury claim.  Economic damages are objective financial losses you suffer because of the accident.  These damages may include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage, for example.

Non-economic damages relate to non-financial losses you suffer because of the accident.  They may be more challenging to calculate because they do not have an actual dollar value. Examples of non-economic damages may include pain and suffering, decreased quality of life, permanent disability, and scarring and disfigurement.

In some personal injury claims, the victim may also be awarded punitive damages. The goal of punitive damages is not to directly compensate you for economic and non-economic damages but is instead meant as a punishment for the at-fault party if their actions were especially egregious.  One common example in which punitive damages may be awarded is a drunk driving accident.


Liability refers to legal responsibility for one’s actions or omissions that cause harm to another person. In personal injury cases, liability hinges on proving that the defendant’s negligence or wrongful conduct led to the plaintiff’s injuries. Liability can be attributed to individuals, businesses, government entities, or even multiple parties responsible for the injury.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the legally prescribed timeframe within which a lawsuit must be filed after the occurrence of the injury. Under Virginia law, the statute of limitations is generally two years from the date of the occurrence of the event causing injury.  There are some exceptions to this rule, which is why it is important to speak with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.  Failing to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations can result in the loss of your right to seek legal recourse and dismissal of your case.


A settlement is an agreement that the parties reach to avoid a lawsuit.  Most settlements involve a monetary award that the at-fault party agrees to pay to the injured party.  This monetary award may cover both the economic and non-economic losses the injured party suffered as a result of their injuries. In return, the injured party often agrees to dismiss all claims they may have against the at-fault party, releasing them from further liability.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm for Legal Assistance

If you have been injured in an accident, contact Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our skilled Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers. Our law firm has been advocating for injured clients for more than three decades and has earned over $100 million in verdicts and settlements for our personal injury clients. Our personal injury attorneys have successfully obtained financial compensation for many clients, like the  $235,000 car accident insurance settlement for one client who suffered multiple injuries when another motorist negligently failed to yield the right of way.

Our firm also has satellite offices in Hampton, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.