Insurance Legal Terms Glossary

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Insurance Legal Terms & Definitions

Insurance Legal Terms Glossary

Insurance Legal Terms Glossary. Insurance professionals often review court cases to see how various courts interpret coverage, exclusions, or other policy provisions. This allows an insurance professional to keep in touch with the judicial environment.

Courts are a critical proving ground for our products and services. Decisions reached in various jurisdictions affect how our industry does business within a state or, sometimes, on a national basis.

Today, legal information is freely and widely available, particularly via the Internet. Readers should find these terms helpful when performing independent research or while reading legal information.

Again, we point out that this is NOT an exhaustive glossary; rather, it is a compilation of many of the more common terms you may run into during your readings. Some of the following terms may have a different definition when found in an insurance policy.

The Insurance Legal Terms Glossary should help you with some of the jargon and legal ease used in the insurance industry.

Read the Insurance Legal Terms Glossary to better understand business insurance policy definitions and language to see how the courts interpret coverage, exclusions, or other policy provisions.

Insurance Legal Terms Glossary And Definitions

Following are legal terms and definitions used, alphabetically organized.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


A.B.A. - American Bar Association.

abet - Encouraging another party's action, usually criminal in nature; resulting in bearing partial legal responsibility for such action.

ab initio - Latin "from the start".

accord and satisfaction - Where one party fulfills a contractual obligation and then releases the other party from doing so by accepting some other (usually reduced) compensation.

action case - See cause of action.

addendum - An attachment to another document which typically supplements or modifies that document's provisions.

additur - A jury award of damages that are increased by a judge.

ademption - Property referenced and awarded in a will which, at the time of death, either no longer exists or no longer belongs to the decedent; therefore, it cannot be awarded.

adhesion contract - Refers to a contract written by one party (e.g., insurance company) while the other party (insured) merely follows (adheres) to it. The contract usually favors the party that wrote it. Note: Where the parties disagree over the meaning of part or the entire contract, judgment is typically made in the adhering party's favor.

ad litem - See guardian ad litem.

administrative law - The set of formal rules that are related to procedures followed by quasi-legal (non-court) bodies such as authorities, boards and commissions.

administrator - An adult who is appointed by a court to handle the debts and property of a person who has died without a will (intestate). A female in this role is sometimes called an "administratix."

admiralty law - See maritime law.

ADR - See alternative dispute resolution.

adverse possession - Securing real property for a period of time that is determined by statute (typically, a legal confiscation).

affiant - Person who creates and files an affidavit.

affidavit - Statements which a person signs and swears to be, to the best of his or her knowledge, true. Affidavits are notarized and may be used in court as a substitute for a witness's testimony.

affirmative defense - A legal justification for one's actions that is filed in response to a complaint made by an adverse party.

affirmed - Usually refers to a lower court's decision that has been reviewed and agreed with by a higher court.

alienation - When the possession or ownership of real property or land is transferred from one party to another.

allegation - 1. A claim, declaration, statement (assertion) that is made by a party to an action. 2. Also properly refers to any statement that has not been proven as fact.

allodial - Absolute, uncontested land ownership that is free of any lien or additional interest.

allonge - A supplemental sheet of paper added to a contract to accommodate additional legal signatures.

alternative dispute resolution - Methods for solving a matter as an alternative to litigation such as arbitration or mediation.

amicus curiae - Translates to "a friend of the court" and refers to materials that a party that is outside a legal dispute, offers in support of a given party's legal position.

animus contrahendi - Latin meaning, "an intention to contract".

annulment - To void or absolutely cancel a contract, condition or agreement as though it never existed.

answer - A formal, written response to another party's allegations or complaints.

antedate - Entering a retroactive date on a document.

antenuptial - Either an event or an agreement (usually written) that occurs before a marriage.

appeal - When a superior (higher) court is asked to review a decision of a subordinate (lower) court.

apportionment - When a court divides or distributes property or a contractual obligation in proportion to each party's ownership interest or share of responsibility.

arraign(ment) - In criminal proceedings where a person is brought into court, the charge against him or her is read, and the person pleads "guilty" or "innocent."

assault - When, without consent (permission), one person intends to physically harm another.

assign - Transferring responsibility or property rights to another party. The person who receives the assignment is called the assignee (or "assigns") and the assignor is the person who donates or gives up the right or responsibility.

attorn - Refers to a person who, either implicitly or explicitly, agrees to the transfer of a right.


bail - Criminal law a commitment made (and possibly secured by cash or property) to secure the release of a person being held in custody and suspected of a crime, to provide some kind of guarantee that the suspect will appear to answer the charges at some later date.

bailment - A temporary transfer of possession of property by one person (bailee)) to another person (called the bailor). The transfer is usually for storage, or to achieve some business purpose such as maintenance or repair; the bailment is complete when the property is returned to the owner or handled according to any agreement between the two parties, such as the owner of a piano giving it to a musical instrument store owner to sell the piano on a consignment basis. The bailment is completed upon the piano's sale.

bare trust -A trust that has become passive for the trustee because all the duties the settlor may have imposed upon the trustee have been performed or any conditions or terms have come to fruition, such as there is no longer any impediment to the transfer of the property to the beneficiary.

battery - When one person wrongfully inflicts physical violence on another person.

Berne Convention - An international copyright agreement regarding artistic and literary works. It was first established in 1886 and last amended in 1971.

bench - A judge in court session.

bench trial - A trial presented before a judge without use of a jury.

bigamy - Marriage to more than one person at the same time.

bind over - To hold a party on a bond or in jail, prior to a trial.

blind trust - An agreement where the settler (party who places the property in the trust) has no authority over the trust's administration, with the exception of the power to terminate that agreement. It is used by parties who want to remove property-related conflicts of interest.

bona fide - Refers to acts or acting in good faith or to something having validity.

bona vacantia - Vacated property that may be claimed by any finder.

breach of contract - When one party fails to perform their part of an agreement.

breach of trust - A trustee's action or inaction that violates the terms of the trust agreement or the law of trusts. Example: A trustee who transfers ownership of the property to himself.

brief - A document used by attorneys as the basis for a legal argument, which is filed in (usually an appellate) court.

bring suit - Formal term for initiating a legal action (lawsuit) against a party.

burden of proof - A rule of evidence in which the court operates under a presumption (such as a person's innocence) and another party has the burden of proving the opposite of the presumption.

by-laws - Rules, guides or procedures adopted by an association or organization to facilitate its operation.

bystander - Refers to a disinterested party who, because of being nearby, has witnessed some event or transaction that is relevant to a legal action.


calumny - An older term for defamation, such as slander or falsely accusing a party of a crime.

carrier - A party who assumes the responsibility for transporting person or property (generally for a fee).

carry costs - When the person or party who receives a favorable verdict is also awarded payment of his legal expenses.

case law - The entire collection of published legal decisions of the courts that is applied to similar legal disputes. Legal principals established by the results of recorded court cases rather than written (statutory) law.

cause of action - Roughly, the act or set of circumstances that triggers a lawsuit.

caveat - A formal warning originally meaning "let him beware" in Latin.

censure -Refers to a formal reprimand, including disbarment or suspension.

certiorari - Also known as a "writ of certiorari." It refers to a request that a court review a legal decision of another organization or office and decide if the decision is incomplete, inconsistent or contains an error of law.

challenge for cause - An attorney's request that a judge disqualify a party to serve as a juror accompanied with a reason for making the request.

chambers - While literally referring to a judge's private rooms or office, it also applies to any location (other than a court) where a judge performs his duties.

change of venue - When the location of a hearing or trial is changed in order to improve the chance of selecting objective jurists.

charge to the jury - A judge's jury instructions.

chattel - Simply, any property that is portable. Another term for chattel is personal property (originates from the old term for cattle).

chose in action - A right vested in intangible property that is enforced via the courts.

circuit court - A court that has territorial jurisdiction over several counties or political districts. Often the court in which a lawsuit or complaint originates.

circumstantial evidence - Any form of evidence which permits a jury or a judge to deduce, from circumstances, that some event occurred. Such evidence is considered indirect proof since it was not witnessed. Fingerprints are an example of circumstantial evidence.

citation - A court order to perform a specified act or to make an appearance to answer charges. Citations typically involve minor offenses such as traffic tickets. Arrest warrants may be issued when a citation is not obeyed.

citators - Books that contain a history of reported court decisions.

civil action - A legal action (trial) involving free citizens. See criminal action.

class action - Where individual plaintiffs who have a similar complaint against a common party combine their actions into a single lawsuit. A class action streamlines the time it takes to consider the suit and the resulting decision applies to all of the parties that make up the class.

clean hands - A legal presumption that a party that requests some action via the courts, does so without the intent to deceive or defraud.

closing argument - A concluding statement a lawyer makes to a jury at the end of a trial phase (prior to a jury's deliberations).

codicil - An amendment (modification) of a will.

collateral descendant - Refers to an indirect relative (niece or nephew).

collateral estoppel - Refers to a specific issue that has been addressed by a court and, due to that decision, may not be disputed by the same parties in future litigation.

collusion - Refers to two or more parties making a secret agreement to deceive another party, a court or to circumvent the law. An example would be a policyholder and a "claimant" faking a claim to get (and share) the insurance proceeds.

complainant - See plaintiff.

condition precedent - An event that must occur before the effective date of a contract which, if it does not occur, makes the contract void.

conformed copy - A duplicate document that contains notations about items that either could not be, or were not copied from the original (such as referring a signature rather than including a copy of the signature).

consensus ad idem - Latin for "a meeting of the minds" concerning an agreement's obligations.

consideration - A right or item of value that is given in exchange for another right or item of value. In most instances, a consideration is necessary to form a legally valid contract.

construction - A process, sometimes applying interpretive laws, for determining the meaning of part or an entire contract or statute. See "literal and liberal construction.

continuance - An approved delay of a trial or proceeding.

contract law - The collection of laws that control how a court enforces a valid contract.

conversion - This term describes when a person assumes control of someone else's property to use or enjoy as his own. The act, even when done innocently, is subject to a legal claim for damages by the property's owner.

costs - Refers to court costs related to a lawsuit. It may include filing fees, costs of expert testimony, witness expenses, etc.

counterclaim - A claim of damages made by a defendant that, naturally, opposes or is related to a plaintiff's claim.

court of original jurisdiction - See circuit court.

covenant - When a person signs a document in which he or she agrees to either perform or refrain from performing some activity or in which he or she agrees to one or more facts. Covenants are commonly used to control the use of land, rental space or property.

criminal action - A trial involving a government effort to prosecute a person charged with an illegal act.

cross action - When a defendant brings an action against the defendant. It arises out of the plaintiff's claim and is meant to aid the defendant's case.

cross appeal - A situation in which both parties to a legal action request a higher court to review a lower court's decision.

cross-examination - Describes when one party questions the other party's witnesses.

custody - With regard to a proceeding, refers to detaining a party to guarantee appearances at a trial or hearing.


damages - Cash awarded by a court to compensate a party for loss caused by the act or negligence of another party.

declaration under penalty of perjury - A sworn and signed statement that subjects its author to a perjury charge if the contents of that statement turn out to be false.

declaratory - To clarify or explain.

declaratory judgment - A court issued statement of opinion which may clarify a position, but it DOES NOT mandate or require any particular action.

decree - Refers to a court sentence or order.

de facto - A Latin term which means "as a matter of fact." A way of saying something exists for all intents and purposes, such as a boyfriend who, due to his actions and relationship to a woman, is a de facto husband. This term is the opposite of de jure. See de jure.

defalcation - Usually refers to two parties who off-set mutual debts. Example: A owes B $100 while B owes A $70. A and B agree to a defalcation so that A only owes B $30. A second meaning refers to a public official who defaults on a debt or cannot properly account for public funds.

defamation - An attack on the good reputation of a person either verbally (slander) or in writing (libel).

defeasance - A supplemental (side) contract that can defeat the purpose of a main contract if it is executed. It may also refer to contracts that, due to their purpose (immoral or illegal) are vulnerable to being voided.

defendant - The person, company or organization that defends a legal action taken by a plaintiff.

de jure - A condition or status that exists (is established) by right or title, such as a legal marriage. The opposite of de facto. See de facto.

demurrer - A motion by a defendant that's made after a plaintiff presents his evidence. The motion asks a trial judge to deny a plaintiff's action because the evidence does not support the claim. Most states no longer permit this motion to be made, requiring a defendant to present a defense.

de novo - A Latin term for "new" which refers to a trial that is started over, erasing the record of the original trial.

deposition - A witness's written statement as opposed to his or her verbal statement (testimony).

derivative action - Describes a shareholder who files a lawsuit on behalf of a corporation against a third party.

devisee - A legal entity that, via a will, inherits real estate.

dicta, dictum - See obiter dictum.

directed verdict - Refers to a case where, because of the absence of proper evidence being available for review, a judge orders the entry of a legal decision (verdict).

disbarment - The act of a legal body to strip a lawyer of his/her right to practice law.

disclaim - To turn down a gift award via a will.

dismissal - When a motion or lawsuit is thrown out without being heard by the court or without holding a trial.

dissent - Generally refers to the minority opinion of a judge that differs from that of the majority's decision/opinion.

dissolution - When a company's operation or a legal union (such as a partnership or marriage) is legally terminated.

distrain - To accept or to take property as a pledge to perform some obligation such as paying rent or repaying a loan.

district court - A court that has exclusive jurisdiction over either a whole state or part of a state (superior to a circuit court and inferior to a supreme court).

docket - An official court record which shows all of the court's cases, usually including the status of each case.

doctrine - A rule, principle or law which results from applying legal precedents.

domicile - Legally, a person's permanent residence.

donee - A person who is assigned (given) another person's property through a trust.

donor - The person who establishes a trust in order to give another person property.

double jeopardy - The legal provision that prevents anyone from being tried more than once for the same crime.

due process - The set of legal safeguards due each citizen which must be honored by a state or court attempting to take action that may affect a citizen's rights, such as the right to be notified before one's property is seized.

duress - Describes a person whose behavior or actions are coerced by threat of force. In other words a person is prevented from acting according to his free will, so he is not (generally) held legally responsible for his actions.


easement - Generally refers to a right of way over a property owner's land. Commonly held by a utility company for servicing utility lines. It may also refer to a wide variety of ways that one party may have access to another's land or property.

emancipation - Freeing a person from the authority of another such as a son or daughter from a parent or guardian.

embezzle - When one transfers (actually diverts) ownership of money or other property illegally.

eminent domain - When a governmental unit exercises its authority to seize ownership of private land for the public good.

enactment - A law or a declaration (decree) or a document which, once published, stands as an enforceable law.

en banc - A case that is heard by the full court or a prescribed quorum of an appellate court.

endowment - Usually a gift of money or property to another party, with schools and charitable organizations being the most common recipient.

entrapment - When a person is induced or provoked into committing a crime by officers of the law.

escheat - A rule involving persons who die without an heir to his or her estate. In such instances, the property reverts to the government.

escrow - When a third party holds money, shares or a deed in trust until a contractual obligation is fulfilled between two parties.

esquire - In the U.S., a formal title given to an attorney.

estate - Refers to the real and personal property owned by an individual.

estate law - The body of law that regulates how a deceased person's estate is distributed.

et al. - Short for et alii and means "and others."

evasive answer - When a witness, who should be able to answer a direct question, attempts to avoid the issue.

evidence - Information presented as facts during a trial which may be given orally (testimony) or in writing (deposition). The purpose of the information is to convince a court to accept the presenting party's claim or position.

exculpate - Something that excuses or justifies a wrong action.

expunge - To eliminate or erase from a court record so no reference to the item remains.


failure of consideration - Refers to a contractual party that is either unable or unwilling to fulfill its obligation.

fair use rule - A limited number of situations where copyrighted material may be used without the permission of the copyright holder (Example: A critic quotes a line from a movie in his/her movie review).

false imprisonment - Deliberately restraining or confining another party without legal justification.

family allowance - A financial amount permitted under state law to be provided from a deceased's estate to the decedent's family to help with expenses until the estate goes through probate.

fee simple - Possession of real property that allows, for all intents, absolute control over the property's use and enjoyment, including a tenant having the right to pass the property to an heir if the property owner dies without a will.

fee tail - When property reverts back to government ownership if the property owner dies without a lineal descendant.

fiduciary - A party who is responsible for taking care of a beneficiary's (financial) interests as if they were his own. Examples of fiduciary relationships are the vendor/client and principal/agent relationships.

forfeiture - Default of a party's interest in property.

freehold - Where a party is given full use of real property without specifying a time limit for the privilege. See fee simple and fee tail.


garnishee - Refers to the party who controls the assets of a debtor whose property is being seized because of his failure to pay a debt. In most instances, an employer is the garnishee.

garnishment - A legal seizure of an individual's property or, more commonly, salary, in order to dispose of a debt.

general counsel - Generally refers to the person who is employed full-time as a corporation's senior lawyer. However, the position is sometimes filled on a contractor basis by an outside lawyer.

gift over - A secondary award of property to an additional beneficiary in the event that something happens to the initial beneficiary.

goodwill - An intangible business asset consisting of a business positive reputation with its customers and general public.

grand jury - In the U.S. court system, a jury where a prosecutor presents criminal complaints in order to get approval to bring formal charges (indictment) against the subject of the complaint.

gross negligence - Acting or failing to act in a situation that demonstrates a person's failure to consider the safety of another person or another's property.

guardian ad litem - A guardian appointed to help a person who is unable to participate in a legal action, such as a minor or a person lacking mental capacity.


harassment - Any actions or communications that harm, upset, annoy or alarm another person.

headnote - A summary of a legal rule or notes that appear prior to a printed court opinion.

hearsay - Testimony from a witness who does not have direct knowledge. In other words, indirect or, at a minimum, second-hand knowledge.

heir - A person with the legal standing to receive a relative's estate when no will exists.

hostile witness - A lawyer's own witness who is judged unwilling to cooperate in that manner so he or she may be questioned as if he or she were a witness belonging to his opposition.

husband-wife privilege - A right belonging to spouses to keep communications between them confidential from a court of law.


immunity - Where an entity is granted freedom from a civil or criminal liability, generally done as part of an agreement such as testifying in a proceeding.

inadmissible - Information that cannot be submitted or used as evidence.

incapacity - Refers to lacking the ability (competence) to make a decision or participate in a legal proceeding.

incorporeal - Intangible property rights such as copyrights or patents.

infringement - To trespass, invade or violate another party's rights.

injunction - A court order that either requires action from a party (mandatory injunction) or prohibits an action to a party (restrictive injunction).

in limine - A Latin phrase. It refers to a motion that a party has tabled at the beginning of a legal procedure.

in pari delicto - The phrase used to indicate that both parties involved in a legal action are equally at fault. This situation nullifies any legal action, maintaining the status of the disputing parties.

inter alia - Refers to a list of samples or examples that illustrate what is meant by a statement, while not limiting what is covered or included in that statement. In Latin, the phrase means "among other things."

interim order - A temporary court order that, generally, lasts until a court hears an entire case and, at that time, a final order is issued.

interlocutory - Proceedings taken during the course of a trial which assist a party in preparing or presenting its case such as procedures or applications.

inter vivos trust - A trust that is established and takes effect during the life of the person donating the property to the trust.

intestate - Dying without a will.


jacitation - A lie that enhances the person making the statement, while harming the standing or reputation of another party.

j.d. - Abbreviation for a law degree which means "juris doctor" or "doctor of jurisprudence."

joint and several liability - Describes a situation in which more than one person may be held liable and each person may be sued for the entire amount of damages.

joint-defense agreement - An extension of the concept of attorney client privilege. It refers to an agreement among attorneys to share confidential information that may help each participant, while protecting such information from having to be disclosed to persons outside of the agreement.

judicial lien - A lien (legal interest) secured from a judge (or as a result of a proceeding) against a debtor.

judicial review - When a decision made by a tribunal or an administrative agency is reviewed by a court. When the decision being reviewed was made by a court, the review is called an appeal.

jurisdiction - Refers to a court's authority to render judgment over a situation occurring in a particular territory or involving a particular subject (such as bankruptcies or taxes).

jurisprudence - This term literally means the "science of law" and refers to the application of laws or statutes to a factual situation by a judge. In other words, the body of legal decisions made during trials; is also called case law.

jury tampering - The act of, or attempt to, influence one or more jurors against viewing evidence objectively.

justicable - Matters that can be reviewed by a court.


kidnapping - Carrying another person away against his or her will.

kin - Describes persons related to each other by blood or marriage.

kindred - The legal relatives of a deceased person.

knowingly and willfully - Refers to a party's deliberate or intentional action, implying that the party fully understood his decision or action.

known heirs - Persons known by a court who have standing to inherit an estate.


lack of jurisdiction - Refers to a court that decides or discovers it does not have the authority to try or render judgment over a case.

lapsed gift - A gift made via a will which becomes moot because the recipient dies before the person who made the will.

larceny- Acquiring property fraudulently.

last resort - Short for court of last resort from which a decision may NOT be appealed; a supreme court.

lawsuit - Legal action pursued by adverse parties in a court.

leading question - A question which suggests an answer; usually answerable by "yes" or "no" and may only be used by a lawyer who is questioning the opposing party's witness during cross-examination or is questioning hostile witnesses.

leasehold - Real property that is held under a lease agreement.

libel - Defamation which appears in writing such as in a letter or a publication.

liberal construction - When a judge is allowed to consider other factors to interpret the meaning of a phrase or document.

limited partner - A partner who is liable only to the extent of his (or her) investment in a partnership.

lineal - A direct blood relationship such as from mother to daughter.

literal construction - When a judge is restricted to interpreting a document or phrase at its face value and may not consider other factors.

litigation - A dispute that is brought to court as a lawsuit.

litigant - A person who is a chief participant of a legal dispute.

livery - An archaic legal word from the feudal system meaning the transferring of property from one party to another party; delivery.

L.L.B. - The Latin abbreviation for a bachelor degree in law.

L.L.D. - The Latin abbreviation for a doctorate in law.

L.M. - The Latin abbreviation for a masters degree in law.

locus - Latin meaning "the place" or location.


malfeasance - An illegal act (regardless how that act is performed).

malicious prosecution - Acts committed against a party with deliberate intent to injure that party.

mandamus - A legal order for one entity to perform a corrective action to a prior, legal act.

manslaughter - A homicide, but which is absent of a legal intent to kill or was done outside of any extreme circumstances that would imply intent.

maritime law - A very specific body of law that deals with transportation by water and related activities.

mediation - A method of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which consists of a person who facilitates two parties to reach an agreement without resorting to litigation.

mens rea - Latin for "guilty mind" and refers to a legal finding that one party had the intent to commit a crime or who recognizes that a given act was illegal/wrong.

misfeasance - An act that may be considered legal, which a party performs improperly.

mis-joinder - When a court officially removes a party who had been erroneously named as part of a legal action or suit.

mitigating circumstances - Reasons that may justify a decision to reduce damages, level of blame or excuse an offense.

motion - A party's formal request that a judge rules or makes a ruling in favor of the party making the request.

motion in limine - An attorney's request that a judge determines information to prejudicial and inadmissible to a proceeding.

moratorium - Refers to a legal action that has been temporarily suspended.


naturalization - Giving a party rights as if they were a native of a given country.

negligence - Refers to a person's decision to act or not to act, which may result in harming another person or damaging another person's property.

nemo judex in parte sua - The legal principle that a party has the right to render judgment in a matter in which they hold an interest.

next friend - A party performing as a guardian on behalf of an infant or a disabled party, without having been formally appointed as a guardian.

no bill - When a grand jury rejects a prosecutor's request for an indictment.

nolo contendere - Latin for "I will not defend it"; it represents a defendant's decision not to argue against a charge. The party must accept the court decision or punishment, but it is done without actually admitting guilt.

nonfeasance - Failure to perform an action that a person has a responsibility to perform.

non-joinder - Asking a court to amend legal documents in order to include a party, who had been forgotten or omitted, to the legal proceeding.

nonjury trial - See bench trial.

notary - Also known as "notary public," a person who has the legal authority to officially witness (or notarize) legal documents with an official seal.

novation - Formally substituting a new debt to replace a previous financial obligation.

nuisance - The use of one's property to the extent that it irritates, inconveniences or annoys a neighbor or the general public.

nunc pro tunc - Latin, referring to performing an act late (after an agreed deadline), but without negative consequences.

nuncupative will - An oral will.


oath - A promise to tell the truth or to take a certain action.

obiter dictum - A judicial decision which is a side issue to a main legal issue. Such judgments do not affect the final decision of a main issue.

obligee - The person who benefits from another party's obligation; also called a "promisee."

obligor - A person who is formally obligated to provide property or a service to another party.

ombudsman - A person who investigates customer complaints against his employer or the complaints of citizens against government services.

(on a person's) own recognizance - A party released from custody who promises to appear for a trial but is not required to post bail or bond.

onus - Latin term meaning "burden" such as the onus of proof. The burden lies with the state in criminal cases and, in civil suits, the onus lies with the plaintiff.

opinion - A formal, written statement of a judge (or judges) that explains a decision it reached.

order - A formal written order issued by a court and which does not have to include reasons to justify the order.

ordinance - A government decision that was not created or considered by any legislature. More common terms are regulations and bylaws.

out-of-court settlement - An agreement that is reached outside of a court and, therefore, the details of the settlement are not part of any public record.


pari delicto - See in pari delicto."

patent - An exclusive privilege given to an inventor to make, use or sell his invention for a set number of years.

pecuniary - Money or related to money such as pecuniary damages or benefits.

per curiam - A Latin phrase which means "by the court"; it indicates that the opinion it precedes is that of the whole court or of the chief judge rather than a single judge.

perjury - Intentionally lying under oath or in a sworn affidavit.

petition - A formal document that asks a court to correct the injustice or complaint that is described in the document. Petitions usually include relevant legal citations and often recommend a precise course of action.

plaintiff - The person who brings his claim of damages to court; also called "claimant," "petitioner" or "applicant.

pleadings - The portion of a court proceeding where each party presents his evidence and arguments.

power of attorney - One party who has a document which assigns him the right to make legally binding decisions for another party. The scope of decision-making authority may be narrow or broad.

precatory words - Words that express a wish or a desire rather than a clear command and, so, are vulnerable to misinterpretation and legal dispute.

precedent - A case which, because of the logic in which the law was applied to a given set of facts, becomes the guide for action in future court cases. Precedent is the foundation of the legal theory, stare decisis.

preponderance - When the evidence presented in CIVIL court is sufficient to convince a judge and/or jury to agree with one party in a legal dispute.

prescription - Describes the acquisition of property rights due to the failure of an owner to speak or act against a party who violated his rights as an owner. This is also known as "statute of limitations."

presumption of advancement - A widely held presumption (opinion) that property transferred from a parent to a son or daughter is a gift and NOT a trust arrangement.

prima facie - A Latin phrase which, roughly, means "on the face of it" or "at first sight." It refers to a situation where, when one set of facts is proven, then certain other facts are also accepted as proven.

private law - Law which regulates the relationships between individuals, such as family, commercial and labor law.

privilege - Refers to a special advantage or right such as a benefit (in using property), an exemption, or immunity (from legal consequences).

privity - A relationship among parties that is considered strong enough to support the right of such parties to pursue a legal claim that arises out of that relationship.

probate - A court certificate indicating that a will has been validated and its provisions may now be read and executed.

probate court - A court given the limited authority to ratify wills.

pro bono - Generally refers to legal service or representation that a lawyer provides without charge.

promisee - See obligee.

promisor - See obligor.

promissory estoppel - Terminates one party's claim that a promise was not made when another party can demonstrate that it reasonably relied upon the promise and injury or damage either has or will result if the promise is not enforced.

proprietor - Owner.

pro tempore - Latin, referring to a temporary situation that is not intended to become permanent.

public domain - Means works which are not protected by copyright, so may be used freely and without any party's permission.

public law - Laws that control the operations and conduct of the government, the responsibilities of government employees and the relationships with foreign governments.

punitive damages - Special damages that, instead of compensating a party who suffered loss of injury, are intended to punish the party that was found guilty of harming another party.


quantum meruit - Means "as much as is deserved." Refers to a right or obligation to compensation equal to the worth of the applicable goods or services.

quid pro quo - Latin, literally meaning giving something for something. An exchange of items or obligations with equal value to the parties in an agreement or transaction.

quiet enjoyment - The right for a property owner to use his or her property without interference.

quorum - Refers to the number of persons who must attend a meeting before business can be handled (since decisions made in absence the required number are invalid).

quo warranto - A procedure that prohibits a party's action by requiring that it shows a legal authority to take that action.


real property - Immovable property such as land or a building. Also includes any type of property that becomes permanently attached to land or a building.

recant - When testimony or a deposition previously made is withdrawn by the party that gave the testimony.

recuse - Generally refers to a judge who removes himself from presiding over a proceeding because of a conflict of interest. Example: A judge recuses himself from a civil lawsuit over a breach of contract because one of the parties in the dispute was his college roommate.

red herring - A fact or issue that does not have a bearing (relevancy) on the matter being considered by the court.

reformation - Court approved revision of a contract to conform with the findings of that court. It is meant to correct any errors so that the contract may be properly enforced.

remand - When a higher court has reviewed a lower court decision and, for various reasons, returns the case to be re-tried (or heard again) in light of the higher court's interpretation or instructions.

replevin - Legally acting to reclaim goods that were surrendered or pledged to another party. See distrained.

rescind - Canceling a contract so that the parties are in the same position as if the contract hadn't occurred.

res ipsa loquitur - A Latin phrase for a situation where the negligence of a party is presumed because he or she had control of the circumstances that resulted in damage or injury.

res judicata - Refers to a matter that some court has already conclusively decided.

respondent - The party that "responds to" a claim filed in court against them and is also called a defendant. May also refer to a person who wins in a lower court and has to respond to an appeal.

restitution - When a party has compensated another party (as required by a court) and then the decision is later overturned or reversed, the party making the original payment requests reimbursement.

restraining order - See injunction.

resulting trust - A trust that is presumed by the court from certain circumstances.

retainer - When a client gives enough money to a lawyer to retain his or her legal services. The retainer initiates a contract between a lawyer and a client.

retract - To take back an offer or statement.

reversion - An agreement involving real property where, when a certain event occurs, the property reverts or returns to the original property owner (or his heirs).

reversionary lease - A future, second lease that begins after the expiration of an initial or prior lease arrangement.

right of redemption - A right in which the seller has the option to buy the property back.

riparian rights - Refers to the special rights of parties who own land that runs into a river bank. Such owners enjoy full use of the water for navigating, bathing and cleaning and, sometimes, other uses that vary by territory.


sanction - A contradictory term that has to be defined in context. It may refer either to ratifying/approving an act or, ironically, to punishing a party for some act.

scienter - Means "guilty knowledge." In other words, a party may be held liable for damages because that party knew that the danger that caused a loss existed.

sequestration - Refers to disputed property that is put in the hands of a disinterested party (or held by court officers) until the dispute is resolved.

settlor - See donor.

silent partner - A person who invests in a company or partnership but does not take part in administering or directing the organization; he or she just shares in the profits or losses.

sine die - Refers to a court hearing (or meeting) that is ended without setting a date for a future session which, in effect, is a dismissal.

slander - A verbal or spoken form of defamation of character.

small claims - A court that operates under simplified procedures in order to quickly handle minor claims for damages.

sovereign - Generally refers to the authority of a state through its ability to create (legislate) laws that control its affairs independently of other states. (Also means a king or queen.)

special costs - Where a court orders a losing party to pay the legal expenses (costs) of the winning party.

standard of proof - The degree of proof that must be met by a party in order to secure a favorable decision.

stare decisis - A legal principle in which a court is bound to use the same decision established by precedent. In other words, if the court is considering Case "M" which is similar to the facts of the precedent-setting Case "A," then the court is bound to apply the decision reached in Case "A" to Case "M".

statute of limitations - A deadline for filing a lawsuit or to begin prosecution of a crime which varies by type of case or class of crime.

statutes - Any written law that has been adopted (approved) by a state's legislature.

statutory trust - Generally a temporary form of trust that is required as a result of a statute and which facilitates the handling of property during transitional periods such as estate settlement or an employer's handling of payroll taxes.

stirpes - Latin for offspring, meaning a lineal descendant.

strict liability - A level of liability assigned to a defendant which doesn't require proof of negligence or fault, only direct evidence that an object belonging to the defendant caused damages. Strict liability usually applies in matters involving a high degree of hazard such as firearms or explosives.

sua sponte - A latin term (of its own will) that refers to a court action that is made without a request from any disputing parties.

sub judice - Refers to a situation that is still under a court's (or legislature's) consideration.

subpoena - A Latin term for "under penalty." It refers to a court order to witnesses to make an appearance at a certain time or place.

sui juris - A person who possesses full civil rights and is not under any legal incapacity such as being mentally incapacitated or being a minor.

summary judgment - A decision made by a court that is based on evidence presented to it without the involvement of a jury or trial.

summons - An initial court document used in a civil suit to notify the defendant about the claim, give the defendant an opportunity to defend himself against the claim, and provides the court with a chance to decide upon (dispose of) the matter.

supra - A Latin term meaning "above" or "upon," and generally refers to an earlier part in a text or a document.

surety - A person who agrees to pay back money or to perform some action if a party to a contract fails to perform under the agreement.


tamper - Refers to any improper interference with the law such as falsifying legal documents.

tenants in common - Where all tenants share equal property rights which is preserved even after the death of a tenant since that share is passed to a descendant rather than distributed among the surviving tenants.

tender - When one party to a contract makes an unconditional offer to perform their part of the agreement, such as paying the amount of money due for a contracted service.

tenure - A right of possessing land or a position (such as a teacher) for a certain amount of time.

testamentary trust - A trust that takes effect only upon the death of the person donating the property.

testator - A person who dies with a valid will.

testimony - The verbal presentation of a witness in a court proceeding.

toll - See statute of limitations.

tort - Derived from the Latin word tortus, it refers to committing a wrongful act. Also refers to the body of law that permits a person to seek damages against a person who is injured by another person's acts.

tort-feasor - Simply a person or persons who commit a tort.

transferee - A person who receives transferred property.

transferor - A person from whom property is transferred.

trespass - The illegal interference with another's person, property or rights.

trover - Old, obsolete term for conversion.

true bill - When a grand jury approves a prosecutor's request for an indictment.

trust - Property given by a person called the donor or settlor, to a trustee, for the benefit of another person (the beneficiary or donee).

trustee - The person who holds property rights (including management and administration rights) for the benefit of another through a trust.


ultra vires - Means an act that is beyond the authority of the person or organization which performed the action.

unjust enrichment - A legal procedure describing a person (plaintiff) seeking damages from another party who, without the property owner's permission, has benefited from the plaintiff's property or action.

unlawful detainer action - A landlord's action to evict a tenant.

uphold - A higher court decision that agrees with a lower court's finding.

usufruct - Holding the rights to the products from another party's property.

usury - Any excessive or illegal interest rate; such rates are usually established by statute.


V, VS., or vs - All are abbreviations for the Latin, versus (against).

vagrant - Tramp or homeless person.

vehicle - Any thing that is designed to transport persons or objects.

vendor - The seller; the person selling.

venue - Simply the physical location of a judicial hearing.

verdict - The decision of a jury such as, in civil cases, finding for the defendant/plaintiff and, in criminal cases, deciding "guilty" or "not guilty."

vicarious liability - When one person is held legally accountable for the wrongdoing of another party such as an employee or a child.

vis - An abbreviation of the Latin word videlicet. Short for "namely" or "that is to say."

void or void ab initio - Anything, such as a contract for an immoral or illegal purpose, which is not legally binding.

voidable - A contract that contains an error of defect that makes it possible or vulnerable to be voided. However, voidable contracts may be executed or litigated according to the intent of the two parties and are not automatically rendered void.

voir dire - A mini-hearing held during a trial on the admissibility of contested evidence. Also refers to the practice of questioning prospective jurors or experts for their qualification for participating in a trial.


waiver - When a person renounces (gives up) a right, either in writing or through his or her actions.

warranty - Usually a written guarantee on a product's performance or on a service being completed.

will - A written and signed statement that instructs how an individual's property is to be distributed after his or her death.

witness - A person who gives either written (disposition) or verbal (testimony) evidence during a legal proceeding.

writ - A court document that requires its recipient to perform some specific action such as supply an answer to legal charges made in a lawsuit.

wrongful death - Claims for damages from any party who, through neglect, act or omission, caused the death of relatives as permitted by statute (wrongful death statutes).


x - Often used as an equivalent or substitute for the word "by" as in 8 x 12.


yeas and nays - Refers to the yes and no votes on a bill or issue considered by a legislature or, informally, by any assembly that votes.

yellow-dog contract - An illegal agreement involving an employee being prohibited from union membership as a condition of employment.


zoning - Refers to the legislative division of a town/city into certain districts including the regulations that govern each area such as the type and characteristic of construction and/or the type of occupancies (residential, commercial or mixed) permitted.

Insurance Legal Terms Glossary - The Bottom Line

We hope that the Insurance Legal Terms Glossary helps you to better understand the many legal terms used in and around commercial insurance policies - from the policy to claims and the legal system.

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