If you or someone you know has been involved in a personal injury insurance or wrongful death insurance claim, then you have probably been exposed to some new and unfamiliar vocabulary. Between dealing with insurance companies and interpreting government documents to understand your rights, there are terms which you have, or will, become acquainted with. Becoming familiar with the jargon involved in a personal injury or wrongful death claim can take energy that you may not have, but it is of the  utmost importance that you fully understand what is happening and what you are agreeing to.

Plain Language is a Right

Since insurance papers can be extremely technical and confusing, do not sign anything before you fully understand the document. Demand it. Many individuals hesitate to ask questions because they perceive that it infringes on others. What they don’t understand is that plain language is a right of United States citizens. A federal law was made regarding this topic just a little over three years ago in the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which mandates that regulations must be “simple and easy to understand, with the goal of minimizing uncertainty and litigation” (Sec. 1, Par. (b)(12)) E.O. 12866. In other words, all documents with binding, legal effect must be written so that the average adult citizen, who the document would affect, would be able to understand it with minimal confusion of terms and definitions.

Especially in the case of personal injury and wrongful death, where your costs are of the heaviest nature, you should not be slighted the compensation you deserve because of pressure from an insurance adjuster and not understanding your rights.

Legalese

Not all claims are taken to court—in fact, at Christensen & Hymas, we are able to successfully settle 90% of our cases without ever having to sue the person who caused the accident in court. However, when pursuing your rightful compensation requires legal action, there is yet another barrier of terms and esoteric vocabulary to learn. You may wonder why there are so many words  that you don’t know? Though at times it may seem as though legal terms exist for no other purpose than to derail communication and to complicate already complicated issues, there are many terms that exist out of necessity. Legal terms of art can be used to refer to pre-existing cases and already established lines of thought that can be referenced rather than fully reiterated. In this way, legal terms of art are efficient and necessary to meet the high volume of cases being handled within each courtroom.

While some of these terms are necessary to be clear and efficient, some legal terms still exist out of traditions in the history of the legal language that has not developed with commonly spoken English. In fact, some linguists have classified legalese as its own dialect because its linguistic evolution is separate from that of national and regional English. Cherlyn Stephens argues that “legalese” must be put into clear language as an essential to citizen rights as well as to the democratic process at large. She recommends that legal language be “stripped of archaic forms and vocabulary, aided by design, lay-out, and typography of the text” so that the common layman would be able to understand what is being said.

The simple matter of fact is that legal terms of art and legal jargon—both necessary and unnecessary—exist. In fact, much of federal and state law is written in it. But this should not hinder your confidence in your rights while pursuing a claim that you deserve compensation for.

How Can I Be Safe While Making My Claim?

Though there will undoubtedly be new terms that cross your path, don’t be discouraged. Remember to:

  1. Ask questions – don’t sign an agreement without having a full understanding of its content; remember that it’s your right to understand.
  2. Know your options – investigate your full scope of options.
  3. Define – Look up the definition to words that you are not familiar with.
  4. Research – become educated about your situation from reliable sources.

There are many resources available to help you accomplish these tasks, including those offered by Christensen & Hymas. We would like to be the best resource possible to you through this hard time. Feel free to take advantage of our:

  • Legal Glossary – Become more familiar with the legalese of personal injury and wrongful death. To visit our legal glossary, click here.
  • Consultation – If you are uncertain as to whether you might need an attorney, you are welcome to schedule an initial consultation with our knowledgeable and compassionate lawyers to help you decide what option is right for your unique situation. For more information, click here.
  • Free Books – Christensen & Hymas offer free books so that you can become informed on the more general information related to your situation. These books are short, compact, and made for your benefit. To order any of our free books, click here.

For information on the sources used in this article, please view the following documents:

http://www.afn.org/~afn54735/language1.html

http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/legal/wills.html

http://www.plainlanguage.gov/plLaw/law/index.cfm

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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