Capital Gain: The profit made from the sale of a capital asset, such as real estate, a house, jewelry or stocks and bonds.
Capital Loss: The loss that results from the sale of a capital asset, such as real estate, a house, jewelry or stocks and bonds.
Caps on Damages: A damages cap is an arbitrary ceiling on the amount an injured party can receive in compensation by a judge or jury, irrespective of what the evidence presented at a trial proves compensation should be. A cap is usually defined in a statute by a dollar figure or by tying the cap to another type of damages (e.g. two times compensatory damages). Caps usurp the authority of judges and juries, who listen to the evidence in a case, to decide compensation based on each specific fact situation. Several states have declared caps unconstitutional.
Caps on Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages compensate injured consumers for intangible but real injuries, like infertility, permanent disability, disfigurement, pain and suffering, loss of a limb or other physical impairment. Caps or limits on non-economic damages have a disproportionate effect on plaintiffs who do not have high wages – like women who work inside the home, children, seniors or the poor, who are thus more likely to receive a greater percentage of their compensation in the form of non-economic damages if they are injured.
Caps on Punitive Damages: Punitive damages, also known as “exemplary damages,” are assessed against defendants by judges or juries to punish particularly outrageous, deliberate or harmful misconduct, and to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar misconduct in the future.
Case Law: Also known as common law. The law created by judges when deciding individual disputes or cases.
Case of First Impression: A novel legal question that comes before a court.
Caveat Emptor: Latin for “buyer beware.” This rule generally applies to all sales between individuals. It gives the buyer full responsibility for determining the quality of the goods in question. The seller generally has no duty to offer warranties or to disclose defects in the goods.
Certiorari: Latin that means “to be informed of.” Refers to the order a court issues so that it can review the decision and proceedings in a lower court and determine whether there were any irregularities. When such an order is made, it is said that the court has granted certiorari.
Challenge for Cause: Ask that a potential juror be rejected if it is revealed that for some reason he or she is unable or unwilling to set aside preconceptions and pay attention only to the evidence.
Chambers: A judge’s office.
Change of Venue: A change in the location of a trial, usually granted to avoid prejudice against one of the parties.
Charge to the Jury: The judge’s instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.
Charge: The law that the police believe the defendant has broken.
Charging Lien: Entitles a lawyer who has sued someone on a client’s behalf the right to be paid from the proceeds of the lawsuit, if there are any, before the client receives those proceeds.
Chief Judge: The judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a court but also decides cases; chief judges are determined by seniority.
Circumstantial Evidence: Indirect evidence that implies something occurred but doesn’t directly prove it. If a man accused of embezzling money from his company had made several big-ticket purchases in cash around the time of the alleged embezzlement that would be circumstantial evidence that he had stolen the money.
Class Action Suit: A lawsuit in which one or more parties file a complaint on behalf of themselves and all other people who are “similarly situated” (suffering from the same problem). Often used when a large number of people have comparable claims.
Clear And Convincing Evidence: The level of proof sometimes required in a civil case for the plaintiff to prevail. Is more than a preponderance of the evidence but less than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Clerk of the Court: An officer appointed by the court to work with the chief judge in overseeing the court’s administration, especially to assist in managing the flow of cases through the court and to maintain court records.
Closing: In a real estate transaction, this is the final exchange in which the deed is delivered to the buyer, the title is transferred, and the agreed-on costs are paid.
Cohabitation Agreement: Also called a living-together contract. A document that spells out the terms of a relationship and often addresses financial issues and how property will be divided if the relationship ends.
Collateral Source Rule: The collateral source rule prevents a wrongdoer from reducing its financial responsibility for the injuries it causes by the amount an injured party receives (or could later receive) from outside sources. Payments from outside sources are those unrelated to the wrongdoer, like health or disability insurance, for which the injured party has already paid premiums or taxes. The rule also prevents juries from learning about such collateral payments, so as not to unfairly influence with verdict. States that have modified this rule have either completely repealed it, mandating that payments received from health insurance, social security or other sources be used to reduce the wrongdoer’s liability. Or, they allow juries to hear during trial about collateral payments.
Collateral: An asset that a borrower agrees to give up if he or she fails to repay a loan.
Collective Bargaining Agreement: The contract that spells out the terms of employment between a labor union and an employer.
Comity: A code of etiquette that governs the interactions of courts in different states, localities and foreign countries. Courts generally agree to defer scheduling a trial if the same issues are being tried in a court in another jurisdiction. In addition, courts in this country agree to recognize and enforce the valid legal contracts and court orders of other countries.
Common Law: The legal system that originated in England and is now in use in the United States. It is based on judicial decisions rather than legislative action.
Community Property: Property acquired by a couple during their marriage. Refers to the system in some states for dividing the couple’s property in a divorce or upon the death of one spouse. In this system, everything a husband and wife acquire once they are married is owned equally (fifty-fifty) by both of them, regardless of whom provided the money to purchase the asset or whose name the asset is held in.
Comparative Negligence: Also called comparative fault. A system that allows a party to recover some portion of the damages caused by another party’s negligence even if the original person was also partially negligent and responsible for causing the injury. Not all states follow this system.
Compensatory Damages: Money awarded to reimburse actual costs, such as medical bills and lost wages. Also awarded for things that are harder to measure, such as pain and suffering.
Complaint: In a civil action, this is a document that initiates a lawsuit. The complaint outlines the alleged facts of the case and the basis for which a legal remedy is sought.
Conflict of Interest: Refers to a situation when someone, such as a lawyer or public official, has competing professional or personal obligations or personal or financial interests that would make it difficult to fulfill his duties fairly.
Consideration: Something of value that is given in exchange for getting something from another person.
Contempt of Court: An action that interferes with a judge’s ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court. Disrespectful comments to the judge or a failure to heed a judge’s orders could be considered contempt of court. A person found in contempt of court can face financial sanctions and, in some cases, jail time.
Contingency Fee Limits: Under a contingency fee arrangement, a lawyer agrees to take a case on behalf of an injured client without obtaining any money up front from the client. This system provides injured consumers who could not otherwise afford legal representation with access to the courts. Typically, states limit contingency fees by capping them sometimes way below one-third, sometimes along a sliding scale so fee percentages decrease, sometimes drastically, as judgments increases. The principal impact of contingency fee limits is to make it less likely attorneys can afford to risk bringing many cases, particularly the more costly and complex ones, providing practical immunity for many wrongdoers
Continuance: Put off trial until another time.
Contract: An agreement between two or more parties in which an offer is made and accepted, and each party benefits. The agreement can be formal, informal, written, oral or just plain understood. Some contracts are required to be in writing in order to be enforced.
Contributory Negligence: Prevents a party from recovering for damages if he or she contributed in any way to the injury. Not all states follow this system.
Copyright: A person’s right to prevent others from copying works that he or she has written, authored or otherwise created.
Corporation: An independent entity created to conduct a business. It is owned by shareholders.
Counsel: Legal advice; a term used to refer to lawyers in a case.
Counterclaim: A claim that a defendant makes against a plaintiff.
Court Reporter: A person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in court and produces a transcript of the proceedings upon request.
Court: Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges sometimes use “court” to refer to themselves in the third person, as in “the court has read the briefs.”
Creditor: A person (or institution) to whom money is owed.
Cross Examination: The questioning of an opposing party’s witness about matters brought up during direct examination.