Auto Accident Law: 10 Terms to Know

Navigating the complexities of auto accident law can be challenging, especially when faced with unfamiliar legal terminology. Understanding key terms is crucial for anyone involved in a car accident claim or lawsuit. Here are 10 terms you need to know about auto accident law:

Actual Cash Value

  • Definition: The method used to determine the value of a damaged vehicle. It involves calculating the market value of the vehicle before the accident, taking into account depreciation.
  • Usage: Actual cash value is considered when determining the compensation for repairs or the fair market value of the vehicle.

Burden of Proof

  • Definition: The responsibility of proving the facts in a case. In car accident cases, the burden of proof is typically on the plaintiff, the party bringing the claim or lawsuit.
  • Usage: Establishing the legal responsibility of the other party for causing the accident requires meeting the burden of proof.

Comparative Negligence

  • Definition: A principle used to assign fault based on the percentage of responsibility each party bears for an accident. The damages awarded are reduced according to the degree of fault.
  • Usage: Comparative negligence helps determine the financial responsibility of each party involved in the accident.

Contributory Negligence

  • Definition: A legal concept used in some states, where a person may be held partially or entirely at fault for damages if their actions are deemed unreasonable and contribute to the injury.
  • Usage: Contributory negligence applies the standard of reasonable behavior and holds individuals accountable for any contribution to damages.

Emotional Distress

  • Definition: Mental or psychological distress resulting from an accident. In some cases, individuals may seek compensation for emotional distress.
  • Usage: Emotional distress claims may be brought to court to recover damages related to mental stress caused by the accident.


  • Definition: Legal responsibility for one’s actions or obligations. In auto accidents, both the plaintiff and defendant share a degree of liability.
  • Usage: Determining the percentage of liability helps allocate financial responsibility for damages between the parties involved.

Negligence Per Se

  • Definition: When an action is considered negligent because it violates the law. Negligence per se simplifies the proof of negligence by relying on the violation of a statute or regulation.
  • Usage: Claiming negligence per se means arguing that the violation of a law establishes negligence without further proof.


  • Definition: An agreement that resolves a claim or dispute outside the formal legal process, typically involving a monetary payment from one party to the other.
  • Usage: Settlements denote the worth of a case and are voluntarily agreed upon by the parties involved.

Total Loss

  • Definition: Occurs when a vehicle cannot be repaired, or the repair cost exceeds the fair market value of the car. Often referred to as a “totaled” car.
  • Usage: If an auto is declared a total loss, the insurance company offers the actual cash value to the owner.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance

  • Definition: Coverage included in auto insurance policies to provide compensation if the other party is uninsured or lacks sufficient insurance to cover bodily injuries.
  • Usage: Uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance steps in to compensate for damages when the at-fault party is insufficiently insured.

Acquiring familiarity with these terms empowers individuals involved in auto accidents to navigate the legal landscape more confidently. Whether engaging in negotiations, pursuing a claim, or considering legal action, understanding these terms enhances one’s ability to advocate for their rights and seek fair compensation.

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