Legal Definitions

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

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Unilateral termination of a physician–patient relationship by the physician without the patient’s consent at a time when the patient requires medical attention and without the physician’s making arrangements for appropriate continuation and follow-up care.


Since 1970, ACORD has been the insurance industry nonprofit standards developer.  “ACORD” is an acronym for Association of Cooperative Operations Research and Development.  ACORD is not an insurance company.  Certificates of insurance are provided on ACORD forms, unless the insurance company has their own.


A written statement of facts which is sworn to before an officer who is authorized to administer an oath (e.g. a notary public).

Affirmative Defense

Used in an answer to a lawsuit and serves as a basis for proving some new fact.  In such a defense, defendant does not simply deny a charge, but offers new evidence to avoid judgment.  Good Samaritan immunity or a statute of limitations defense are examples.


Relationship in which one person, the agent, acts on behalf of another with the authority of the latter, the principal.


An assertion, declaration, or statement made in a pleading by one of the parties to the action, detailing the matters that the party intends to prove.

- B -


Intentional and unauthorized touching of a person, directly or indirectly, without his consent.  For example, a surgical procedure performed upon a person without express or implied consent constitutes battery.

Borrowed Servant

Employee who is temporarily under the direction, supervision, and control of another master.

Burden of Proof

The obligation of a party to prove his allegations during a trial.

- C -

Cancellation (of Insurance)

Termination of an insurance policy by an insurance company or the insured.

Captain of the Ship

A legal theory that most commonly imposes an agency relationship on the surgeon and members of the operating team.  It implies that due to the physician’s superior position and knowledge in the OR, that he/she is ultimately responsible for outcomes.  This theory, generally, no longer applies and each member of the OR team is responsible for their own negligence.

Case Law

Body of law developed as the result of decisions made by the courts.  It is distinguished from statutory, constitutional, or other types of law.


A reasonable connection between the act or omission of the defendant and the injury suffered by the plaintiff.  The issue of causation usually requires proof that the plaintiff’s harm resulted directly from, or was a substantial factor of, the negligence of the defendant.

Cause of Action

A set of facts (allegations) that give rise to a lawsuit.

Certificate of Insurance

A document issued by an insurer which evidences that an insurance policy exists and provides information about coverage under the policy including the amount of coverage, effective dates of coverage and etc.

Claims-Made Coverage

A policy providing liability coverage only if a claim report is made to the insurance company during the policy period or any applicable extended reporting period.

Common Law

Body of rules and principles based on Anglo-Saxon law that was derived from usages and customs.

Comparative Negligence/Fault

The measurement of negligence or fault by percentage.  The damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the victim.  Each defendant is responsible for their own separate percentage of fault determined by a judge or a jury.  In Tennessee, if a plaintiff’s own percentage of fault is less than 50% he/she may recover based on the remaining percentage attributed to the defendant(s).  In some states an injured party may recover the remaining percentage even if their fault exceeds 50%.


The first pleading of the plaintiff in a civil action that sets out facts on which the claim for relief is based.


Formal physician patient relationship that occurs when a physician agrees or consents to a primary care physician’s request to act in a consulting capacity for his/her medical specialty and provides medical care and treatment to a patient.

Corporate Negligence

Hospitals and other businesses are responsible for maintaining the requisite standard of care.  If they breach this duty they are responsible for resulting damages.  (Example: Hospital’s breach of duty/negligence in the appointment/reappointment of the medical staff or the failure to use reasonable care in the granting of medical staff privileges that results in an injury to a patient.)

- D -


Monetary compensation claimed by a person who has suffered loss or injury to his/her person, property, or rights as a result of the negligence or unlawful conduct of another.

Default Judgment

A judgment entered against a defendant due to his/her failure to respond to the plaintiff’s lawsuit or to appear at the trial.


The person against whom a legal complaint is filed and from whom relief or recovery is sought.


Pre-trial discovery that consists of the statement of a witness under oath, taken in question and answer form by attorneys.  A court reporter is present and everything that is said is recorded stenographically and sometimes videotaped.

Directed Verdict

A verdict entered by the court (judge) in a jury trial, without consideration by the jury because one of the parties has not proved his/her/its case as a matter of law.


The pretrial process of gathering information and/or documents in the preparation for trial.


Court disposal of a matter or termination of an action either before or during a trial.

Dismissal (Involuntary)

Dismissal of an action by the court because the plaintiff failed to proceed to trial or is unable to prove his case.

Dismissal (Voluntary)

The termination of an action by the plaintiff.

Dismissal (With Prejudice)

Dismissal of a case for good reason and the plaintiff is barred from bringing an action on the same claim.

Dismissal (Without Prejudice)

Dismissal of a case that allows the plaintiff to bring a new suit on the same claim within a certain legal limit of time, in Tennessee usually one year from the date of dismissal.

Due Care

Just, proper, and sufficient care under the circumstances; that care which an ordinary prudent person would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances, such as a physician’s attendance of his patients.

Duty (Legal)

Element of a cause of action that obligates performance that meets the standard of practice/standard of care.

- E -

Expert Witness

An individual with knowledge and experience that allows him/her to testify as to the standard of care.

Extended Reporting Endorsement (“Tail” Coverage)

When physicians’ policies are cancelled, non-renewed, or the physician retires, this coverage must be purchased so that claims that occurred within the policy period, but were not known and reported until after the policy period, will be covered.

- G -

Gap (in Coverage)

Any period of non-coverage, regardless of the reason.  Hospitals should place emphasis on gaps that occur after a physician’s inception date of privileges at that institution.

General Sessions Court

Local court that hears cases involving relatively small amounts of money.  In Tennessee, claims for $25,000 or less are filed in General Sessions Court.  General Sessions is the lowest level court where medical malpractice cases can be filed.

Good Samaritan Statute

Statute established to encourage medical practitioners and other individuals to stop and assist at accident scenes by granting immunity from liability from negligence for the care provided during emergency situations.  Statutes vary but to have status as a “Good Samaritan” you cannot receive compensation for services rendered.  This statute can be used as a defense in medical malpractice cases under limited circumstances.

- I -

Informed Consent

Except in an emergency, a doctor must obtain a patient’s agreement (consent) to a proposed course of treatment.  Doctors are required to give the patient adequate information to allow the patient to make an informed decision.   This includes the nature and purpose of the treatment and it’s risks, alternative courses of treatment and their risks and the risks involved in opting for no treatment.


Damages done to an individual by violating his/her legally protected person or property,

Insurance Agent/Producer

The state-licensed professional who represents the insurance company in the sale and servicing of insurance.  The direct link between the insurance company and the policyholder.

- L -


The condition of being responsible for a possible or actual loss, penalty, expense or burden.  Obligation that a person has incurred or might incur through any negligent act or omission.

Loss of Consortium

Damages sought by the spouse of an injured party for the loss of conjugal relations or loss of affection because of a spouse’s injury.  Some states, including Tennessee, allow children to pursue consortium claims.

- M -


Professional misconduct in improperly discharging professional duties, or failing to meet the standard of care of a professional.  Professional negligence is the most common legal cause of action under this concept.

Motion in Limine

A pretrial motion filed by a party requesting a ruling from the court that prohibits the opposing party from raising a particular highly prejudicial issue at trial.

- N -


Legal cause of action involving the failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable and prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances (in medical malpractice the “standard of care”), and the result of which is the breach of a legal duty, which results in an injury the law recognizes as deserving of compensation.


The process where an insurance company discontinues providing coverage at the end of a policy period.

- O -

Offer of Settlement

A specific proposal (offer) to enter into an agreement with another.  The acceptance of the offer creates a contract to settle a matter for a specific sum of money.

Occurrence Coverage

Unlike claims-made coverage, occurrence coverage covers claims arising from incidents that occur while the policy is in force – regardless of when the actual claim is reported and whether the insured still maintains the policy.  An alleged injury that occurs during the policy period but does not result in a claim until sometime after the policy period would be covered under such a policy.  (Medical malpractice insurance is currently written on a claim-made basis with few exceptions.)

Ostensible Agency

An implied or presumptive agency that exists where a person intentionally or negligently induces another to believe that a third person is his or her agent, though in fact the latter has not been hired as an agent.  An example is contracted ED physicians who the general public may assume are employees of the hospital.

- P -

Pain and Suffering

Element of “compensatory” non-economic damages that allows recovery for the mental anguish and/or physical pain endured by the plaintiff as a result of injury for which he seeks redress.


Party(s) who files or initiates a civil lawsuit seeking relief or compensation for damages or other legal relief.


Written documents stating the allegations and claims of the opposing parties in a legal dispute.

Policy Period

The time period a policy covers.

Policy Limit

The maximum amount of coverage provided under the terms of the insurance agreement.  Limits may be on a per-occurrence or an aggregate basis, or a combination of both.

Pro Se

A person who is representing themselves in a legal action without benefit of counsel.

Proximate Cause

Act of commission or omission that through an uninterrupted sequence of events directly results in an injury that otherwise would not have occurred, or else becomes a substantial factor in causing an injury.

Punitive Damages

Monetary damages awarded to punish a defendant who has acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s rights.

- R -

Reasonable Person

Hypothetical person used as a standard in determining whether a defendant’s conduct
would be judged as appropriate in the same or similar circumstance.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

“The thing speaks for itself.”  The doctrine applicable to cases where the defendant had exclusive control of the thing that caused the harm to the plaintiff, and where the harm ordinarily could not have occurred except as a result of negligent conduct, and where the plaintiff did not contribute to his own injury.  A retained sponge case is a good example of this doctrine.

Retroactive Date

The initial insurance policy date with a claims-made insurance policy.  Coverage is provided for incidents that occur from this day forward and that are reported within the policy period, or any extended reporting period.  Tail or nose coverage must be purchased if there is a change in insurance carriers to assure uninterrupted coverage back to the retroactive date.

- S -

Service of Process [or Service of Lawsuit]

The delivery or other communication of writs, summonses, etc. The delivery or other communication of a formal notice to the defendant ordering him or her to appear in court in order to answer the allegations made by the plaintiff.

Standard of Care

That which another “reasonable person” would have performed or omitted in same or similar circumstances.

Statute of Limitations

The time allowed to file a lawsuit after the date of incident.  This varies between states.  Tennessee’s statute of limitations is one year for adults and minors may bring an action until one year past their age of majority (18).  In malpractice actions, the time begins accruing when the plaintiff first discovers or should reasonably have discovered the injury.  In some states concealment of the injury or the nature thereof by a defendant(s) is considered fraudulent and extends the statute of limitations. Exceptions also vary from state to state.


A document used to command someone to appear at a certain place and time to provide information compelled by a court.

Subpoena Duces Tecum

A court order that must be served personally on a witness and requires them to bring documents in their possession or under their control to a certain place at a certain time.  Failure to respond as ordered may result in punishment for contempt of court for disobeying a court order.

Summary Judgment

A decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented in the legal pleadings and documents filed by a judge without a trial.  It is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case, and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Summary judgment is properly granted when the evidence in support of the moving party established that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried.  A material fact is one, which tends to prove or disprove an element of the claim.


Written notification served on a defendant that an action has been commenced against him or her, and requiring the defendant to either appear in court within a specified period of time or to answer a complaint within a specified timeframe.

- T -


A civil wrong in which a person has breached his duty to another.  It must be alleged that a legal duty was owed to the plaintiff, the defendant breached the duty and as a result, the plaintiff was damaged.  It includes legal causes of action, such as negligence, false imprisonment, assault, and battery, libel, slander, etc.

- V -

Vicarious Liability

When one person is liable for the negligent actions of another person, even though the first person was not directly responsible for the injury.  For instance, a parent sometimes can be vicariously liable for the harmful acts of a child and an employer can be vicariously liable for the acts of an employee as long as that employee is acting within their scope of employment