Jensen v. White Star Lines (c) Anderson Kill & Olick 1998
Glossary of Trial Terms

 
 
 
Glossary
Term Definition
Admission against interest Statement by a party to the action that contradicts testimony or other evidence presented by that party in the case. An admission against interest is admissible evidence even though otherwise is hearsay. 
 
Answer A response by the defendant to the allegations made by the plaintiff in the complaint. 
 
Breach The breaking or violating of a duty that one owes to another person, as defined by law. A duty may be an affirmative act or an omission or failure to perform an act required by one's relationship to another. 
 
Burden of proof A party's obligation to establish by evidence certain facts necessary to prove that party's case. In a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden to prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that he or she is entitled to recover or other relief. 
 
Business record A business record is a document maintained in the ordinary course of business. The party seeking to introduce the business record into evidence shows by evidence (usually oral), that the business record was made and kept in the ordinary course of business at or near the time of the transaction discussed in the document, by one having a duty to record. A business record is admissible even though it otherwise is hearsay. 
 
Cause of action (or claim for relief) A situation or state of facts that may entitle a party to recover. 
 
Civil action In general, any action that is not a criminal proceeding. All actions brought to enforce, redress, or protect private rights. 
 
Closing argument (or summation) A summary of the evidence and argument of the party's position at trial, made by the party's attorney. It does not constitute evidence. 
 
Complaint Initial pleading, commencing an action under statutory codes or rules of civil procedure. Complaints include statements of the court's jurisdiction and facts tending to show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. A complaint may include different causes of action and may seek alternative forms of relief.
Contributory negligence Actions by the plaintiff which constitute a breach of duty; a plaintiff's failure to protect himself or herself from injury contributed to the injury. If the defendant establishes contributory negligence by the plaintiff, the plaintiff is precluded by law from recovering any damages. 
 
Credibility That quality in a witness that renders him or her believable.
Defendant The party sued by the plaintiff in a civil action.
Directed verdict Verdict entered by trial judge when the party with the burden of proof has failed to present sufficient facts to establish its case and judge decides that the only one possible result that a reasonable jury would be to find the defendant not liable. A defendant is required to preserve certain arguments for appeal, to move for directed verdict when the plaintiff finishes its case. To preserve arguments for appeal, a plaintiff is required to move for a directed verdict when all of the evidence has been presented. 
 
Duty An obligation or conduct defined in the law as reasonable conduct in light of the perceived risk.
Elements The constituent parts of a cause of action that the plaintiff must prove in order to prevail.
Exhibit Documents, diagrams, or other objects presented as evidence in court during a trial or hearing as proof of facts of a party's position, identified by party and numbered, usually consecutively. 
 
Hearsay  A type of testimony that relates not what a witness knows from personal knowledge but what others have told him or what he or she has overheard. It is a statement by someone other than the original speaker, and it is offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay generally is not admissible unless it falls under certain exceptions provided in the rules of evidence. 
 
Issue of fact 
 
A version of facts maintained by one party and challenged by another. Issues of fact are decided by triers of fact, usually juries. 
 
Issue of law An issue involving interpretation of law where the facts are not disputed and from which only one conclusion can be drawn. Issues of law are decided by judges, not juries. 
 
Issue of law and fact An issue involving both interpretation of the law and resolution of disputed factual issues. 
 
Judgment An official decision by a court deciding the respective rights and claims of parties to an action.
Jurisdiction The power of a court to decide a matter in controversy presented to it. The existence of judicial jurisdiction assumes that the court has control over the matter in controversy and the parties. 
 
Jury A certain number of men and women, selected according to law, and sworn to consider and decide matters of fact presented to them. 
 
Jury deliberations The process by which a jury meets separately to decide matters presented to it based upon the legal principles (or "instructions") given by the court. 
 
Jury instructions A statement of the law made by the judge to the jury, informing the jury of the law that applies to the case. 
 
Negligence Failure to use such care as a reasonably prudent and careful person would use under similar circumstances, proximately causing injury to another. 
 
Objection A statement by a party in open court challenging evidence before it is presented to the jury. 
 
Opening statement A summary, presented by a party before the trial begins, of the evidence that the party anticipates will come into evidence. 
 
Plaintiff A person who brings a civil action against another and seeks redress for alleged civil (non-criminal) wrongs. 
 
Preponderance of evidence A standard of proof in civil cases in which the evidence as a whole shows more likely than not that the facts sought to be proved are more probable than not. A preponderance of evidence is determined not by the number of witnesses, but by the greater weight of all of the evidence, considered as a whole. A plaintiff must prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence in order to recover. 
 
Proximate Cause An event (including a failure to act) that produces, without any intervening cause, in the injury and without which the injury would not have occurred.
Summation (or closing statement) 
 
 
A summary of the evidence and argument of the party's position at trial, made by the party's attorney. It does not constitute evidence. 
 
Verdict The formal decision or finding made by a jury, empaneled and sworn to decide a cause of action and reported to the court. 
 
Verdict form A form that sometimes is presented to a jury seeking answer to specific questions on the causes of action and possibly other issues raised by the parties. 
 
 
 
 
 
  
Judicial Process | Plaintiff | Defendant | Basic Facts | Negligence Law | Defenses | Witnesses
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