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Six Commonly-Used Legal Terms and Their Meanings

Through the news, blogs, television and everyday conversations, some legal terms are used that the average person may not understand, or misunderstand. To help you become familiar with some of the more common terms, here is a list of those terms and their legal definitions:


Fraud has many applications in different settings, and has somewhat different definitions in a criminal context and in a civil context. To defend fraud cases, the defendant must not be found guilty of the following:

  • a material representation was made (oral, written or by other means);
  • the statement was false;
  • the person making the representation either knew it was false or with reckless disregard for its truth;
  • it was made to induce another to act on its truth;
  • the other did act on the representation, or reasonably relied on its truth.

Each element stated above must be proved by the party alleging the fraud. Failure to do so will result in losing the cause of action.


Negligence is usually defined simply as the failure to use ordinary or reasonable care. Though a simple definition, applying it to the limitless number of circumstances in which negligence can occur is one of the more difficult areas of law.

In many situations, reasonable or ordinary care can be deduced through the actions of peers. For instance, in most medical malpractice cases, a medical professional’s actions are judged by other similar medical professionals in the same or similar communities. A general practitioner in a small rural community, for example, is judged by the reasonableness of other general practitioners in small, rural communities.

Sometimes, negligence is defined by law or what is called negligence per se. If a profession or industry has a standard set of codified safety regulations, a negligent party may be considered negligent per se for failing to comply.


Homicide is causing the death of another. In many states, the death of another can be caused through criminal negligence, recklessly or intentionally. In many circumstances, intentionally causing the death of another can be murder or manslaughter. Criminally negligent homicide occurs when the defendant knew or should have known their actions could result in death or great bodily harm.

Respondeat Superior

This latin term, translated, means, “let the master answer”. This means that an employer or principal may be held liable for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent. To hold the employer liable, the employee must have been acting in the scope of their employment. The common defense is that the employee went outside the parameters of their employment and the wrongful act was not authorized by the employer.


In a civil matter, this is the person or entity filing a lawsuit. It may be an individual or business. Parents or guardians often act as plaintiff for a person who is a minor or incapacitated. More than one person may be a plaintiff in the same lawsuit. Where there are numerous plaintiffs, the lawsuit may be joined as a class action.


In civil cases, it is the person or entity being sued. In criminal cases, it is the person charged with a crime by a government entity. Many civil cases have more than one defendant and often allege different wrongful acts for each defendant. One defendant may be dismissed from a lawsuit without the entire case being dismissed.

It is always a good idea to become familiar with legal terminology, as one never knows when they’ll be subject to a lawsuit or otherwise involved in a court case. Being well-informed is an excellent way to ensure that you make wise legal choices.

Informational credit to

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

If you find this type of information interesting or helpful, please visit my law firm's main website at You will find many more articles and links. Thank you for your time.

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