Common Legal Terminology

Damages -

Money that a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case if the plaintiff has won. Damages may be compensatory (for loss or injury) or punitive (to punish and deter future misconduct).

De Facto -

Latin, meaning “in fact” or “actually.” Something that exists in fact but not as a matter of law.

De Jure -

Latin, meaning “in law.” Something that exists by operation of law.

De Novo -

Latin, meaning “anew.” A trial de novo is a completely new trial. Appellate review de novo implies no deference to the trial judge’s ruling.

Debtor -

A person who has filed a petition for relief under the Bankruptcy Code.

Debtor’s Plan -

A debtor’s detailed description of how the debtor proposes to pay creditors’ claims over a fixed period of time.

Declaratory Judgement -

A judge’s statement about someone’s rights. For example, a plaintiff may seek a declaratory judgment that a particular statute, as written, violates some constitutional right.

Default Judgement -

A judgment awarding a plaintiff the relief sought in the complaint because the defendant has failed to appear in court or otherwise respond to the complaint.

Defendant -

An individual (or business) against whom a lawsuit is filed.

Defendant -

In a civil case, the person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings suit; in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

All terms and definitions on this page are from uscourts.gov/glossary (April 13, 2020)