• New York Legal Terms and Definitions that You May Want to Know

Like most professions, the legal profession has a set of words and terms used within the business that may be foreign to non-legal practitioners. We operate a personal injury and medical malpractice law firm in New York and make a commitment to communicate and educate our clients. As part of our commitment to education, we want to share this handy guide to legal terms that you may want to know. You can also download a version of this guide here: New York Legal Terms You May Want to Know


New York Legal Terms You May Want to Know

50-H Hearing

A pre-action deposition that municipal defendants [City of New York] or public authorities [NYC Transit Authority] are entitled to prior to the commencement of a lawsuit.


A temporary postponement of a court proceeding until a later date.


A sworn (or affirmed) statement made in writing and signed.


A court document submitted by the defendant in response to the plaintiff’s complaint.


A request to have a higher court review the decision or verdict of a lower court because the appellant believes a mistake has been made.


A person or party who files an appeal.


A process outside the courts where an arbitrator (often a retired judge) will hear arguments from both sides and issue a finding. In binding arbitration, both sides agree in advance to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

Bench Trial

A trial heard by a judge without a jury.


A written document prepared by a lawyer and filed with the court in support of his or her arguments.


A list of cases scheduled to be heard on a specific date. Sometimes this is referred to as the court docket.


The judge’s office. The judge may meet with the attorneys and parties involved a case in his or her chambers.

Charge to Jury

Instructions the judge gives to the jury at the close of the case instructing the jury as to what principles of law and rules they are to follow in reaching a decision.


An allegation that someone wrongly did or failed to do something.

Closing or Summation

The presentation that a lawyer makes at the end of the case to summarize the evidence and arguments.


The initial document in a lawsuit that sets forth the allegations and the remedy sought. It is accompanied by the summons. To start a lawsuit, one must file a Summons and Complaint.


A meeting between the judge and the lawyers to discuss the status of a case.


The postponement of a conference, hearing or trial to another day.


The individual parts of a complaint.

Court Reporter

A court employee who records everything said and done during a court hearing and prepares a written record.  We need to pay a fee for a copy of that written record.


Questioning by an attorney of an adverse witness, usually a witness for the other side.


The compensation sought for a legal wrong.


Failure to respond to a legal filing by a court deadline.


The person or party that allegedly committed a legal wrong. In a civil suit, it is the person being sued.

Defendant’s Medical Exam (DME)

In New York, defendants can ask the court to have their doctor examine a plaintiff’s medical condition. This is known as the Defendant’s Medical Exam.


This is testimony a witness gives, under oath, in response to another party’s questions. It is usually conducted outside the courtroom. A deposition also refers to the written transcript of that testimony.

Direct Examination

Questioning by an attorney of his or her client or a witness testifying on behalf of the attorney’s client.


This refers to a request made by one party to the other side to provide information, evidence or other materials relevant to the case. Discovery also refers to the phase of a trial process during which the sides in a case request and exchange information.


A judge’s decision to end a case.

Ex Parte

An action taken or a meeting with one side of a case out of the presence of the other sides. If a lawyer for one side meets alone with the judge, that’s an ex parte meeting.

Examination Before Trial (EBT)

Another name for a deposition.  This is testimony a witness gives, under oath, in response to another party’s questions. It is usually conducted outside the courtroom.

Expert Witness

A person who gives an expert opinion at trial. A doctor who testifies about a patient’s medical condition is an expert witness, but it could be an expert from many fields (e.g., economics, engineering, road safety, etc.)


A serious crime that carries a penalty of more than one year in jail.


Submitting legal papers to the court (usually given to the Court Clerk). Those papers then become part of the official record of a case.


A jury member that the other jurors elect to deliver the verdict in court.


An intentional misrepresentation or deceit.


A proceeding in court when a judge hears arguments about a motion filed on a case.


An order from a judge to stop doing something or to start an action.


The situation that occurs when a person dies without a will.


The person who hears and decides on court proceedings and cases.


A court decision. This can also be known as a court order or a court decree.

Jury Charge


Charge to Jury

Instructions the judge gives to the jury at the close of the case instructing the jury as to what principles of law and rules they are to follow in reaching a decision.

Jury Trial

A trial heard by a jury and presided over by a judge. A trial heard only by a judge without a jury is called a bench trial.


A finding that someone else is responsible for an injury or damages.


A charge or claim upon property (e.g. a bank account or money judgment) to secure payment of a debt or other obligation.


A person or party in a case


A process outside the courts where an impartial person (the mediator) helps two parties voluntarily settle their dispute without going to trial. There are mediation firms which provide mediation services.


A lesser crime that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.


A request (written or oral) made to the court to request an action.


Something a reasonably prudent person would not do or a failure to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do.

New York Appellate Division

The first level appellate court in the State of New York.

New York Civil Court

A lower court where damages claimed are $25,000 or less.

New York Court of Appeals

The highest level appellate court in the State of New York.

New York Supreme Court

The trial court in the State of New York where most civil matters are heard.

Note of Issue

A document filed after Discovery is completed when a case is ready to move to the trial calendar.

Notice of Claim

Many municipalities (i.e., New York City) require injured parties to file a Notice of Claim before filing a lawsuit.  Usually, the Notice of Claim specifies the date and location of the incident, the party(ies) involved, and a description of the damages incurred.  Most municipalities in New York require people to file Notices of Claim within a certain amount of time.

No Fault Auto Insurance

The auto insurance system used in New York (and many other states) where a driver’s insurance company will cover his or her damages regardless of fault. However, No Fault insurance also limits the ability to recover damages.


The remarks a lawyer makes to open a case. They differ from a closing in that the lawyer cannot draw conclusions, but can only talk about what she expects the evidence at trial to show.


Written instructions from a judge to take or not take an action. The action is usually related to the court proceedings such as an order to produce a piece of evidence.


A person or legal entity, such as a corporation, that is named as the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit.


A person or legal entity that begins a civil suit or asks for an appeal by a higher court.


The person bringing a civil suit. The plaintiff is sometimes called the petitioner.

Pre-trial conference

A meeting between the judge and the attorneys in a case to discuss an upcoming trial and to explore a possible settlement. There may be more than one pre-trial conference depending on how busy the court calendar is and how long the wait is to go to trial.

Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI)

A particular type of motion asking the judge to intervene in a proceeding. This is usually filed after the defendant has responded to the summons and complaint and the two sides are ready to enter into the Discovery phase of the trial. The RJI asks for a conference to set up a schedule of depositions and arrange for the exchange of documents and evidence.

Retainer Agreement

A legal contract between attorney and client that spells out the terms of their business arrangement.


A mutually agreed upon resolution of a claim or law suit.

Small Claims

Those civil cases involving disputes involving a small amount of money (maximum value of $5,000).

Small Claims Court

The court or session in a court that hears small claims cases.

Statute of Limitations

The amount of time set by law for filing and starting a lawsuit. If a person does not file a lawsuit within that timeframe, he or she is barred from filing a lawsuit on that matter.


A temporary order stopping a court proceeding.


An order from the court to appear in court to testify or to produce evidence for the court.

Summary Judgment

A judgment by the judge made prior to the completion of a trial wherein the judge issues a judgment without hearing all the evidence. It is limited to instances when the overwhelming presence or lack of evidence makes the trial unnecessary in the judge’s mind.


Another term for the closing statement made by a lawyer at the end of a case.


This is a process whereby a court orders a person to appear before it at a certain time and date. A summons also refers to the papers filed by a plaintiff to commence a civil suit.

Summons and Complaint

To file a lawsuit, a person (or that person’s lawyer) must file both the summons (for all parties to appear in court) and complaint (setting forth the alleged wrongs and the remedies sought).


Statements made under oath.

Third-Party Defendant

A defendant brought into a civil case by another defendant. For example, a plaintiff may sue a driver who hit her from behind. That second driver may then bring a driver who hit her from behind into the case as a third-party defendant.


The legal term for an injury or wrong against a person or legal entity.


The official printed version of oral proceedings.


A decision that sets aside a previous order. For example, a judge may issue an injunction to stop an action, but then vacate that injunction to allow the action to take place.


The decision made by a judge or jury after hearing a trial.


A person who testifies as to what they observed.

Workers’ Compensation

The insurance system used in New York and most other states that provides coverage for injuries that occur on the job. In exchange for that coverage, it prevents employees from suing their employer for injuries that occur on the job.


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This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney. Remember, past results do not guarantee similar outcomes in the future.

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