Understanding Common Legal Terminology

Jargon written on cards held by hands

Law is a complex field, and there can be a bewildering amount of unfamiliar terminology to consider if you’re not a trained lawyer. Some familiar, everyday words have more restricted or precise meanings in the legal field. The friendly team at Dwyer Lawyer Group are always happy to help you out and you can make a free enquiry regarding a potential case here .

Firstly, we’re explaining three common terms that have complicated meanings when used in a legal setting.


In courts and in legislation, terms like ‘reasonableness’ or ‘reasonable person’ come up occasionally. These terms are used as tests to indicate the kinds of conduct that would be expected in different situations. They are used as a yardstick to compare the conduct of those involved with a hypothetical, legal situation.

For instance, in a motor vehicle accident, the court might ask questions regarding a hypothetical ‘reasonable person’ and how they would have responded in the same situation. ‘Was the accident caused by a reasonable attempt to prevent another collision?’ ‘Did the defendant take all reasonable steps to assist the plaintiff after the accident?’

The justice system always considers a baseline level of conduct, so it pays to act honestly and consistently in tricky situations – and to know what’s expected of others.


The term ‘negligence’ in law usually refers to an act or omission on the part of someone who owed a duty of care to prevent or as much as possible reduce the risk of causing injury or loss to another.

For instance, if there are complications arising from a medical operation for which compensation is sought, the court might ask questions like: ‘Did the doctor have the skills required in undertaking the operation?’ or ‘Did the doctor adequately inform the patient of the potential risks involved prior to undertaking the operation?’

The term is also applied to the plaintiff sometimes, in the form of the term ‘contributory negligence’. The court might find that a defendant acted negligently, but that the plaintiff added to their own misfortune by contributing their own measure of negligence.


The word ‘causation’ can have varying degrees of interpretation depending on the context. ‘Causation’ in science means something different to ‘causation’ in law – and we use the word ‘cause’ more loosely in everyday language.

With regard to a harm that occurs in the workplace or in a vehicle accident, lawyers ask whether or not a particular act led directly to the harm (or directly enough). This is sometimes called a ‘but for’ test, where lawyers ask: ‘But for this act having been done, would the harm have otherwise occurred?’

Sometimes, someone might act extremely negligently (a doctor might offer incorrect advice regarding an operation) but cannot be held responsible because the outcome might not have been any better even if correct advice had been given.

Standards of ‘causation’ will change depending on the context, but there usually must be a fairly direct link established between an act and the harm suffered.

Need Help Understanding Legal Jargon?

If you think you have a case for compensation or damages and need advice on how to approach it, consult with the qualified team at Dwyer Law Group. Make a free preliminary enquiry or contact us directly today!

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