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Legal words and phrases explained

Adjudicator – The decision maker in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The adjudicator is a court officer, usually a registrar or magistrate.

Affidavit – A written statement made by a person to be used in a court. The person who makes an affidavit must swear under oath or make an affirmation that the contents are true. It is signed by a justice of the peace, commissioner of declarations or a lawyer. An affidavit is often used when a person is unable to come to the court and provide information or evidence in person.

Affirm (affirmation) – A spoken declaration where you promise to tell the truth when giving information or evidence to the court or writing it in an affidavit. You can make an affirmation if you do not want to swear an oath on a Bible or other sacred book.

Claim and Statement of claim – These are documents a person claiming damages files in the court to start legal action.

Claimant – A person who starts a claim in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Contributory negligence – Where the accident was caused by both drivers (for example, one driver fails to give way and the other driver is speeding). Each person is then compensated according to the extent of the other’s negligence.

Default judgment – A judgment made because the defendant does not defend a court action.

Defence and Notice of intention to defend – If someone has made a claim against you and you disagree with their side of the story, you can lodge these documents to begin the process of defending yourself.

Defendant – A person who is defending themselves against legal action.

Enforcement officer – An officer of the court who takes action to ensure an order made in a court or tribunal by a judge, magistrate or adjudicator is followed.

Evidence – The proof needed to support your side of the story. Evidence is usually given verbally in court.

Filing documents – The process where documents are received and accepted by a court. The person filing the documents may need to pay a filing fee. Usually the court will stamp its seal on the filed document.

Hearing – Where evidence is given to the court from all people involved in a case and a decision is made.

Legal costs – These are the costs involved in taking a case to court. These can include the costs of lawyers and the cost of filing documents with the courts. Usually a court will order the person who loses a case to pay the other person’s legal costs.

Letter of demand – A letter that formally demands something from another person. It does not need to be in any particular form and does not need to be sent by a lawyer.

Lodging documents – see filing documents.

Loss assessor – Someone who can assess the damage done to a vehicle. They are usually a qualified panel beater.

Magistrate – The name for the decision maker in the magistrates court. In civil proceedings like this one, they decide who is responsible for the damages. You call the magistrate “Your Honour”.

Magistrates court – The magistrates court deals with civil claims up to $150,000.

Mediation – A dispute resolution process run by an independent third party who helps people to reach agreement through the process of discussion and negotiation without entering into the content of the dispute.

Negligence – This is when someone has not taken the proper care or paid enough attention to avoid causing damage to another person or their property.

Notice of hearing – A document telling you the date your matter will go to court.

Order – An order is made by the court requiring a person to do something (for example, pay damages).

Plaintiff – A person who starts a civil claim in court.

Process server – A person who delivers or ‘serves’ court documents by handing them to the person concerned.

Quantum – The total amount of your claim including the cost to repair your vehicle to the condition it was before an accident, plus any towing fees.

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) – A tribunal dealing with disputes of $25,000 or less including motor vehicle property damage claims.

Rehearing – A second hearing for the same matter.

Respondent – A person who has had a claim made against them in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Served – The process where a person is presented with official court documents.

Subpoena – A court order requiring a person to appear in court to give evidence or produce documents.

Swear an oath – A spoken promise where you swear on the Bible or other sacred book to tell the truth when you give evidence to the court.

Trial – A court hearing where all the evidence is presented and a final decision is made.

Witness – A person who saw or heard something about your case and is called to give this ‘evidence’ in court.

Written-off – When the cost of repairing your vehicle is more than it would be worth at wholesale (dealer’s) price if you sold it.

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