Legalese – 7 Legal Terms Everyone Should Know

You may not be looking to hire a criminal defence lawyer anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with being blind to all legal terminology. From your responsibilities as a law-abiding citizen to the terminology used in your contracts, there are certain legal terms you need to know if you want to avoid getting into trouble. The following seven should definitely be in your lexicon: 

1. Force Majeure

This term is vital to understand for your insurance and business contracts. A Force Majeure clause relieves either party from fulfilling an obligation in the case of unavoidable events and unforeseeable circumstances. Typical examples include war, natural disasters or “Acts of G-d”, however, the precise definition can differ from contract to contract, so be sure to read your documents carefully. 

2. Reasonable person

This term has a special meaning in the legal sphere acting as a benchmark by which to determine if someone’s actions were negligent. The hypothetical “reasonable person” conducts themselves in a legally appropriate manner, and if your actions are deemed to fall outside of this scope, you may find yourself in hot water. For example, it is considered that a reasonable person is aware that one punch can kill. This makes involuntary manslaughter and assaults occasioning grievous bodily harm difficult to defend. 

3. Nonfeasance

This term refers to a failure to act when one is legally obliged to do so. Though you are not always obliged to act in emergency situations, it’s important to understand that there are some circumstances in which you may be legally held accountable if you do not. For example, if you loan a power tool to a friend and it has a potentially dangerous fault with the cord, you have a legal obligation to inform them of the danger. If you do not and an injury is sustained, there’s a chance that you could be held liable for nonfeasance. 

4. Malfeasance

A step up from nonfeasance, malfeasance refers to intentional illegal conduct, usually by someone in a position of authority. This term is obviously essential to know if you work in a position where you have a duty of care to others. However, it is also valuable for everyday citizens to understand. If you’re ever involved in an incident in which an authority figure acted inappropriately and it caused you harm, it’s important that you know you have legal recourse. 

5. Infraction

This legal category covers minor violations that probably won’t even require you to make a court appearance. If you ever face an infraction, it can be comforting to know that you’re likely not going to be looking at anything more serious than a fine. 

6. Subpoena

This is an order dictating that you must appear in court. It does not necessarily mean that you are in trouble or being sued. In fact, most subpoenas are issued to people who are being asked to testify on behalf of one party in a court case. 

7. Copyright

Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, it’s all too easy to unintentionally violate copyright law and land yourself in trouble. In the simplest possible terms, copyright prohibits you from reproducing, distributing, modifying, or publicly displaying works for which you do not have the appropriate license. So, if you find a work of art you’d like to use on your website, be sure to contact the artist and go through the appropriate channels (and expense) to be able to use it legally. 

Add these terms to your long-term memory, and you’ll be well-positioned for avoiding legal trouble. 

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