Public Health Law Glossary U-Z

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adj. referring to a statute, governmental conduct, court decision or private contract (such as a covenant which purports to limit transfer of real property only to Caucasians) which violate one or more provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The ultimate determination of constitutionality is the U.S. Supreme Court. Unconstitutional can also refer to violations of a state constitution.

United States Code (U.S.C.)

n. official source for statutory law passed by the U.S. Congress.


adj. referring to any action which is in violation of a statute, federal or state constitution, or established legal precedents


n. 1) an exception to a zoning ordinance, authorized by the appropriate governmental body such as a planning commission, zoning board, county commissioners or city council. Example: the zoning ordinance requires that no residences can be built within 10 feet of a property's back line, but due to the odd shape of May Matheson's property, she needs to build her dream house within five feet of the property line at one point. The local zoning board listens to her plea, finds that the neighbors do not object, and grants her a variance to build closer to the back line. 2) a difference between what the prosecution has charged and what it has proved against a criminal defendant. 3) a difference between what is alleged in a civil complaint and what is proved. A substantial variance may be fatal to the prosecution's case against the accused or fatal to a plaintiff's (the person who filed the suit) lawsuit. In each case the judge can dismiss the case as a matter of law, without sending the factual issues to the jury. In criminal cases the test of a fatal variance is somewhat stricter than in a civil lawsuit, since a minor difference between the charge and the proof may mislead the defendant and deny him/her "due process."


n. 1) the proper or most convenient location for trial of a case. Normally, the venue in a criminal case is the judicial district or county where the crime was committed. For civil cases, venue is usually the district or county which is the residence of a principal defendant, where a contract was executed or is to be performed, or where an accident took place. However, the parties may agree to a different venue for convenience (such as where most witnesses are located). Sometimes a lawsuit is filed in a district or county which is not the proper venue, and if the defendant promptly objects (asks for a change of venue), the court will order transfer of the case to the proper venue. Example: a promissory note states that any suit for collection must be filed in Washington County, Indiana, and the case is filed in Lake County, Indiana. In high profile criminal cases the original venue may be considered not the best venue due to possible prejudice stemming from pre-trial publicity in the area or public sentiment about the case which might impact upon potential jurors. For these various reasons either party to a lawsuit or prosecution may move (ask) for a change of venue, which is up to the discretion of a judge in the court where the case or prosecution was originally filed. Venue is not to be confused with "jurisdiction," which establishes the right to bring a lawsuit (often anywhere within a state) whether or not it is the place which is the most convenient or appropriate location.

vicarious liability

n. sometimes called "imputed liability," attachment of responsibility to a person for harm or damages caused by another person in either a negligence lawsuit or criminal prosecution. Thus, an employer of an employee who injures someone through negligence while in the scope of employment (doing work for the employer) is vicariously liable for damages to the injured person. In most states a participant in a crime (like a hold-up) may be vicariously liable for murder if another member of the group shoots and kills a shopkeeper or policeman.


adj. referring to a statute, contract, ruling or anything which is null and of no effect. A law or judgment found by an appeals court to be unconstitutional is void, a rescinded (mutually cancelled) contract is void, and a marriage which has been annulled by court judgment is void.

void for vagueness

adj. referring to a statute defining a crime which is so vague that a reasonable person of at least average intelligence could not determine what elements constitute the crime. Such a vague statute is unconstitutional on the basis that a defendant could not defend against a charge of a crime which he/she could not understand, and thus would be denied "due process" mandated by the 5th Amendment, applied to the states by the 14th Amendment.

voir dire

(vwahr [with a near-silent "r"] deer) n. from French "to see to speak," the questioning of prospective jurors by a judge and attorneys in court. Voir dire is used to determine if any juror is biased and/or cannot deal with the issues fairly, or if there is cause not to allow a juror to serve (knowledge of the facts; acquaintanceship with parties, witnesses or attorneys; occupation which might lead to bias; prejudice against the death penalty; or previous experiences such as having been sued in a similar case). Actually one of the unspoken purposes of the voir dire is for the attorneys to get a feel for the personalities and likely views of the people on the jury panel. In some courts the judge asks most of the questions, while in others the lawyers are given substantial latitude and time to ask questions. Some jurors may be dismissed for cause by the judge, and the attorneys may excuse others in "peremptory" challenges without stating any reason. 2) questions asked to determine the competence of an alleged expert witness. 3) any hearing outside the presence of the jury held during trial.


v. to voluntarily give up something, including not enforcing a term of a contract (such as insisting on payment on an exact date), or knowingly giving up a legal right such as a speedy trial, a jury trial or a hearing on extradition (the transfer to another state's jurisdiction of one accused of a crime in the other state).


1) n. an order (writ) of a court which directs a law enforcement officer (usually a sheriff) to arrest and bring a person before the judge, such as a person who is charged with a crime, convicted of a crime but failed to appear for sentencing, owes a fine or is in contempt of court. A "bench warrant" is an order to appear issued by the court when a person does not appear for a hearing, which can be resolved by posting bail or appearing. A "search warrant" is an order permitting a law enforcement officer to search a particular premises and/or person for certain types of evidence, based on a declaration by a law enforcement official, including a district attorney. 2) v. to claim to a purchaser that merchandise is sound, of good quality or will perform as it should, or that title to real property belongs to the seller.


n. 1) any damage to real property by a tenant which lessens its value to the landlord, owner or future owner. An owner can sue for damages for waste, terminate a lease of one committing waste and/or obtain an injunction against further waste. 2) garbage, which may include poisonous effluents.

weight of evidence

n. the strength, value and believability of evidence presented on a factual issue by one side as compared to evidence introduced by the other side.


1) n. a person who testifies under oath in a trial (or a deposition which may be used in a trial if the witness is not available) with first-hand or expert evidence useful in a lawsuit. A party to the lawsuit (plaintiff or defendant) may be a witness. 2) n. a person who sees an event. 3) n. a person who observes the signing of a document like a will or a contract and signs as a witness on the document attesting that the document was signed in the presence of the witness. 4) v. to sign a document verifying that he/she observed the execution of the document such as a will.

Workers' Compensation Acts

n. state statutes which establish liability of employers for injuries to workers while on the job or illnesses due to the employment, and requiring insurance to protect the workers. Worker's compensation is not based on negligence of the employer, but is absolute liability for medical coverage, a percentage of lost wages or salary, costs of rehabilitation and retraining, and payment for any permanent injury (usually based on an evaluation of limitation). Worker's' Compensation Acts provide for a system of hearings and quasi-judicial determinations by administrative law judges and appeal boards. However, if worker's' compensation is granted, it becomes the only remedy against an employer and does not include general damages for pain and suffering. Thus, an injured worker may waive workers' compensation and sue the employer for damages caused by the employer's negligence. If a third party contributed to the damages, the injured worker may sue that party for damages even though he/she receives worker's' compensation, but recovery may be subject to a lien for moneys paid out by the workers' compensation insurance company.


n. a written order of a judge requiring specific action by the person or entity to whom the writ is directed.

writ of execution

n. a court order to a sheriff to enforce a judgment by levying on real or personal property of a judgment debtor to obtain funds to satisfy the judgment amount (pay the winning plaintiff).

writ of mandate

(mandamus) n. a court order to a government agency, including another court, to follow the law by correcting its prior actions or ceasing illegal acts.

wrongful death

n. the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. Such wrongful acts include: negligence (like careless driving), an inten- tional attack such as assault and/or battery, a death in the course of another crime, vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter or murder. Wrongful death is the basis for a lawsuit (wrongful death action) against the party or parties who caused the death filed on behalf of the members of the family who have lost the company and support of the deceased. Thus, a child might be entitled to compensation for the personal loss of a father as well as the amount of financial support the child would have received from the now-dead parent while a minor, a wife would recover damages for loss of her husband's love and companionship and a lifetime of expected support, while a parent would be limited to damages for loss of companionship but not support. A lawsuit for wrongful death may be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased or by the individual beneficiaries (family members).

wrongful termination

n. a right of an employee to sue his/her employer for damages (loss of wage and "fringe" benefits, and, if against "public policy," for punitive damages). To bring such a suit the discharge of the employee must have been without "cause," and the employee a) had an express contract of continued employment or there was an "implied" contract based on the circumstances of his/her hiring or legitimate reasons to believe the employment would be permanent, b) there is a violation of statutory prohibitions against discrimination due to race, gender, sexual preference or age, or c) the discharge was contrary to "public policy" such as in retribution for exposing dishonest acts of the employer. An employee who believes he/she has been wrongfully terminated may bring an action (file a suit) for damages for discharge, as well as for breach of contract, but the court decisions have become increasingly strict in limiting an employee's grounds for suit.


n. a system of developing a city or county plan in which various geographic areas (zones) are restricted to certain uses and development, such as industrial, light industrial, commercial, light-commercial, agricultural, single-family residential, multi-unit residential, parks, schools and other purposes. Zoning is the chief planning tool of local government to guide the future development of a community, protect neighborhoods, concentrate retail business and industry, channel traffic and play a major role in the enhancement of urban as well as small-town life. In 1926, zoning was declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co.

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