No wonder lawyers get a bad rap for keeping to their own jargon when using words like “vicissitude”.  What the heck does that mean? And, is it just legal-speak?

“Vicissitude” means a variation in circumstances or fortune.

In claims for accident compensation, the word is often used in reference to the calculation of an allowance for a future financial consequence.

Here’s explanation from Mitchell Clark, MBA Partner and expert in Personal injuries law:  Let’s say, for example, a serious injury means that you’ll need to stop full time work and go into a part-time job.    You can claim the difference in salary over the period until retirement, which on simple maths could add up to a huge figure (e.g. $200 difference in salary per week for a period of 20 years = $200,000).  Typically, when considering a span of some 20 years into the future, various things might happen which are unrelated to the injury, such as getting a promotion at work, winning the lottery or having some other windfall (such as inheritance) or encountering an illness that might impact on your work ability irrespective of the injury.  How do those possible features get taken into account?  This is the concept then of a discount based on contingencies or vicissitudes.

There’s no hard and fast rule about the amount of the discount.   Each case is considered separately because each person’s situation is unique.   Between 10% and 15% is a common level of discount, so in the sample case of the partial loss of salary ($200 lost per week) the injured person would be entitled to an allowance of approximately $175,000 (rather than the $200,000 calculated on simple maths) to take into account the way that future life might have its “ups and downs” unrelated to the injuries which are the subject of the compensation claim.

The word “vicissitude” has been around for many years; it’s just not commonly used now in every day speech.   A famous example is in the “Lord of the Flies” novel, first published back in 1954, the author, William Golding included this vivid description about his main character, “Jack stood there, streaming with sweat, streaked with brown earth, stained by all the vicissitudes of a day’s hunting.”

Moral of the story: “Vicissitudes” is not a commonly used word, yet in this context of a personal injury claim it’s a good descriptor of the concept.  Generally speaking, however, legal jargon is outlawed at MBA Lawyers.