Slip and Fall
A slip and fall accident, sometimes referred to as a trip and fall, is a type of personal injury claim in which a person slips and falls on someone else’s property and suffers an injury (or injuries).
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What Are Some Common Slip and Fall Accidents?
A slip and fall accident can occur due to slippery or uneven surfaces, poor lighting, a hidden hazard, a narrow walking space, poor weather conditions, or other dangerous circumstances.
A slip and fall can occur almost anywhere; however, there are some common places and situations:
Business or Commercial Property
Accidents that occur on someone else’s property are also referred to as premises liability accidents. Premises can be dangerous for a multitude of reasons – spilled materials, clutter, poor construction, or lack of proper maintenance. The accidents may include slipping, tripping, falling, or having an object fall on an individual. In these types of claims, the injured party must show that the hazardous condition caused their injury, the property owner knew or should have known about the condition, and that the owner did not take any reasonable actions to clean, repair, or prevent the hazardous condition.
If a person falls on government property and suffers an injury (or injuries), the government may be responsible – depending on your state’s personal injury laws. Some states have imposed limitations on personal injury lawsuits against the local, state, or federal government. If your state does allow for slip and fall personal injury suits against the government, then the injured party must prove that the government was negligent in the upkeep of the property. In other words, the injured party must show that 1) the government was responsible for maintaining the area in question, 2) the government knew or reasonably should have known about the hazardous condition that led to the accident, and 3) the government did not take the sensible steps to clean or repair the hazard.
If a person renting a home or vacation property slips and falls somewhere on the premises (either inside or outside), the landlord may be responsible for the accident. The injured party would have to show that the landlord caused the hazardous condition, or that the landlord knew about the unsafe condition and did not try to repair it.
A slip and fall may occur on a sidewalk if the surface is slippery (covered with water, mud, soap, oil, or another wet substance), the sidewalk is cracked or damaged, or if the sidewalk is covered with snow or ice. If someone slips and falls on a sidewalk and is injured, the individual or group responsible for that injury depends on your state’s laws. In some cases, the homeowner might be responsible. In that circumstance, the person bringing the personal injury claim would have to prove that 1) the property owner knew or should have known that the sidewalk was in an unreasonably unsafe condition, and 2) the homeowner was negligent in cleaning or repairing that unsafe condition. In other circumstances, the local government is responsible for the upkeep of its sidewalks – in which case the injured party would file suit against the government body who knew of the hazardous conditions and failed to address it.
Slips, trips, or falls on steps are, unfortunately, a common injury. Property owners are typically liable for mishaps on staircases, just like they’re responsible for other slip and fall accidents. However, unlike flat surfaces, stairs can present additional hazards. For the injured party to prove that the property owner is liable for the accident, the plaintiff must show that 1) the property owner caused the hazardous condition, 2) the owner knew or should have known about the hazard, and 3) the owner did not repair or remove the hazard. Additionally, the insurance company or the court will also consider whether the plaintiff contributed to their own injury. They will want to know if the plaintiff was acting carelessly at the time of their injury, or if they created the hazardous condition themselves by spilling or dropping something on the steps.
It is important to note that not every slip and fall accident will lead to a personal injury lawsuit. There must be an injury involved, and the accident has to be due to someone’s negligence (ex: failing to act in a reasonable manner).
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How Do Slip and Fall Cases Work?
Every case is different, and the length it takes to resolve your legal issue depends on the facts and complexity of the situation.
If you are considering filing a slip and fall personal injury lawsuit, you may be wondering exactly how long the process will take. The answer is anywhere from several months to several years. Every case is different, and the length it takes to resolve your legal issue depends on the facts and complexity of the situation. Here is a look at the different stages of personal injury litigation, so you can better know what to expect:
Personal Injury Complaint
This initial legal document, prepared by a personal injury attorney, explains the nature of your claim. It will state who the parties are (plaintiff and defendant), a description of how the slip and fall happened, who is allegedly responsible for the injury, and what you want the responsible party to pay for their negligence. The content of the complaint may be more or less detailed, depending on your state’s requirements. Your personal injury attorney will file the complaint in the proper jurisdiction and serve the documents on the party you’re suing.
Once you file your personal injury complaint, the defendant typically has 20 days to formally answer the lawsuit. (That number might be slightly different, depending on your state’s laws and whether the defendant agrees to waive certain legal defenses). In the answer, the defendant will address each allegation in the complaint with an “admit,” “deny,” or “not enough information to admit or deny.” The defendant will also establish any affirmative defenses at this time; these are legal doctrines that may reduce or clear the defendant of his or her liability in the slip and fall accident.
After the defendant files his or her answer, then the discovery phase begins. In this part of the process, both parties try to learn as much as they possibly can about the case. Attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant may send each other interrogatories, which are questions that should be answered in writing, under oath. The attorneys may also file requests for production, which are formal requests for the parties to produce documents or other items that are related to the slip and fall case. Depending on the complexity of the personal injury claim, the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, and how busy the court is, the discovery process can take anywhere between three months to several years.
Before the personal injury case heads to trial, either party may file a pre-trial motion(s) to attempt to resolve the legal issue. This typically happens during the discovery process. While there are a variety of different pre-trial motions, some of the more common ones filed in a personal injury suit are: Motion to Dismiss (asking the court to dismiss the case due to a legal technicality, like the statute of limitations), Motion to Compel (asking the court to force the other party to do something they have been reluctant to do, such as produce documents or give a deposition), Motion in Limine (request to keep prejudicial evidence away from the potential jury), or a Motion for Summary Judgment (asking the court for a final judgment due to a lack of facts to support the case).
Mediation or Settlement Conference
Depending on your state’s procedural laws, you may be required to hold a mediation or a settlement conference prior to going to trial. In some states, this part of the process is voluntary. A mediation or settlement conference provides both parties with the opportunity to resolve the issue without having to go to trial. The parties will discuss any disputes over liability and the value of the personal injury case. Typically, a private mediator (hired by the parties) will preside over a mediation; a judge or assigned magistrate would conduct the settlement conference. Any agreements reached during this phase of litigation are legal and binding.
Personal Injury Trial
Once the discovery process has ended, and if the parties are not able to reach an agreement in mediation or the settlement conference, then the case will go to trial. The attorneys will work with the court to add the case to the court’s trial docket, which is their court calendar. That court date may not be several weeks or months, depending on the complexity of the case and how busy the judges are. Personal injury trials can take anywhere from two to five days, again depending on the complexity of the situation and legal issues involved. Once the trial concludes, if the plaintiff wins the case, the defendant has between 30-60 days to pay the judgment.
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How Long After a Slip and Fall Accident Can You Sue?
There are limits to when you can file suit. You have to be aware of the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations (SOL) is a state-based law that, generally speaking, sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations (SOL) is a state-based law that, generally speaking, sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit. There are statutes of limitations for all different types of legal claims – ranging from assaults to zoning issues. Also, each state can have a different statute of limitations timeline, depending on those claims. Statute of limitations can range from a few months to as long as 20 years.
For slip and fall personal injury cases, the statute of limitations typically begins on the day that the person was injured in the accident. If the person lives in a state where the statute of limitations is two years, that means they have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit.
A statute of limitations is a hard deadline, in terms of lawsuits and litigation. If a person tries to file a suit after the statute of limitations has expired, the court will likely dismiss their personal injury lawsuit. (The court could even force the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s court costs). There are certain situations, however, where the statute of limitations may be extended:
- The defendant (person or party responsible for the accident) left the state after committing the negligence that led to the accident.
- The plaintiff (person who was injured and filed the lawsuit) was a minor when the accident occurred. He or she was 17-years or younger at the time of the accident. In some states, the personal injury statute of limitations does not begin until the plaintiff turns 18-years-old.
- The plaintiff is mentally disabled, or was temporarily mentally disabled at the time of the accident.
Another exception to the statute of limitations is the Discovery Rule. This exception is designed to help plaintiffs who were injured in a slip and fall accident but were not immediately aware of their injuries or the circumstances that led to the accident. With the Discovery Rule, the state-based personal injury statute of limitations does not begin running until the individual 1) knew or had sufficient notice that they were injured, or 2) knew or had sufficient notice about the cause of their injury.
So, let’s say a person lives in a state where the statute of limitations for slip and fall cases is two years. In 2020, this person was shopping in a grocery store and slipped on some liquid in the aisle. The person stood up and left the store, thinking that they were not hurt. Three years later, in 2023, the person begins having aches and pains in their back, and a doctor determines that the person fractured a vertebra and has since developed spinal arthritis. The doctor also concludes that the injury is about three years old, and not from normal wear and tear. Under the statute of limitations, the injured individual would have had until 2022 to file their personal injury lawsuit (again, if their state’s statute of limitations was two years), but because they did not know about the injury until 2023, then the Discovery Rule may apply. Instead, the statute of limitations began in 2023, when they first received notice about the injury. Following our example, he or she would have until 2025 to file a lawsuit.
While there are exceptions available to the state’s statute of limitations on personal injury claims, the circumstances giving rise to those exceptions can be challenging to prove. That’s why it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about your case as soon as possible.
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How Many Slip and Fall Cases Go to Trial?
The slip and fall cases that do end up in trial are those where the two parties (plaintiff and defendant) disagree about the facts of the case.
One of the most common questions that personal injury clients have is whether their case is going to trial. If you are unfamiliar with the litigation process, it is understandable to feel a little anxious or overwhelmed about the time or expenses involved, or the possibility of appearing in a courtroom. Many people are interested in compensation for their slip and fall case but not necessarily having to testify in court. However, only a small percentage of slip and fall cases actually go to trial. The exact number differs depending on the state and jurisdiction, but it is somewhere around two percent of cases.
The slip and fall cases that do end up in trial are those where the two parties (plaintiff and defendant) disagree about the facts of the case. They do not see eye to eye about what led to the slip and fall accident. Or, one party might not have or understand all of the facts of the case and is, therefore, reluctant to settle. If one party does not believe the other side has a strong case that is supported by the law and the facts, they are more likely to push for a trial.
The other 98% of slip and fall cases typically settle out of court, either through summary judgment or by another non-trial resolution. The courts will often encourage the parties to take steps such as mediation or a settlement conference so that the parties are more likely to resolve their personal injury lawsuit without needing a jury trial. Reaching a settlement can be less expensive and time-consuming than a trial. However, every slip and fall case is unique, and the outcome truly depends on the circumstances of the accident and the legal jurisdiction.
The average amount of a slip and fall settlement is between $15,000 and $45,000. This depends on a variety of factors, as well as the party’s position in the negotiation process. Compensation is calculated based on the individual’s monetary losses (direct, out-of-pocket expenses and losses), plus compensation for their pain and suffering. If a person’s injuries are relatively minor, the settlement might be on the lower side. If their injuries in the slip and fall accident were severe, then the settlement amount will likely be larger.
Settlement amounts vary based on the strength of a person’s case and their level of injury or injuries. If you were hurt in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property and are considering whether to settle your case, there are some common considerations in the value of your claim:
- Lost Wages: If a person missed work because of their injuries, they could be compensated for their lost wages. The plaintiff will likely have to verify their current salary with a pay stub or tax return; their employer may also have to verify that amount, in writing.
- Loss of Earning Capacity: If a person’s slip and fall injuries are so severe that it impacts their future ability to work, they may be entitled to money for lost earning capacity. Once this is verified, the defendant may be responsible for a lump sum amount or the cost of being trained in a different profession.
- Medical Bills: This includes your bills for past and future medical treatment. Because healthcare providers often agree to accept less than their billed amount, be sure you understand whether any compensation will be based on what the healthcare provider billed or what they agreed to receive as payment in full.
- Pain and Suffering: While there is no specific rule for calculating someone’s pain and suffering, a personal injury attorney will typically use the plaintiff’s medical bills as a starting point. They’ll then multiply that number based on the severity and permanency of the injury or injuries. It is also a good idea to negotiate with future injuries in mind, as some medical issues do not arise until well after a slip and fall accident.
- Other Expenses: There are other incidental expenses that a plaintiff can recover as the result of their slip and fall injury. For example, if a person spends $50 in fuel each week to travel to a medical specialist for treatment, they may be compensated for that amount, on top of the other bills and expenses.
While the majority of slip and fall cases do not go to trial, whether a person should settle their case depends on a review of the circumstances and their injuries. If the parties agree to the value of the personal injury claim, a settlement can potentially save all parties involved the time, stress, and expense of a trial.
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Everything You Should Know
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