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When Should You File a Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

Understand the timeline and factors for filing a slip and fall lawsuit

A slip and fall case is a type of premises liability claim.  

“Generally speaking, [most] premises liability claims are a slip and fall or trip and fall,” says New Jersey personal injury lawyer Michael J. Epstein. 

Slip and fall accidents are common and can occur in many different settings, including: 

  • Parking lots 
  • Walkways 
  • Grocery and department stores 
  • Public property 

Falls are often due to steep or uneven surfaces or wet floors. While many slip and fall injuries are relatively minor, they can result in serious injuries and even a trip to the emergency room. Injuries include: 

Depending on your injuries, you may need significant medical attention, face long-term medical bills and time away from work. 

If you or a loved one has suffered a fall, you may be wondering if you should bring a lawsuit. Is it worth it? When should you file a lawsuit?  

If successful, a lawsuit can result in compensation that covers both your economic and non-economic losses. However, proving liability for a slip and fall can be difficult. Litigation can also be expensive and a significant time commitment. 

This article will explain the factors to consider before pursuing a lawsuit. Beyond the general factors presented here, it’s best to speak with a personal injury lawyer about your particular case for the best outcome. 

How To Prove a Slip and Fall Claim 

Slip and fall lawsuits are a type of premises liability case.  

Premises liability claims “arise out of a situation where a person is injured on someone else’s property… as a result of the property owner’s negligence,” says Epstein.   

Negligence generally means there’s a “dangerous condition on the owner’s property that is not fixed or discovered when it should have been, and it leads to a person falling and getting injured.”  

It’s important to note that personal injury laws vary from state to state. For example, what if your injuries aren’t entirely the owner’s fault? What if it was partly your fault? Can you still get damages in a lawsuit, or will you be barred from recovery?  

States differ in how they address this question. Some completely bar recovery, while others allow a modified or reduced recovery. Understanding the laws in your state before going into a lawsuit is essential. 

In general, however, there are four elements to a negligence claim. 

Duty of Care 

“Any negligence case starts with the question: did the defendant have a duty to take action or not to take action with respect to the other party?” says Epstein.   

In premises liability cases, owners are responsible for taking reasonable steps to eliminate dangerous or hazardous conditions on their property. What are “reasonable steps”?  

The answer varies depending on the type of property or business involved and the state laws where you live. Typically, what is reasonable is determined based on the type of property and property owner.  

For example, Epstein notes that in New Jersey, if you’re a “single-family homeowner, and someone is injured on your sidewalk, but you never put the sidewalk in or repaired it, there’s generally no liability.”  

However, “if you’re walking at a strip mall and… there’s a raised slab of sidewalk that catches your foot, [causing you to fall and be injured], the property owner of the strip mall… would be liable for allowing a dangerous condition to exist for their [customers],” he says.  

Breach 

Breach means the owner failed in their duty of care toward the injured person.  

Depending on your state and situation, you might have to prove that the owner should have known about the dangerous condition, they did now about it but didn’t fix it, or they caused the dangerous condition. 

Causation 

The owner’s omission or commission of an act is what caused your injuries, as opposed to some other factor that the owner had nothing to do with. 

Damages 

The owner’s breach of duty actually harmed you. Your damages are what you are seeking compensation for and could include medical expenses and lost wages.  

“What you can get in a… premises liability case is what is reasonable and fair compensation for the injured party’s harms and losses,” says Epstein. “It’s not an award; it’s compensation to make the injured person whole.” 

When to File Your Lawsuit 

Generally, it’s best to pursue legal action sooner rather than later. Of course, some plaintiffs don’t realize they need to take legal action until a while after the accident. Some injuries from a fall, such as brain injuries, aren’t apparent until later.  

Regardless of your situation, it’s essential to be aware of the deadlines for bringing a lawsuit in your state.  

Every state has a law called the statute of limitations that sets the time limit for plaintiffs to bring a lawsuit after their injuries. Statutes of limitations vary depending on the state and type of case but generally range from 2 to 6 years.  

If you bring a lawsuit, it’s imperative to file it before the statute of limitations is up. If you miss the deadline, you are barred from filing a case in the future and cannot recover damages. 

In most premises liability cases, including slip and falls, the property owner’s insurance company will compensate you for your injuries. You may have to balance negotiations with the insurance company with the timeframe of filing a lawsuit.  

If the insurance company delays or does not pay out, it is a good reason to pursue legal action. Make sure you are within the legal timeframe.  

How To Prepare for a Slip and Fall Case 

If you’re considering legal action, it’s essential to take steps that will help ensure your success. Epstein recommends the following steps: 

  • Get medical attention. “If a person’s injured, first and foremost they need to get medical treatment,” says Epstein. 
  • Report the accident and try to gather evidence. “In a premises liability case, any lawyer is going to need evidence of the dangerous condition [that caused the injury],” he says. The dangerous condition could “be changed after the fact,” which would make proving a case very difficult. For example, say someone is injured because of a raised sidewalk. No one notifies the defendant there’s going to be a lawsuit. But the defendant already had plans to fix the sidewalk the week after the accident. In this case, Epstein says, “the dangerous condition could be altered [so that] you can’t evaluate it. That’s a problem.” Epstein recommends reporting the incident as soon as possible.  “If you’re injured, have someone… take some pictures of the dangerous condition as soon as you can. Try to preserve the evidence,” he says.  
  • Retain a lawyer sooner rather than later.  Injured individuals should get legal help as quickly as possible “so the lawyer can protect and preserve the injured person’s rights, including putting the defendant on notice that there may be a claim and that the evidence should be preserved,” says Epstein.  

Questions for a Premises Liability Attorney 

An experienced premises liability attorney can make a big difference in your slip and fall lawsuit. 

Many slip and fall attorneys provide free consultations to learn about your case. These free case evaluations let you get helpful legal advice and decide if the attorney or law firm meets your needs. 

To get the most out of a consultation, ask informed questions such as: 

  • What are your attorneys’ fees?  
  • What are your billing options? 
  • What legal fees will be involved in bringing a claim? 
  • What is the statute of limitations in filing a lawsuit? 
  • What are the chances of settling before going to trial? 

Once you have met with a premises liability lawyer and gotten your questions answered, you can begin an attorney-client relationship. 

Look for a premises liability attorney in the Super Lawyers directory.

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