The Stages of a Slip & Fall Accident Lawsuit
If you've been injured in a slip-fall accident, you may be thinking about suing the property owner and wondering how long such a lawsuit would take before you saw any compensation. The answer is in your capacity for patience, as it can take years to litigate such a case.
Lawsuits stemming from slip-and-fall accidents are a type of personal injury lawsuit, which also includes car accidents and dog bites. Like other personal injury cases, also known as torts, they can take time as they work themselves through the court system.
Slip-and-fall accidents may be more common than you realize. For example, the worlds largest retailer, Wal-Mart, reports 1,000 customer injuries a day, caused by either a slip-and-fall or falling merchandise, according to an article about property owners responsibility in slip-and-fall accidents published by Pepperdine University in Malibu.
How Long After a Slip-Fall Accident Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?
Each state differs in how long you have in which to file a personal injury lawsuit. The time period starts when the injury occurs, the day you slipped and fell. From that point, the clock starts ticking. You may have as little as one year to file suit (in states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana) or as long as six years in Maine and North Dakota.
The bottom line is the same in every state, though: If you pass the deadline to file, also known as a statute of limitations, then your opportunity to sue is gone forever.
There a number of motions the defendant can make that may affect your case, including:
- Motion for change of venue: which, if successful, will move your case to a different courthouse
- Motion for a change of judge: which will get your case moved to a new courtroom
- Motion for removal: which will move your case from state court to federal court (the motion needs to show that the case either involves federal law or that the defendant is from a different state)
- Motion to dismiss: which does not necessarily dispute the facts of the case but may argue the suit was brought in an untimely manner or that no relief is warranted
With all but the last motion, the case still continues, even if the motion is granted. Such motions are public and are generally ruled upon without a hearing.
If you survive the motion to dismiss, the judge will then set a date - most likely in the far future - for trial. Personal injury cases can be notoriously slow because they are usually placed behind other civil cases, such as landlord disputes. Expect a court date a year or more out.
The judge at this time might order you into mediation. In mediation, you and your slip-and-fall accident attorneys meet with the defendant and his or her attorneys for talks moderated by a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator helps to bring about a meeting of the minds between the parties.
If mediation is unsuccessful, your case then moves into the discovery phase. Discovery is the period in which lawyers from both sides of the case investigate the facts. It may involve interviewing witnesses and examining your medical records. Both sides must share with the other all information gathered during discovery.
The attorneys may want to interview the witnesses and other people who have information pertinent to the case in a proceeding called a deposition. Lawyers from both sides are present at the depositions and are allowed to ask questions. The witnesses swear to tell the truth, just as they would in court, and their responses are recorded by a stenographer, who will later transcribe the deposition. More information about depositions can be found at Lawyers.com.
Going to Trial
If your case is heard at a bench trial, a judge alone will decide your case. The judge will rule on which laws are applicable in your case and whether the evidence proves the law is on your side. In a jury trial, the judge still determines which laws are applicable, but it is the jury that decides what actually happened and whether those facts meet the requirements of slip-and-fall law.
Few personal injuries cases make it all the way to trial. At any point along the path to a trial - and even during the trial up until the point a jury announces its decision - the defense may offer to settle the case with you. While your attorney can advise you on how likely you are to prevail should you continue your case, only you can decide whether to accept the settlement agreement.
If you do take the settlement, the court is notified that the case has been resolved, and it is dismissed. Settlements are usually completed in writing, but are not made public, unlike a jury verdict.