The Stages of a Trip & Fall Lawsuit
While out shopping for some groceries, you dont notice a greasy spot on the floor, and you trip, fall, and injure yourself. Should you sue? And if you do, how long will it take before you get compensated for your injuries?
A slip and fall accident can happen anywhere, not just in commercial settings. The resulting lawsuit is part of a subset of personal injury lawsuits, or torts, which includes traffic accidents or dog bites. Like all personal injury litigation, slip and fall cases take time to work themselves through the court system. It may take years to arrive at your court date.
Wal-Mart, the worlds largest retailer, alone reports 1,000 customer injuries a day because of 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.
Each state gives its residents a deadline - or statute of limitations -- in which to file a personal injury lawsuit, It can be as quick as one year, as in Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, or as long as six years, as in North Dakota and Maine. But no matter where you live, if you pass your states deadlines for filing a personal injury lawsuit, that opportunity is gone forever.
You Trip, Fall, and Injure Yourself: Now What?
After you seek medical attention for your injuries, youll want to consult an attorney who is familiar with slip and fall cases. Personal injury attorneys typically work on contingency. That is, they dont ask for an up-front retainer for their services but take a percentage of any settlement or jury award. If an attorney takes your case on this basis, you can have confidence that he or she thinks you have a good chance of prevailing.
Because you are going to work with your attorney for a long time, interview several. Ask about their experience with personal injury lawsuits and style of communication with their clients. Then choose the one with whom you feel most comfortable.
Your lawyer will then get to work on writing your complaint. It will set out the reasons why you, the plaintiff, are entitled to be compensated for your injuries by the defendant>, in this case, the owner of the property where the trip and fall accident took place.
The defendant has a set period of time in which to respond your complaint, typically 30 days. The response may include a denial of responsibility, or liability, as well as an answer that turns the blame back on you. You, then, will have a deadline in which to respond to the defendants answer.
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
In 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 for trial. Personal injury cases are usually placed behind other civil cases, such as landlord disputes, so do not be surprised if your trial date is a year or more in the future.
At this time, the judge may order you into mediation. Mediation is a conversation or a series of talks between you and your trip-and-fall attorneys and the defendant and his attorneys, moderated by a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator guides the conversation and tries to bring about agreement 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 documents. Your lawyer may want to run some empirical tests that can measure the slipperiness of the area in which you fell. Both sides must share with the other all information gathered during discovery.
Witness interviews may take place in a proceeding called a deposition. Lawyers from both sides are present at the depositions and are allowed to ask questions. The interviewees swear to tell the truth, as they would in court, and their responses are recorded by a stenographer, who will then make a transcription of the deposition.
If the defendant has access to documents relating to your fall, your lawyer may ask for the defendant to produce the document.
Both depositions and documents are evidence that may be used at your trial. Depositions may be read into the record during the trial if that witness is unable to attend the trial. In addition, depositions may be used to impeach a witness if he or she says something at trial that contradicts the testimony during the deposition.
After discovery, your attorney may bring a motion for summary judgment. Such a motion allows the judge to decide the case without seeing live witnesses or conducting an evidentiary hearing.<./p>
The motion will be accompanied by evidence produced during discovery and may also include a memorandum from your attorney setting out the legal theories. After reviewing the filing, the judge can grant the motion if there is no dispute over key facts or deny the motion because a trial is needed to resolve disputed facts.
Your Slip and Fall Case Goes to Trial
If your case is heard at a bench trial, that means only a judge 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 the laws that govern personal injuries.
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 give you advice, only you can decide whether to accept the slip and fall settlement.
If you do take the settlement, the court is notified that the slip and fall case has been resolved, and it is dismissed. Settlements are usually completed in writing but are not made public, unlike a jury verdict.