Property owners and sometimes renters have a responsibility to maintain their premises and to do their best to ensure the safety and security of visitors. If you slip and fall on the property of another individual or business, the property owner and/or renter may be liable for any injuries you suffer.
The Timeline of Slip and Fall Cases
If you are considering filing a claim or lawsuit in a slip and fall case, it is important you understand how these types of claims work. They typically follow a standard set of steps, including:
- The Demand Letter
The first step in personal injury claims is to issue a demand letter to the insurance company of the property owner/renter. The demand letter outlines the details of the injuries you suffered and the circumstances under which your slip and fall occurred.
If the insurance company accepts the owner/renter’s liability for your injuries, they may offer you a settlement. If that settlement is fair, you can accept it. If it is not sufficient given the seriousness of your injuries, you can decide to file a personal injury lawsuit instead.
- The Complaint and Summons
Personal injuries are governed by state law and every state has its own rules governing how a slip and fall complaint must be made. An attorney is required to file a complaint and summons, which is a summary of the factual details of the case, including:
- Who is involved
- How the slip and fall happened
- Why the property owner/renter is responsible for your injuries
- The damages you’re seeking in your lawsuit
The complaint is filed with the court and a summons is issued for the defendant you name in your case to respond to the complaint within a certain timeframe, usually 20 days.
- The Defendant’s Response
The defendant’s lawyer will file this document with the court. It is usually not as detailed as the complaint your lawyer files but it will contain a lot of information. The defendant’s lawyer does two things with the response:
- Denies responsibility for each claim made in your complaint
- Sets up the defense, including making the basic arguments regarding responsibility for your injuries
The defendant’s attorney may set up a defense that simply promotes the defendant as not liable for your injuries, or he/she may argue that you are responsible for your injuries instead.
- Discovery and Pre-Trial
Lawyers on both sides of the claim use this stage of the process to discover information about the case. Legal documents change hands often and each side must officially request information from the other. Witnesses may be interviewed.
Pre-trial motions are formal petitions to the court, asking for some sort of intervention. Motions include things like:
- asking the court to dismiss the case,
- forcing the defendant to share information or evidence,
- or asking the court to exclude certain evidence from the record when the case does go to trial.
This stage can take months or years to complete, dependent upon how complex the case is and how busy the court is, since all discovery documents are processed through the court system.
- Mediation or Settlement Conferences
Many attorneys try to settle personal injury claims out of court. They may call a mediation meeting or a court-governed settlement conference in an effort to reach an agreement before the trial starts.
These meetings typically only happen when the plaintiff and defendant agree about who is responsible for injuries but cannot agree on what a fair amount of compensation for those injuries would be.
If no settlement can be reach, then your case will go to trial. The trial itself usually lasts less than a week, typically only a couple of days. More complex cases may take a little longer though. If your lawsuit is successful, then a judgment will be passed against the defendant.
The defendant usually has anywhere from 30 to 90 days to pay any damages due. Not all defendants pay as required, so your lawyer may need to pursue collections against the defendant.
How a Lawyer can Help with a Slip and Fall Case
An attorney’s involvement in a personal injury claim from the start can potentially get your case settled out of court and for a fair amount of money. If your case must go to trial or proceeds to the mediation and settlement conference stage before an agreement is reached, then an attorney’s assistance is required. You need a lawyer to navigate the legal system and to know exactly how and when to file the required motions, requests for discovery, and other legal documents.