If you are considering a slip and fall lawsuit, you may wonder how long it will take to resolve such a legal matter. Depending on a variety of factors, it can take months -- or even years -- to resolve. Like other civil lawsuits involving personal injuries, slip and fall lawsuits go through a number of distinct stages. In this article, we'll lay out the timeline you can expect a typical slip and fall case to follow.
The Complaint/Summons in a Slip and Fall Case
This is the document your lawyer will prepare that explains the nature of your claim. Each state is different when it comes to how much detail needs to be included in the Complaint. Some states require a detailed factual summary; while others merely require that the Complaint contain enough information to place the defendant on notice of the plaintiff's claim.
Generally speaking, the Complaint will state:
- who the parties are
- a description of how the fall occurred
- who is allegedly responsible, and
- what you want the responsible party to pay for their action/inaction.
You must file your Complaint in the court where you will bring your lawsuit, and you must serve it -- along with a summons -- on the party you will be suing. The summons will order the defendant to file a response to the Complaint within a set amount of time (typically 20 days).
The Defendant's Answer in a Slip and Fall Case
The Answer is the document the defendant files in response to your Complaint. It will not contain nearly the detail your Complaint contains. Rather, an Answer is typically only required to admit or deny each allegation in the Complaint (or state that the defendant does not have enough information to admit or deny a particular allegation).
In addition, an Answer typically sets forth what are known as “affirmative defenses.” These are legal doctrines that, if the defendant can prove they apply, will reduce the defendant’s liability (or absolve the defendant of liability altogether). Learn more about Defenses to a Personal Injury Lawsuit.
As mentioned above, a defendant’s Answer is typically due within 20 days of being served with a Complaint. However, a defendant may secure an additional 20 days by agreeing to waive certain legal defenses.
The Discovery Phase of a Slip and Fall Lawsuit
This is the phase of the case where the parties involved learn as much as they can about the case. They will do so by going through a written discovery phase, which involves interrogatories and requests for production. Essentially, interrogatories are questions you have to answer in writing and under oath. Requests for production are -- as the name implies -- requests to produce things or documents related to the claim.
The discovery phase may take anywhere from three months to years, depending on the complexity of the case, the duration of your medical treatment, and the court’s schedule.
Before trial, the parties may file certain motions with the court to resolve issues. Parties typically file pre-trial motions during the discovery phase. These are the most common pre-trial motions:
- Motion to Dismiss: A defendant will typically file this motion early on in the lawsuit because the lawsuit fails for some legal technicality.
- Motion to Compel: Either party may file this motion to request the Court to Order another party to do something it will not otherwise agree to do. Typically, parties file these motions to get the court to order another party to produce documents they are unwilling to produce or show up for a deposition they are unwilling to give.
- Motion for Summary Judgment: This is a powerful motion -- if granted. Either party may file this motion if it believes there is no set of facts to support the other party’s claims or defenses. It is a powerful motion because, if granted, it is a final judgment. Game over.
- Motion in Limine: A motion in limine is a request to keep certain evidence out of the trial because -- for one reason or another -- it is too prejudicial. For example, defendants usually file a motion in limine to keep the jury from hearing that it has liability insurance that will cover all, or part, of any judgment rendered against it. This information may prove to be overly prejudicial because a jury may be inclined to award a judgment (regardless of the facts) simply because insurance will cover it.
Mediation/Mandatory Settlement Conference
Parties will often attempt to resolve a lawsuit without a trial. Two common methods for doing this are mediation and settlement conferences. These two alternative dispute resolution methods are similar in their style. One key difference is that the parties typically arrange mediation on their own with a private mediator, while the court may order a settlement conference. Your judge (or an assigned magistrate) will conduct the settlement conference.
Learn more about Mediation of Personal Injury Claims.
Usually, mediations and settlement conferences take place near the end of the discovery phase. They may occur early on in a lawsuit if there is little dispute over liability, and the parties simply need assistance reaching middle ground as to how much a claim is worth.
If a Slip and Fall Lawsuit Goes to Trial
Trial occurs after discovery is closed. Your case will be set on a “trial docket” with the court. The court will hear the cases in the order set on its docket. This means you may have a trial date that is not really your trial date.
Depending on the complexity of your case, and the judge you draw, your trial will likely take two to five days. Slip and fall cases are often not very complicated, so they usually wrap up by the third day.
Collecting Judgment After a Successful Slip and Fall Lawsuit
If you prevail at trial, you do not take a check home from the courthouse. You will have to collect on your judgment. Typically, a losing defendant has 30 to 60 days to pay a judgment. If this does not happen, your lawyer may take additional measures to force collection.