After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Arizona, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses. That's especially true when it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in the accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Arizona laws and legal rules will almost certainly affect your case. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall lawsuit, and "shared fault" rules that can affect your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. Read on for the details.
A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in the state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.
In Arizona, the statute of limitations that affects slip and fall lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases. Specifically, Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-542 sets a two-year deadline for the filing of any civil case seeking a remedy "for injuries done to the person of another," and "for injuries done to the person of another when death ensues from such injuries."
As for when the "clock" starts running for purposes of the statute of limitations, it depends on whether the slip and accident resulted in injury or in death. If anyone was injured, they must get their lawsuit filed within two years of the date on which the slip and fall occurred. But if someone dies as a result of a slip and fall accident and their family brings a wrongful death lawsuit, the "clock" starts on the date of the person's death (that date could be different from the date of the slip and fall itself).
In some rare situations the clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to an attorney for the details on these exceptions in Arizona.
You're probably wondering what happens if you don't get your slip and fall lawsuit started before the deadline passes. In that situation, you can count on the property owner (or whoever you're trying to sue) asking the court to dismiss the case. The court is almost sure to grant the dismissal, unless some rare exception applies. That's why it's so crucial to understand the statute of limitations and abide by the time limit as it applies to your specific situation.
Remember that your slip and fall case will hinge on whether or not the property owner took reasonable steps to keep the property safe and/or to prevent your accident from occurring. In other words, the key questions are: Was the property owner negligent? And, did that negligence cause your slip and fall accident? Learn more about fault for a slip and fall accident.
If you're making an injury claim against the property owner responsible for your slip and fall in Arizona, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. And if the argument is successful, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been.
What arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Here are a few examples:
Now for the legalese: Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-2505 says that when the plaintiff in a personal injury case (like one filed after a slip and fall injury) is found to share some amount of blame for the underlying accident, "the claimant's action is not barred, but the full damages shall be reduced in proportion to the relative degree of the claimant's fault which is a proximate cause of the injury or death, if any."
In plain English, that means even if you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case and you are found partly at fault for what happened, you can still get compensation from the property owner and/or any other party who is also at fault. The practical effect of Arizona's "comparative negligence" rule is that any damages award you receive from the court will be reduced by an amount equal to your share of negligence in connection with the accident.
So, let's say the jury finds that you are 25 percent responsible for your slip and fall, and your damages (including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses) total $20,000. That will leave the property owner or other defendant(s) on the hook for $15,000 (your $20,000 total damages minus your 25 percent share of fault for the accident, or $5,000).
Even if your case doesn't make it to trial, Arizona's comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. During settlement negotiations, the property owner's insurance company (and/or their attorney) are concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect the other side's view of the part you played in causing or contributing to the slip and fall.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.