Whenever you've suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall on someone else's property in Delaware (whether it's residential or commercial property), it might make sense to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if it looks like the negligence of the property owner played a part in what happened.
A number of Delaware laws will almost certainly affect any lawsuit you decide to file over your slip and fall. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall case in Delaware's court system, and the state's "comparative negligence" rule, which can limit your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. Even if you're pretty sure your case will reach a personal injury settlement out of court, you still need to keep these state laws in mind, so read on for the details.
First, a little background: A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a strict time limit on the right to have a lawsuit heard in civil court. Specific time limits vary from state to state, and depending on the kind of case being filed.
In Delaware, the statute of limitations deadline that applies to almost all injury lawsuits stemming from a slip and fall is set by Delaware Code Title 10, Section 8119. This statute gives you two years to ask the state courts for a civil remedy for any kind of personal injury where someone else caused you harm.
So, in the context of a slip and fall accident, if you think the owner of the private or commercial property where the accident occurred is responsible for your injuries, you must get any lawsuit filed against that person (or business) within two years.
A two-year deadline also applies (set by Delaware Code Title 10, Section 8107) if you only want to file a lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of personal property that was damaged as a result of the slip and fall (maybe you broke an expensive watch or phone but were uninjured).
In either kind of case -- whether the lawsuit is for injury or property damage, or both -- the "clock" starts running on the date of the slip and fall, and the success or failure of your case will most likely turn on whether you can prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe and to prevent your accident. Learn more about premises liability and proving fault for a slip and fall.
The next logical question is, "What happens if I don’t get my lawsuit started before the deadline passes?” If you try to file the initial complaint more than two years after your slip and fall accident, you can count on the defendant (the property owner) asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court is almost sure to grant the dismissal. 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.
In some rare situations the clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to a personal injury attorney for the details on these exceptions in Delaware.
If you're thinking about making a claim against a property owner for injuries suffered in a slip and fall accident, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. And be prepared to counter this argument, because if it is successful, you could see a significant chunk of your settlement or court award taken away.
If your Delaware slip and fall case makes it to court, the state's "modified comparative negligence" rule will determine how much compensation (if any) you can still receive from the property owner if you were at all negligent in connection with the accident. You can find this rule codified at Delaware Code Title 10 section 8132, which says: "The fact that the plaintiff may have been contributorily negligent shall not bar a recovery by the plaintiff or the plaintiff's legal representative where such negligence was not greater than the negligence of the defendant or the combined negligence of all defendants against whom recovery is sought, but any damages awarded shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the plaintiff."
Let's translate that into plain English: In any Delaware personal injury case where the plaintiff is found to be at fault, that person can still get compensation for their injuries, as long as their share of liability does not exceed 50 percent. If it does exceed 50 percent, then the plaintiff can’t recover anything at all from the defendant or anyone else.
So, let’s say the jury finds that you are 30 percent responsible for your slip and fall. They also find that your damages (including your medical bills, lost income, and "pain and suffering") total $10,000. That will leave the property owner on the hook for $7,000 (that’s the original $10,000 minus the 30 percent that represents your share of fault).
Delaware’s comparative negligence rule is likely to be a factor even if your slip and fall case hasn't gone to court yet. 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 may have played in causing or contributing to the slip and fall. That’s why it’s so important to build a strong case against the property owner.