After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Maryland, 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 Maryland 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 harsh "shared fault" rules that can effectively wipe out 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. If you attempt to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline has passed, the property owner will surely bring that fact to the court’s attention, and the court will almost certainly dismiss your case. (Note: In some rare situations the statute of limitations 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 Maryland.)
As in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a slip and fall lawsuit in Maryland is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury claims. Specifically, Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-101 says that a civil lawsuit for personal injury "shall be filed within three years from the date it accrues."
That’s just another way of saying that a plaintiff has three years to get the initial complaint filed in court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the injury. (Note: In rare situations where someone dies as a result of a slip and fall, and their family or a representative of the estate wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the deadline is still three years in Maryland, but the "clock" starts on the date of the person’s death, which can be different from the date of the slip and fall accident itself.)
The same three-year deadline applies if you only incurred property damage as a result of your slip and fall in Maryland -- maybe you were uninjured but you broke an expensive watch when you fell -- and you want to ask a court to order the defendant to pay for the repair or replacement of the property.
No matter the specific facts of your slip and fall accident, the success or failure of your case will most likely depend on your ability to prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe, and to prevent your accident. Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall accident.
If you're making an injury claim against the property owner responsible for your slip and fall, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. This is true no matter where you live. But in Maryland, it’s particularly critical that you (and your attorney) shoot down any such argument with strong evidence of your own. That’s because if your Maryland slip and fall case goes to trial and the property owner is able to pin any amount of the legal blame for the slip and fall on you, you'll likely end up without any compensation at all.
Most states follow some variation of a rule known as “comparative negligence” in personal injury cases where the person who is bringing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) also bears some amount of legal fault for what happened. Under this rule, any damages award the plaintiff receives will be reduced according to the percentage of their fault. But Maryland is one of a handful of states that doesn’t follow "comparative negligence." Instead, the much less plaintiff-friendly "contributory negligence" rule is still employed in Maryland personal injury cases.
Under "contributory negligence," if the plaintiff is found to bear any amount of blame for the underlying accident, then the plaintiff can’t recover any damages (compensation) from any other at-fault party. Not surprisingly, that can lead to some pretty harsh results for personal injury plaintiffs.
In attempting to pin some amount of legal liability on you, the property owner could claim that:
If your case doesn’t make it to trial -- even if a slip and fall lawsuit isn’t actually filed, for that matter -- Maryland’s contributory negligence rule will still be a factor. During settlement negotiations, the property owner’s insurance company (and/or their attorney) knows that if your case winds up in court, you stand a significant chance of walking away with nothing if they can saddle you with any share of the blame. So it becomes that much more important to make a strong case showing that the property owner’s negligence was the sole cause of your slip and fall. Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.