After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Massachusetts, 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 with the property owner's carrier, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Massachusetts 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.
The key thing to know here is that if you try to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline set by the statute of limitations has passed, the person you’re trying to sue will bring that fact to the court’s attention, and the court will almost certainly grant a motion to dismiss your case. That’s why it’s so crucial to understand how this law applies to your situation. (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 Massachusetts).
Now, onto the specifics of the law in Massachusetts, where, as in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a slip and fall lawsuit is the same as the larger one that applies to personal injury cases in general. Specifically, anyone who has been injured in a slip and fall accident -- or suffered damage to their personal property as a result of the fall -- must get their lawsuit filed within three years of the date of the incident, according to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260 section 2A.
Note: In rare cases where someone dies as a result of a slip and fall, any wrongful death lawsuit must also be filed within three years (so says Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 229 section 2), but the "clock" starts running on the date of the deceased person’s death (which might be different from the date of the slip and fall itself).
A slip and fall case will almost certainly hinge on whether the property owner’s negligence was the cause of your accident. A number of considerations come into play in making this kind of determination. Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall.
You’re making a slip and fall claim, only to hear the property owner argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. It’s a common tactic in every slip and fall case in every state, and Massachusetts is no exception. And if the property owner is successful in pinning some of the legal blame on you, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.
What arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Here are a few examples:
If your Massachusetts slip and fall case makes it to court, the state’s “modified comparative negligence rule” will be used to 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.
Under "modified comparative negligence," any damages award a personal injury plaintiff receives will be reduced according to the percentage of their fault. So, let’s say the jury finds that you are 25 percent responsible for your slip and fall, since you disregarded warning signs. 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 $7,500 (your $10,000 total damages minus your 25 percent share of fault for the accident).
It’s important to note that, under Massachusetts law, you can’t recover anything at all from the property owner (or anyone else) if you’re deemed more than 50 percent at fault for the accident.
Even if your case doesn’t make it to trial -- even if a lawsuit isn’t actually filed, for that matter -- Massachusetts’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. That’s why it becomes so important to make a strong case against the property owner.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.