If you're hurt in any kind of slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Michigan, it's usually a good idea to explore your options for getting compensation for your losses, especially if it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter directly to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Michigan laws 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. Try to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline has passed, and 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 Michigan.)
As is true in most states, the statute of limitations that affects slip and fall cases in Michigan is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury lawsuits filed in the state’s civil courts. Specifically, Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805 says that "the period of limitations is 3 years after the time of the death or injury for all actions to recover damages for the death of a person, or for injury to a person or property."
That three-year deadline covers a broad range of potential lawsuits, including a claim for injury after a slip and fall on someone else’s property, as well as a property damage lawsuit stemming from a slip and fall (maybe you were uninjured when you fell, but you broke an expensive watch and you want the property owner to replace it). Keep in mind that the three-year “clock" starts running on the date of the slip and fall accident, and there’s no pause button for weekends or holidays.
Whether it’s an injury lawsuit or one based on property damage, a slip and 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.
Even if you're confident that your injury claim will settle, you want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a slip and fall lawsuit. Having the option of going to court will give you more leverage during settlement talks.
If you’re making an injury claim against the property owner who may be responsible for your slip and fall, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. If this 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? Some examples:
If your Michigan 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. Any damages award you receive from the court will be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault that’s determined to be yours.
So, let’s say the jury finds that you are 10 percent responsible for your slip and fall, and your damages total $30,000. That will leave the defendant on the hook for $27,000 (your $30,000 total damages minus your 10 percent share of fault for the accident, or $3,000).
One important wrinkle in Michigan’s comparative fault statute (which you can find at Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.2959) says that if you're found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, when compared with the liability of all other parties, not only is your share of economic damages (medical bills, lost income, etc.) reduced accordingly, you’re also barred from recovering non-economic damages. That includes compensation for pain and suffering and other subjective losses, which can really add up in a personal injury case.
Even if your case doesn’t make it to trial -- even if a lawsuit isn’t actually filed -- Michigan’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 slip and fall settlement offer to reflect the other side’s view of the part you played in causing or contributing to your injuries. That’s why it’s so important to make a strong case against the property owner.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.