In Minnesota, as in every state, after a slip and fall accident on someone else's property, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in your accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Minnesota 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 in court, and the "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 a state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.
The statute of limitations that affects your Minnesota slip and fall case is most likely Minnesota Statutes section 541.07, which applies to almost all personal injury cases filed in the state’s civil court system, and requires that these kinds of lawsuits be filed within two years of the date of the underlying incident. That would obviously include an injury claim arising out of a slip and fall or some similar incident that occurs on someone else’s property.
In rare cases where the slip and fall only resulted in property damage -- maybe you were uninjured in the accident but you broke a very expensive watch, for example -- any lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of the damaged property must be filed within six years. That deadline is set by Minnesota Statutes section 541.05.
A few things to keep in mind: First, whether your slip and fall lawsuit is for injury or property damage, the success or failure of the 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 negligence and proving fault for a slip and fall accident.
Second, if you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline set by Minnesota's statute of limitations has already passed, the property owner (or any other defendant) will almost surely ask the court to dismiss the case. If the court grants the dismissal, your case is over before it can even get started. (Note that in certain 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 Minnesota).
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 Minnesota 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 common examples:
If your Minnesota slip and fall case makes it to court, and the jury decides that you bear some amount of legal blame for the accident, 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 or other potentially liable parties. Any compensation you receive from the court will be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault that’s determined to be yours. (Juries must often assign percentages to each party’s liability in a personal injury case.)
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 defendant on the hook for $15,000 (your $20,000 total damages minus your 25 percent share of fault for the accident, or $5,000).
You can find the full text of Minnesota's "comparative negligence" rule at Minnesota Statutes section 604.01. This law makes clear that the plaintiff can only recover damages from other at-fault parties "if the contributory fault was not greater than the fault of the person against whom recovery is sought." In other words, if your fault is greater than that of the person you're trying to sue, under Minnesota law you're barred from recovering any compensation at all.
(Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.)