After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Missouri, 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 your accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Missouri 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 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.
As in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a slip and fall injury claim in Missouri is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury cases brought in the state's courts. Specifically, Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.0120 says that any lawsuit for "injury to the person or rights of another" must be filed within five years of the date of the underlying incident. That means you must get your slip and fall lawsuit filed against the property owner within five years of the incident's occurrence.
The five-year deadline set by section 516.0120 also applies If you want to file a lawsuit over any property damage that resulted from the slip and fall accident -- maybe you broke an expensive watch when you fell, for example.
Whatever the factual basis for the claim, the success of your 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.
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 critical 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 Missouri).
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 Missouri 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.
There are a number of arguments that the property owner can make in attempting to pin some or all of the blame on you, including:
Regardless of the specific argument the property owner makes, if your Missouri slip and fall case makes it to court, the state's "pure comparative negligence rule" will be employed to determine how much compensation you can still receive from the property owner.
Under this rule, any damages award you receive will be reduced according to the percentage of your fault. So, let's say the jury finds that you are 30 percent to blame for your slip and fall accident. They also find that your damages total $10,000 (your damages include your medical bills, your lost income, your "pain and suffering" in connection with your injuries, and other losses). In that situation the property owner will only be on the hook for $7,000 (that's the original $10,000 minus the 30 percent that equates with your share of fault).
That's how shared fault works in Missouri personal injury cases. If your slip and fall case makes it all the way to trial, the jury will be asked to make a finding as to fault, that fault finding will be applied to the total amount of your damages, and the amount that the property owner is ordered to pay will be reduced accordingly.
And even if your case doesn't make it to trial -- even if a lawsuit isn't actually filed, for that matter -- Missouri's comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. During personal injury settlement negotiations, the property owner's insurance company (and/or their attorney) will have these shared fault rules in mind. They're concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court, after all. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect the other side's view of the role you may have played in causing or contributing to your own 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.)