Whenever you've suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall on someone else's property in Montana (whether it's residential or commercial property), it might make sense to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if it looks like the negligence of the property owner played a part in what happened.
A number of Montana laws will almost certainly affect any lawsuit you decide to file over your slip and fall. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall case in Montana's court system, and the state's "comparative negligence" rule, which can limit your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. Even if you're pretty sure your case will reach a personal injury settlement out of court, you still need to keep these state laws in mind, so read on for the details.
First, a little background: A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a strict time limit on the right to have a lawsuit heard in civil court. Specific time limits vary from state to state, and depending on the kind of case being filed.
Montana Code Annotated section 27-2-204 sets the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all injury lawsuits arising from a slip and fall accident in the state. This law gives you three years to turn to the state’s civil court system for a remedy after any kind of personal injury where someone else is at fault.
What if you only had your personal property damaged as a result of the slip and fall (maybe you broke an expensive watch or phone but were uninjured)? Any lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of damaged property must be filed within two years of the date of the underlying incident, and that time limit can be found at Montana Code Annotated section 27-2-207.
In either kind of case -- whether the lawsuit is for injury or property damage, or both -- the "clock" starts running on the date of the slip and fall, and the success or failure of your 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 premises liability and proving fault for a slip and fall.
The next logical question is, "What happens if I don’t get my lawsuit started before the deadline passes?" In that situation, you can count on the defendant (the property owner) asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court is almost sure to grant the dismissal. That's why it’s so crucial to understand the statute of limitations and abide by the time limit as it applies to your specific situation.
In some rare situations the clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to a personal injury attorney for the details on these exceptions in Montana.
If you're thinking about making a claim against a property owner for injuries suffered in a slip and fall accident, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. And be prepared to counter this argument, because if it is successful, you could see a significant chunk of your settlement or court award taken away.
Montana Code Annotated section 27-1-702 codifies the concept of shared fault in a personal injury case in the state. This statute says: “Contributory fault does not bar recovery in an action by a person or a person's legal representative to recover tort damages for death of a person or injury to a person or property if the contributory fault was not greater than the fault of the defendant or the combined fault of all defendants and nonparties, but damages allowed must be diminished in proportion to the percentage of fault attributable to the person recovering.”
That’s a lot of legalese. So let’s explain how this statute works in the context of a slip and fall case (and in plain English). Let’s say your slip and fall lawsuit goes to trial. The defendant raises the “contributory fault” defense, arguing that you were seen using your phone right before you fell. The jury agrees, and holds you partly to blame for causing or contributing to your accident. In that situation, you can still get compensation from the property owner, as long as your share of the fault was not larger than theirs. But any damages award you receive will be reduced by a percentage that is in line with the jury’s fault finding.
So, let’s assume the jury finds you 30 percent to blame for your slip and fall, and they set your damages at $20,000. That leaves the property owner on the hook for $14,000 (which is what’s left over of the original $20,000 after your 30 percent share of fault is factored in).
And remember, if you’re found to bear more fault than the property owner (or other defendant), in Montana you can’t recover any compensation at all.
So, what kind of arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Some common allegations include:
It's easy to see why it’s crucial to make a strong case against the property owner in your Montana slip and fall case. Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.