After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in New Jersey, 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, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of New Jersey 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. If you attempt to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline has passed, 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 New Jersey.)
As in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a slip and fall injury claim in New Jersey is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury cases brought in the state's courts. Specifically, New Jersey Statutes section 2A:14-2 says: "Every action at law for an injury to the person caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of any person within this State shall be commenced within two years next after the cause of any such action shall have accrued."
In plain English, that means you must get your slip and fall lawsuit filed in court against the property owner within two years of the incident’s occurrence. (Note: The success or failure of the case will most likely turn on whether you can prove that the property owner’s negligence caused your accident. Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall accident.)
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 -- the statute of limitations for "for any tortious injury to real or personal property" (that's from New Jersey Statutes section 2A:14-1) gives you six years to get the case started.
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 responsible for your slip and fall in New Jersey, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. And if the 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? Here are a few examples:
New Jersey Statutes section 2A:15-5.1 says that an injured person’s own negligence will not act as a bar to recovery against other parties as long as the injured person's share of the blame is no higher than 50 percent. The practical effect of all of this if that 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. (New Jersey juries must typically assign a percentage 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 property owner or other defendant(s) on the hook for $15,000 (your $20,000 total damages minus your 25 percent share of fault for the accident, or $5,000).
Even if your case doesn’t make it to trial, New Jersey’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’s so important to make a strong case against the property owner.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.