After any kind of slip and fall on someone else's property in North Carolina, 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 led to the accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of North Carolina 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. 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 North Carolina.)
The statute of limitations that applies to the vast majority of slip and fall lawsuits in North Carolina is the same one that applies to most personal injury cases. Specifically, North Carolina General Statutes section 1-52 says that a civil lawsuit for "any injury to the person or rights of another" must be filed within three years.
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, but you broke an expensive watch when you fell, 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. (A few rare scenarios might give you extra time to get your lawsuit started. Talk to an attorney for the details on these exceptions in North Carolina).
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've been injured after a slip and fall accident and you're thinking about making a claim, get ready to hear the property owner argue that you share some amount of blame for the accident. This is good advice no matter where you live. But in North Carolina, it's particularly critical that you (and your attorney) shoot down any such argument with strong evidence. That's because if your case goes to trial and the property owner (or some other defendant) is able to pin any amount of the legal blame for the slip and fall on you, you could end up without any compensation at all.
Most states follow some variation of a rule known as "comparative negligence" in personal injury cases where the person who is bringing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) also bears some amount of responsibility for causing the underlying accident. Under this rule, any damages award the plaintiff receives will be reduced according to the percentage of their fault. But North Carolina is one of a handful of states that doesn't follow "comparative negligence." Instead, the much less plaintiff-friendly "contributory negligence" rule is still employed in North Carolina personal injury cases.
Under "contributory negligence," if the injured person is found to bear any amount of blame for the underlying accident -- even a small fraction -- then he or she can't recover any compensation at all from any other at-fault party in a personal injury trial. Not surprisingly, that can lead to some pretty harsh results for personal injury plaintiffs.
In attempting to pin some amount of legal liability on you, the property owner (or whoever you're trying to hold liable for your slip and fall) could claim that:
If your case doesn't make it to trial -- even if a slip and fall lawsuit isn't actually filed, for that matter -- North Carolina's contributory negligence rule will still be a factor. During settlement negotiations, the property owner's insurance company (and/or their attorney) knows that if your case winds up in court, you stand a significant chance of walking away with nothing if they can saddle you with even a little bit of blame. So it becomes that much more important to make a strong case showing that the property owner's negligence was the sole cause of your slip and fall.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.