Whenever you've suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall on someone else's property in South Dakota (whether it's residential or commercial property), it usually makes sense to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if you think the negligence of the property owner played a part in your accident.
Several South Dakota laws will affect any lawsuit you decide to bring over your slip and fall, including the statute of limitations deadline for starting a lawsuit in South Dakota'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.
By way of 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.
In South Dakota, injury lawsuits arising from a slip and fall accident are governed by the statute of limitations found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-14. This law gives you three years to ask South Dakota’s civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else.
So, if you’re filing a lawsuit against a property owner or other defendant who you think is responsible for the unsafe condition of property where you were injured, you need to get the initial complaint filed in court within three years of the date of the incident. In certain rare circumstances, the clock may pause or "toll," giving you even more leeway to get your case started. Talk to a personal injury attorney for the details on these exceptions in South Dakota.
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 -- the catch-all statute of limitations found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-13 gives you six years to get your case filed against the property owner or other defendant, asking for repair or replacement of your damaged item(s).
The success or failure of either kind of case -- whether the lawsuit is for injury or property damage, or both -- will most likely hinge on your ability to 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 filing deadline passes?" In that situation, you can count on the defendant 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.
If you're thinking about making a claim for injuries suffered in a slip and fall, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of blame for what happened. The legal concept behind this argument is known as "comparative negligence," and South Dakota's version of it is unique (not to mention potentially unfriendly to plaintiffs).
In South Dakota, if your personal injury case goes to trial, and you are found more than "slightly" at fault for your slip and fall, you could receive no compensation at all. You can find this law at South Dakota Codified Laws section 20-9-2, which says that in any kind of personal injury case, "the fact that the plaintiff may have been guilty of contributory negligence does not bar a recovery when the contributory negligence of the plaintiff was slight in comparison with the negligence of the defendant, but in such case, the damages shall be reduced in proportion to the amount of plaintiff's contributory negligence.”"
So, in plain English, and in the context of a slip and fall case, let’s say your lawsuit goes to trial, the other side makes a "comparative negligence" argument, and the jury finds you "slightly" at fault for your injuries. Under section 20-9-2, you can still get compensation from the other responsible parties (meaning the property owner), but any damages (monetary compensation) you receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to the percentage of your fault.
To illustrate how this works, let’s say the jury finds that you were "slightly" to blame for the slip and fall accident, and they set your share of fault at five percent. They also set your total damages (including medical bills and other losses) at $10,000. In that case, you’ll receive $9,500 from the defendant (that’s the original $10,000 minus 5 percent).
South Dakota is the only state that follows this version of "comparative negligence," where the plaintiff's share of fault must be "slight" in order for him or her to still recover compensation from the defendant. There's no set definition of "slight" under section 20-9-2, so it's a bit of a gray area. The jury will make its own determination based on the specific circumstances of the case.
Even if your case doesn’t make it to trial (even if a lawsuit isn’t actually filed), South Dakota's shared fault rules will still be a factor. After all, during settlement negotiations, the other side is concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect their view of the part you played in causing the slip and fall.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.