Slip and Fall Lawsuit Timeline

What to expect at each critical stage of your slip and fall lawsuit.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you're considering a slip and fall lawsuit, you may wonder how long the process will take. Depending on a variety of factors, once a slip and fall case goes to court, it can take months or even years to resolve. But like other civil lawsuits involving personal injuries, slip and fall cases go through a number of distinct stages.

Let's look at the timeline of what to expect if you're filing a lawsuit against a property owner for an injury caused by an unsafe property condition. (The legal term for these kinds of cases is "premises liability.")

Most Slip and Fall Lawsuits Start Out as Insurance Claims

It's possible for a slip and fall injury matter to begin as a lawsuit filed in court (by the injured person against the property owner, for example). But in most situations where an insurance policy covers the underlying accident, a claim is first filed by the injured person, under the property owner's policy. And if a fair injury settlement can be reached, that will be the end of the matter. Learn more about insurance coverage for slip and fall accidents and how to make a claim.

But if the property owner's insurance company and the injured person are too far apart on key issues like fault for the slip and fall and how much the claim might be worth, the injured person might file a lawsuit (becoming the plaintiff in court) against the property owner. (Keep in mind that settlement can still be reached at any time.)

The Complaint/Summons in a Slip and Fall Case

The first step in starting a slip and fall lawsuit is filing the "complaint", the document that explains the nature of your claim.

Each state is different when it comes to how much detail needs to be included in the complaint. Some states require a detailed factual summary; while others merely require that the complaint contain enough information to put the defendant on notice of the plaintiff's claim.

In any state, you must file your complaint in the court where you will bring your lawsuit, and you must serve it—along with a summons—on the party you will be suing. The summons will order the defendant to file a response to the complaint within a set amount of time (typically 20 days).

Learn more about filing a personal injury lawsuit.

The Defendant's Answer in a Slip and Fall Case

The "answer" is the document the defendant files in response to the complaint. In an answer, the defendant is typically only required to admit or deny each allegation in the complaint (or state that the defendant does not have enough information to admit or deny a particular allegation).

In addition, an answer typically includes any "affirmative defenses" the defendant intends to raise in response to the plaintiff's allegations. If the defendant can eventually prove that one or more of these defenses applies, that can reduce their liability or eliminate it altogether. Learn more about Defenses to a Personal Injury Lawsuit.

As mentioned above, a defendant's answer is typically due within 20 days of being served with a complaint. However, a defendant may usually secure an additional 20 days by agreeing to waive certain legal defenses.

The Discovery Phase of a Slip and Fall Lawsuit

This is the phase of the case where the parties involved learn as much as they can about the case. The initial discovery phase involves:

  • interrogatories, which are questions that must be answered in writing and under oath, and
  • requests for production, which are requests to produce things or documents related to the claim.

Next, the injured person and others (like the property owner) will almost certainly need to attend a deposition. Learn more about depositions in slip and fall cases.

The discovery phase may take anywhere from three months to a year or more, depending on the complexity of the case, the duration of your medical treatment, and the court's schedule.

Pre-Trial Motions

Before trial, the parties may file certain motions with the court in an attempt to resolve specific issues. The most common pre-trial motions include:

  • Motion to Dismiss: A defendant will typically file this motion early on in the lawsuit, arguing that the lawsuit fails for some legal technicality.
  • Motion to Compel: Either party may file this motion to request the court to order another party to do something, like produce documents or show up for a deposition.
  • Motion for Summary Judgment: This is a powerful motion—if granted. Either party may file this motion if it believes there is no set of facts to support the other party's claims or defenses. It's a powerful motion because, if granted, it's a final judgment as to certain issues, or as to the whole case.
  • Motion in Limine: A motion in limine is a request to keep certain evidence out of the trial because—for one reason or another—it is too prejudicial. For example, the defendant in a slip and fall lawsuit usually files a motion in limine to keep the jury from hearing that it has liability insurance that will cover all, or part, of any judgment rendered against it. This information may prove to be overly prejudicial because a jury may be inclined to award a judgment (regardless of the facts) simply because insurance will cover it.

Mediation/Mandatory Settlement Conference

Parties will often attempt to resolve a lawsuit without a trial. Two common methods for doing this are mediation and settlement conferences. These two alternative dispute resolution methods are similar in their style. One key difference is that the parties typically arrange mediation on their own with a private mediator, while the court may order a settlement conference. Your judge (or an assigned magistrate) will conduct the settlement conference.

Learn more about mediation of personal injury claims.

Usually, mediations and settlement conferences take place near the end of the discovery phase. They may occur early on in a lawsuit if there is little dispute over liability, and the parties simply need assistance reaching middle ground as to how much a claim is worth.

If a Slip and Fall Lawsuit Goes to Trial

Trial occurs after discovery is closed. Your case will be set on a "trial docket" with the court. The court will hear the cases in the order set on its docket.

Depending on the complexity of your case, and the judge you draw, your trial will likely take two to five days. Slip and fall cases are often not very complicated, so they usually wrap up by the third day.

Collecting Judgment After a Successful Slip and Fall Lawsuit

If you prevail at trial, you don't take a check home from the courthouse. You'll have to collect on your judgment. Typically, a losing defendant has 30 to 60 days to pay a judgment. If payment isn't made in line with the deadline, your lawyer may take additional measures to force collection. Learn more about the challenges of collecting a court judgment.

What's Your Next After a Slip and Fall?

Now that you understand what a court-based slip and fall case might look like, you might want to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of your potential claim. If so, discussing your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney might be a good next step. Learn more about finding and working with a personal injury lawyer.

Make the Most of Your Claim
Get the compensation you deserve.
We've helped 285 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you