Whenever you're injured in a slip and fall on someone else's property (whether residential or commercial) in Utah, it's usually a good idea to explore your options for getting compensation for your losses -- and that's especially true when the property owner's negligence may have played a part in what happened.
A number of Utah laws and legal rules 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 lawsuit in the Utah 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.
A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in a state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.
Utah Code section 78B-2-307 sets something of a catch-all statute of limitations that will apply to almost all injury lawsuits stemming from a slip and fall incident (or any kind of personal injury). This law gives you four years to ask Utah's civil court system for a remedy for any kind of physical injury caused by someone else. So, that means any lawsuit over injuries caused by unreasonably dangerous property conditions will be subject to this deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the slip and fall.
If you were uninjured, but had your personal property damaged as a result of the slip and fall -- maybe an expensive watch you were wearing was broken in the fall, for example -- Utah Code section 78B-2-305 says that any lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of that property must be filed within three years.
Whether your slip and fall lawsuit is for injury or property damage, the success or failure of the 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.
What if you don't get your slip and fall lawsuit filed before the statutory deadline passes? The property owner will ask the court to dismiss the case once you do try to file it, and the court will almost certainly grant the dismissal. In some rare instances, the statute of limitations clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your lawsuit started. Talk to a personal injury attorney for the details on these exceptions in Utah, and whether they might apply to your situation.
Even when you're pretty sure the property owner is to blame for your slip and fall injuries, you need to be ready for the other side to argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the underlying incident. That's a common defense tactic in any state, and Utah is no exception. This is an important argument to anticipate because if the property owner successfully pins some of the blame on you, any court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been. In some situations your court award could even be eliminated altogether if you're found to share enough of the liability.
Utah Code section 78B-5-818 provides the basis for this "shared fault" argument when the plaintiff in a personal injury case is found to share some amount of blame for the underlying accident. This law starts out by declaring: "The fault of a person seeking recovery may not alone bar recovery by that person." Instead, the law goes on, "a person seeking recovery may recover from any defendant or group of defendants whose fault, combined with the fault of [all others] exceeds the fault of the person seeking recovery."
In other words, even if a Utah jury determines that you were partly to blame for your slip and fall, you can still get compensation as long as your share of fault for the incident was less than the combined share of everyone else's fault. But 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. If your share of liability is deemed to be equal to or greater than that of the property owner, under Utah law, you can't recover any compensation at all at trial.
So, for example, if you are found to be 25 percent at fault for causing your slip and fall, and your damages (medical bills and other losses) total $10,000, the court will order that you receive only $7,500 from the property owner (that's $10,000 minus 25 percent).
Keep in mind that even if your slip and fall case doesn't go to trial -- even if a lawsuit is never filed for that matter -- Utah's shared fault rules will likely still play a part. During settlement negotiations, the other side (that means the property owner, their insurance, or their lawyer) is concerned with what might happen if your claim does end up at trial. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect their view of the part you played in causing or contributing to your own injuries. That's why it's so important to establish that the property owner is solely to blame for your injuries. Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.