Whenever you've suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall on someone else's property in Vermont (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 Vermont 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 Vermont'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 according to jurisdiction, and depending on the kind of case being filed.
In Vermont, if you were involved in a slip and fall accident that resulted in bodily injury and/or damage to your personal property (maybe you broke an expensive watch when you fell, for example) you must get any lawsuit filed against the at-fault property owner (or other potential defendant) within three years. That deadline is set by Vermont Statutes Title 12, Section 512. For these cases, the three-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident. 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 Vermont.
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 (the property owner) 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 against a property owner 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.
Attempting to pin part of the blame on the injured person is a common tactic in any kind of personal injury claim in every state, not just Vermont. But if any measure of fault is assigned to you, any court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.
And even if your slip and fall case doesn’t make it to trial, Vermont’s comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. The other side is always 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 role you might have played in causing or contributing to your accident.
The concept of shared fault in a personal injury case is set out in Vermont Statutes Title 12, Section 1036. This law says that in a civil case for injury, death, or property damage, the claimant’s own “contributory negligence” (shared fault) will not act as a bar to recovery -- the injured person can still get compensation from other at-fault parties, in other words -- "if the negligence was not greater than the causal total negligence of the defendant or defendants, but the damage shall be diminished by general verdict in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the plaintiff."
So, in the context of a slip and fall case, let's say your lawsuit goes to trial and the jury, after considering the evidence, finds that you were partly to blame for causing or contributing to your accident. You can still get compensation from the property owner, as long as your share of the fault was not larger than theirs. But any damages award you receive will be reduced by a percentage that is in line with the jury’s fault finding. And remember, if you're found to bear more fault than the property owner, in Vermont you can’t recover any compensation at all.
So, let's assume the jury decides that you were 10 percent to blame for your slip and fall, and that your total damages were $10,000. That leaves the property owner on the hook for $9,000 (the original $10,000 minus your 10 percent share of fault).
Now that you understand the law, what kind of "shared fault" arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Here are a few:
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.