After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Virginia, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses. That's especially true when it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in the accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Virginia 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. If you attempt to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline has passed, 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 Virginia.)
In Virginia, there are at least three different statutes of limitations that could come into play after a slip and fall accident on dangerous or defective property.
First, under Code of Virginia section 8.01-243, anyone injured in a slip and fall must get their lawsuit filed in Virginia’s civil court system within two years of the date of the incident.
Second, anyone wishing to file a lawsuit over property damage stemming from the slip and fall -- maybe they were wearing an expensive watch that was broken, for example -- must get their lawsuit filed against any potential defendant within five years, according to Code of Virginia section 8.01-243.
And finally, in rare cases where a slip and fall causes someone’s death, and their family or a representative of their estate wants to bring a Virginia wrongful death lawsuit, the filing deadline is two years, according to Code of Virginia section 8.01-244.
No matter the specific facts of your slip and fall accident, the success or failure of your case will most likely depend 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 Proving Fault for a Slip and Fall Accident.
If you're making an injury claim against the property owner responsible for your slip and fall, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. This is true no matter where you live. But in Virginia, it’s particularly critical that you (and your attorney) shoot down any such argument with strong evidence of your own. That’s because if your Virginia slip and fall case goes to trial and the property owner 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 legal fault for what happened. Under this rule, any damages award the plaintiff receives will be reduced according to the percentage of their fault. But Virginia 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 Virginia personal injury cases.
Under "contributory negligence," if the plaintiff is found to bear any amount of blame for the underlying accident, then the plaintiff can’t recover any compensation from any other at-fault party. 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 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 -- Virginia’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.