After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Washington, 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 Washington 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, and the statute of limitations for most Washington slip and fall lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to the majority of standard personal injury lawsuits filed in the state. Specifically, Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.080 says that an action for “injury to the person or rights of another… shall be commenced within three years.”
So, if you’re filing a lawsuit against a property owner or any other defendant who 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.
Section 4.16.080 also sets a three-year deadline for the filing of "an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property," 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.
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 fault for a slip and fall accident.
If you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline set by Washington’s statute of limitations has already passed, the property owner will almost surely ask the court to dismiss the case. And if the court grants the dismissal, your case is over before it can even get started. (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 Washington.)
If you're making an injury claim against the property owner responsible for your slip and fall in Washington, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. And if the argument is successful, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been.
What arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Here are a few examples:
Now for the legalese: Revised Code of Washington section 4.22.005 says: "In an action based on fault seeking to recover damages for injury or death to person or harm to property, any contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as compensatory damages for an injury attributable to the claimant's contributory fault, but does not bar recovery."
In plain English, that means even if you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case and you are found partly at fault for what happened, you can still get compensation from the property owner and/or any other party who is also at fault. The practical effect of Washington's "comparative negligence" rule is that any damages award you receive from the court will be reduced by an amount equal to your share of negligence in connection with the accident.
So, let’s say the jury finds that you are 25 percent responsible for your slip and fall, and your damages (including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses) total $20,000. That will leave the property owner or other defendant(s) on the hook for $15,000 (your $20,000 total damages minus your 25 percent share of fault for the accident, or $5,000).
Even if your case doesn’t make it to trial, Washington’s comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. During settlement negotiations, the property owner’s insurance company (and/or their attorney) are concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect the other side’s view of the part you played in causing or contributing to the slip and fall.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.