What Is the Statute of Limitations In a Slip and Fall Case?

Every state puts a time limit on the right to file a lawsuit after a slip and fall accident. Learn about these laws here.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

If you were hurt in a slip and fall, you may be able to turn to your state's civil court system for a remedy for your injuries and related losses (called "damages"). But whenever you have a potential personal injury lawsuit on your hands, it's crucial to pay attention to a law called a statute of limitations. Read on for the details of how these laws work in the context of a slip and fall case.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline on the right to file a lawsuit. There are statutes of limitations for all types of legal claims, from assault and battery civil claims to zoning appeals. What's more, each state follows its own rules when it comes to statutes of limitations. Learn more about the statute of limitations in personal injury cases.

Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Insurance Claims?

No. The statute of limitations only applies to lawsuits filed in court, not to insurance claims over a slip and fall injury. But if insurance coverage does apply to your case, you'll want to get the insurance claim process started as soon as possible, and leave yourself plenty of time to go to court if you need to (or at least preserve the court option as leverage during settlement negotiations).

What If I Miss the Deadline for Filing My Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

A statute of limitations sets a very strict deadline, no matter what type of case you're filing. If the statutory deadline that applies to your slip and fall case has passed, chances are:

  • the property owner (or whoever you're suing) will ask the court to dismiss your slip and fall case, based on failure to comply with the statute of limitations deadline
  • the court will grant the request to dismiss the lawsuit, and may even make you pay for the defendant's costs for having to respond to your case
  • unless there's some valid reason to change or extend the filing deadline.

When Does the Statute of Limitations "Clock" Start Running for a Slip And Fall Lawsuit?

The statute of limitations in a slip and fall case usually begins running on the day you were injured. So, if you live in a state with a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases, you would have two years from the day of the accident to get your lawsuit filed against the property owner or any other defendant whose negligence played a part in causing your slip and fall.

Let's take a deeper dive into the statute of limitations as it applies to slip and fall cases, including situations when the lawsuit-filing deadline might be pushed out.

Can the Slip and Fall Statute of Limitations Be Extended?

Most states have carved out special rules for the statute of limitations in certain situations, effectively extending the lawsuit-filing deadline. Let's look at a few common examples (but remember, these exceptions vary depending on the specifics of the law in your state).

When the Defendant Leaves the State

If the person or business you're trying to sue for your slip and fall injuries (i.e. the property owner or some other negligent party) leaves the state before you can get your lawsuit filed, your state's laws might dictate that the running of the statute of limitations "clock" be paused during this time of absence. It can be pretty hard to establish the defendant's absence, so don't count on this rule applying in your case until you've spoken with a lawyer in your state about your particular situation.

When the Injured Person Was a Minor or Was Legally Incapacitated

In most states, if the person injured in the slip and fall was a minor, the statute of limitations "clock" won't start running until they turn 18. So, if your state has a three-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, a minor who had a slip and fall in that state would likely have until their twenty-first birthday to get a lawsuit filed.

The same often goes for someone who was legally incapacitated or incompetent (in the eyes of the state's law) at the the time of the slip and fall. In most states, this kind of incapacity will delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," until the injured person's capacity is restored, or until their legal interests can be adequately represented. Again, it's important to understand what your state's laws have to say here.

The "Discovery" Rule and the Statute of Limitations

The "discovery" rule can effectively extend the statute of limitations filing deadline in situations where the injured person didn't know right away about either:

  • their injury, or
  • the fact that the defendant's action (or inaction) may have caused the injury.

This would be a pretty rare situation in a slip and fall case, since the injury and its cause are typically pretty obvious. But some symptoms of injury can be late-appearing (which is why it's important to seek medical treatment right away after an injury). So it's possible that there might be a few weeks or even a few months between the fall and your discovery of your injuries. If the lapse between injury and treatment ends up being crucial to whether you've complied with the statute of limitations:

  • you (and your lawyer) would argue that the statute of limitations "clock" shouldn't have started running until the day you went to the doctor and learned you were injured, and
  • the defendant will likely argue that you should have received a full medical examination right away, so the statute of limitations clock started on the date of the accident.

At this point, exactly when the statute of limitations clock started running becomes an issue for the court to resolve, after hearing arguments from both sides.

What's Next After a Slip and Fall?

Understanding the statute of limitations for your potential slip and fall lawsuit is important, but it's only one piece of the puzzle. Most personal injury cases settle after all, and that includes slip and fall claims, especially when there's insurance coverage that applies to the accident. Learn more about:

If you're looking for more than just information after a slip and fall, it might make sense to reach out to a personal injury attorney, who can consider the specifics of your potential case and explain your options. Learn more about how an attorney can help after an accident or injury, and get tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.

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