Whenever you've suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall on someone else's property in West Virginia (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 West Virginia 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 West Virginia'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.
West Virginia Code section 55-2-12 sets a two-year statute of limitations that will apply to almost all lawsuits arising from an injury caused by someone else. So, that means anyone who was injured in a slip and fall on someone else's property must get their lawsuit filed against any potential defendant within two years.
The two-year deadline set by section 55-2-12 also applies if you only incurred property damage as a result of your slip and fall in West Virginia -- maybe you were uninjured but you broke an expensive watch when you fell -- and you want to ask a court to order the property owner to pay for the repair or replacement of the item.
For these injury and property damage claims, the two-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 West Virginia.
The success or failure of any slip and fall case 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 two-year deadline passes?" In that situation, you can count on the defendant 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.
If your West Virginia slip and fall case makes it to court, and the jury finds that you bear some amount of legal blame for what happened, the state's "comparative negligence" rule will determine how much compensation (if any) you can still receive from the property owner.
Under this rule, any damages award a personal injury plaintiff receives will be reduced according to the percentage of their fault. So, let's say the jury finds that you are 25 percent responsible for your slip and fall. They also find that your damages (including your medical bills, lost income, and "pain and suffering") total $10,000. That will leave the property owner on the hook for $7,500 (that's the original $10,000 minus the 25 percent that represents your share of fault).
It's important to note that if you're deemed more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, under West Virginia law you can't recover anything at all from the property owner or anyone else.
So, what kind of arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Some common allegations include:
That's how shared fault works in a West Virginia personal injury case. And even if your slip and fall claim doesn't make it to trial -- even if a lawsuit isn't actually filed, for that matter -- the comparative negligence rule is likely to 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 end 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. That's why it becomes so important to make a strong case against the property owner.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.