Wisconsin Slip and Fall Laws

Understand Wisconsin's statute of limitations lawsuit filing deadline and the "comparative negligence" rules that could affect your slip and fall case.

In Wisconsin, as in every state, after a slip and fall accident on someone else's property, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in your accident.

Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Wisconsin 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 in court, and the "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.

The Slip and Fall Statute of Limitations in Wisconsin

A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in a state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.

The statute of limitations for most Wisconsin slip and fall lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to the majority of personal injury lawsuits filed in the state: Wisconsin Statutes section 893.54 dictates that any injury lawsuit be filed against any potential defendant within three years of the underlying accident or incident that led to the injury.

So, if you’re filing a lawsuit against a property owner or other defendant who you think 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.

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 -- Wisconsin Statutes section 893.52 gives you six years to file a lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of the damaged property.

A few notes: First, 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 proving fault for a slip and fall accident.

Second, if you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline set by Wisconsin’s statute of limitations has already passed, the property owner (or other defendant) will almost surely ask the court to dismiss the case. If the court grants the dismissal, your case is over before it can even get started. (Note that in certain 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 Wisconsin).

Comparative Negligence in Wisconsin Slip and Fall Cases

You’re making a slip and fall claim, only to hear the property owner argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. It’s a common tactic in every slip and fall case in every state, and Wisconsin is no exception. And if the property owner is successful in pinning some of the legal blame on you, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.

In Wisconsin, the concept of shared fault in a personal injury case is governed by Wisconsin Statutes section 895.045, which says: "Contributory negligence does not bar recovery in an action by any person or the person's legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or in injury to person or property, if that negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in the proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the person recovering…"

In the context of a slip and fall case (and in plain English), let’s say your lawsuit goes to trial, the property owner raises the "contributory negligence" defense, and the jury agrees that you were partly to blame for causing or contributing to your slip and fall accident. In that situation, 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 an amount that is equal to the percentage of your negligence.

So, let’s say the jury finds that you are 25 percent to blame for your slip and fall. They also find that your losses total $8,000. That will leave the property owner on the hook for $6,000 (that’s the original $8,000 minus the 25 percent that represents your share of fault).

Remember, if you’re found to bear more fault than the property owner, in Wisconsin you can’t recover any compensation at all.

So, what kind of arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Some common allegations include:

  • The dangerous property condition should have been obvious to you, or was cordoned off by cones and signage (reasonable steps were taken to protect visitors, in other words).
  • You weren’t paying sufficient attention to where you were walking (you were using your phone, for example).
  • You were in a part of the property where customers or visitors aren’t expected to be, or where they aren’t allowed.

Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.

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