Minor slips and falls can be amusing, embarrassing, or simply frustrating. Major slips and falls can cause serious health problems, lower a person’s quality of life, or even dismantle their future. If you have been injured by slipping (or tripping) and falling due to someone else’s negligence, you might be wondering what to expect if you decide to pursue legal action. The slip and fall lawsuit process typically follows the same procedural stages regardless of the specifics of the case.
Before the Lawsuit
In many cases, you can settle a personal injury case without a lawsuit. Instead, you can file a personal injury claim with the insurance company of the person at fault and reach a settlement through negotiations, preventing a protracted court case from interrupting your life. So if you would prefer to settle out of court, consider filing a personal injury claim instead of a lawsuit. Before filing a lawsuit, your attorney will take you through the following three steps:
First, your attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to gather all the important evidence in your case. This starts with investigating the scene of the fall, taking pictures of the scene, preserving evidence (such as the shoes and clothing you were wearing at the time of the fall), and sending out a preservation letter to the defendant to make sure the other side does not alter or destroy any electronically stored information. Often, video evidence of the scene will be collected as well.
Finally, your attorney will interview witnesses and gather and review all medical bills and records. As your attorney collects evidence, he or she can develop theories of liability for the case.
Upon the completion of a thorough investigation, your attorney will organize all the evidence collected and send it to the insurance company along with a demand letter. Although typically time sensitive, the demand will remain open long enough to allow the other side to review the information and respond.
Negotiation and Settlement
After the other side responds to the demand, your attorney will begin negotiations. A skilled negotiator, your attorney will fight to reach a fair settlement on your behalf. In a large majority of cases, the attorney successfully negotiates a fair settlement. However, the insurance company may not take your case seriously at the negotiation stage. If this happens, your attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf – forcing the insurance company to take your claim seriously.
The Slip and Fall Lawsuit Process
Filing the Complaint and Summons
In order to commence the action, your attorney will file a complaint and summons with the court that has jurisdiction over your matter. This begins the slip and fall lawsuit process. The complaint will identify all of the defendants and will outline all of your claims and the legal grounds upon which they are based. It will specify the date, time, and location of your fall and include a description of what happened. The complaint will also include the monetary amount of damages that you believe the defendants should have to pay in order to compensate you for your losses.
After your attorney files these documents with the court, he or she will have them served on the defendants by a process server. The summons will give a return date by which the defendant must answer the lawsuit.
The Defendant’s Reply
After your complaint and summons are served on the defendants, they will normally have 20 days to respond to it. The defendants may be able to receive an additional 20 days if they agree to waive certain defenses. In the answer, the defendants will either admit or deny each of the allegations that you made in your complaint.
Sometimes, defendants will file motions for summary judgment. These motions are made when defendants believe that the plaintiffs have not stated sufficient legal grounds upon which they can assert a valid case. Some defendants file these motions almost routinely in a slip and fall case. If the defendant or defendants in your case file a motion for summary judgment, the court will schedule a hearing at which your attorney and the defendants’ attorneys will present legal arguments. If the court grants the motion, your claim will be dismissed. If the court denies it, your case will move on to the next phase of the slip and fall lawsuit process.
The discovery period is normally the longest phase of the slip and fall lawsuit process. During this period, you and the defendants will be required to exchange evidence. Slip and fall cases are not meant to be litigated by surprise; you must disclose your evidence. The discovery phase may last for several months or years, and its length will depend on the complexities of your case. During discovery, you may receive or send written interrogatories. These are a series of questions that you must answer in writing and must sign with an attestation of the truthfulness of your answers in front of a notary public. When you receive interrogatories, you should discuss your answers with your attorney before responding.
Another discovery tool that may be used in your case is a deposition. Depositions involve taking live testimony under oath from the witnesses who will be expected to testify if your case goes to trial. These hearings are held outside of the court process. While a judge will not be present, a court clerk, the defense attorney, the plaintiff’s attorney, and the witnesses will be there. Transcripts are prepared of deposition hearings, and they may be used to impeach contradictory testimony if it is given later at the trial. Depositions also allow your attorney to understand what to expect if your case goes to trial; they offer an effective way to evaluate the believability of the witnesses.
In addition to the motion for summary judgment, there are several other common motions that are often filed during the discovery phase before the lawsuit proceeds to trial. Either side may file a motion to compel if the other party is refusing to do something. For example, if a witness fails to return interrogatories, the opposing attorney may file a motion to compel in order to secure a court order to return them. Motions in limine are also common. These are motions that are used to ask the court to keep prejudicial evidence out of the trial. Finally, in addition to the defendant’s ability to file a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff may also file one if the defendant’s claims have no legal support.
Mandatory Settlement Conference
Within a certain time period before a trial, the judge will schedule a mandatory settlement conference. This allows the parties to try to negotiate an agreement in order to settle the case. You may make a demand in a certain monetary amount, and the defendant may respond with a counteroffer. If you reach a fair settlement, the lawyers will draw it up, and your attorney will review it with you. If it is agreeable, the settlement will be submitted to the court for its approval. Once it is approved, the defendants will pay the agreed-upon amounts to your attorney, who will then distribute the funds appropriately.
If you are unable to reach a settlement, your case will proceed to trial. Your attorney will work with you to prepare you for trial. Depending on your case, your trial may last anywhere from one day to several weeks or more. After both sides have rested, the jury will deliberate. If they are able to reach a decision, they will return a verdict. Following the verdict, either side may file an appeal. If a defendant’s appeal is successful, the case will return to a lower court for further proceedings, and it may take years for you to recover an award.