Slip and fall accidents refer to a general category of personal injury claims that occur when a person slips or falls on someone else’s property. The accident is usually caused by some type of defective or dangerous condition on the premises, such as wet surfaces, rotting floorboards, or poor lighting.
A person who sustains an injury from a slip and fall accident may have grounds to sue the property owner for monetary damages based on a claim for premise liability. Premise liability claims are frequently cited as the basis of personal injury lawsuits that involve slip and fall accidents since such claims specifically address this exact scenario.
Generally speaking, businesses, homeowners, and even public entities (e.g., cities and counties) are all subject to premise liability laws. These laws require that property owners take reasonable measures to ensure that persons who enter their property will be safe from harm. As such, property owners who violate premise liability laws can potentially face a number of legal consequences should anyone get hurt on their land.
Thus, if you have been seriously injured in a slip and fall accident, you should consider contacting a local personal injury lawyer for further legal advice. You may be entitled to damages for your injuries and a lawyer can tell you how to proceed with your case.
What Serious Injuries Can Happen in a Slip and Fall Case?
Slip and fall accidents can result in minor injuries like a scrape, or major injuries like brain trauma. Some other serious injuries that can happen after a slip and fall accident include:
- Neck, back, and spinal cord injuries or related issues (e.g., paralysis);
- Hip fractures;
- Severe lacerations or wounds;
- Broken bones;
- Nerve damage; and/or
- In extreme cases, even death.
What Damages are Available in a Slip and Fall Case?
A plaintiff to a slip and fall case can potentially collect a number of damages. Some damages that may be available to them include the following:
- Economic or “special” damages: Economic or special damages refer to monetary damages awards that compensate a plaintiff for any out-of-pocket costs incurred as a result of their injuries. These damages may cover expenses, such as hospital bills, lost wages, pharmacy costs, physical therapy bills, and various other items that are directly tied to a plaintiff’s injury.
- Non-economic or “general” damages: Non-economic or general damages compensate a plaintiff for injuries that are a bit more difficult to calculate like pain and suffering, body and facial disfigurement, reputational damages, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Punitive damages: Although not as common as the other types of damages, punitive damages may be awarded by a court when a property owner breaks the law in a manner that is considered so outrageous or offensive that they deserve extra punishment. However, punitive damages are not only rare, but they also are not available in every state for personal injury lawsuits.
- Other remedies: A court may also issue an injunction, which is basically a court order that instructs a party to continue doing or refrain from doing some specific action. Particularly, in a slip and fall case, a court may order the defendant to make repairs on their property or to install protections that create a safer environment for their visitors.
What Kinds of Defenses Can be Raised in a Slip and Fall Case?
There are a number of different defenses that a defendant may be able to raise against a slip and fall claim. Some of those defenses might include:
- Assumption of risk;
- Lack of proof or fault;
- Contributory negligence or modified comparative negligence;
- Statute of limitation violations (note that these laws may vary by jurisdiction); and
- The property owner either met the standard duty of care or did not owe the plaintiff any duty at all (e.g., plaintiff is an unknown trespasser).
Although the above list contains some of the most common types of defenses that defendants to slip and fall cases may use, it is not exhaustive of all the available defenses in such cases. Many times, the answer to what kind of defense can a defendant raise will be limited to the facts of a specific matter and what the laws of the jurisdiction hearing the case will permit.
Are There any Special Slip and Fall Laws in the Fairfax/DC Area? What is the Statute of Limitations?
An important distinction between the Fairfax and DC areas is that they have different requirements for their statutes of limitations. The statute of limitations for slip and fall cases in Fairfax is two years. This is a very strict window of time and plaintiffs will only be allowed to extend in rare circumstances (e.g., they were a minor when the injury occurred).
On the other hand, the statute of limitations in D.C. permits plaintiffs to file personal injury lawsuits within three years from the date of an incident or from when they discovered the injury in question.
Regardless of the jurisdiction, if a plaintiff fails to file within the allotted time period prescribed by the relevant statute of limitations, they may be barred from bringing their case and will most likely recover nothing for their injuries.
Also, both areas apply contributory negligence law to personal injury cases. Under this theory, a plaintiff will be barred from recovering damages if they are even 1% at fault for their injuries.
For instance, suppose a property owner fails to maintain their property, leaving holes in the floor and rickety staircases abound. Despite these dangerous conditions, a plaintiff who falls through a hole on the premises because they were staring at their phone while walking the grounds will not be able to recover for their injuries. They will be found at least 1% at fault for their injuries since they were not paying attention to their surroundings.
How Do You File a Slip and Fall Case in Fairfax, DC?
Although state laws and local court rules may differ since Fairfax and D.C. are located in separate jurisdictions, the general process to initiate a case is the same. In order to file a slip and fall case in Fairfax or D.C., a plaintiff should consider doing the following:
- Seriously injured persons should seek medical attention immediately after the incident. If possible, they should capture evidence of what caused their injury on the premises (e.g., take photos or videos) and file a complaint with the property owner.
- Once treated, be sure to ask for copies of medical records and receipts. Keep them organized in a file so they are readily available when it is time to produce evidence.
- At this point, they should retain counsel. If they are not ready to do so yet, then they should attempt to speak with the other party and settle outside of court.
- If the parties cannot or refuse to settle, the next step is to file the complaint and summons with the relevant court. In D.C., the plaintiff will file the matter in D.C. Superior Court. In Fairfax, the plaintiff will file in either the Fairfax General District Court or the Fairfax Circuit Court. It should be noted that the General District Court is reserved for cases in which damages amount to $25,000 or less.
- After filing the necessary documents with the appropriate court, the plaintiff must serve copies of them on the defendant. The defendant will then have a certain amount of time to respond to the complaint, and will also have to file and serve their response as well.
- Moving forward, the process will change depending on what the defendant’s response says and how the parties or court decide to continue resolving the matter. For instance, a standard case may proceed to the discovery stage next.
Additionally, a plaintiff who has suffered serious injuries from a slip and fall accident should genuinely consider consulting an attorney. An attorney will be able to walk them through the legal process step-by-step, and will be well-versed in the nuances between the different state and local laws.
Lastly, a local attorney will also know about the different restrictions on damage award amounts for personal injury lawsuits in their area.
Should I Hire a Fairfax Lawyer for Help with a Slip and Fall with Serious Injury Claim?
Slip and fall claims can be quite difficult to handle without the help of an experienced attorney. They tend to involve heavy fact analysis, lots of medical jargon, and familiarity with state tort laws. Therefore, if you have suffered a serious injury as a result of a slip and fall accident, it may be in your best interest to speak to a Fairfax lawyer about your claim.
A Fairfax lawyer who handles personal injury matters will be able to determine whether you have a viable claim, can explain how the laws in your area may affect the outcome of your case, and can discuss the potential options you may have for legal recourse.
In addition, if there is enough evidence to support your claim, your lawyer can help you prepare and file your case, provide representation in court, and make sure that you receive any damages that you may be owed for your injuries.