When someone is following a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property in Washington, it’s usually advisable to investigate your legal possibilities for recovering compensation for your damages. That is particularly true where it is reasonably certain that the property owner’s negligence contributed to the accident.
Whether you choose to submit an insurance claim or pursue the matter in court through a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Washington statutes and legal procedures will almost likely apply. Two of the most significant are the statute of limitations for filing a slip and fall lawsuit and “shared fault” restrictions, which may affect your ability to receive compensation if you share any blame for the accident.
The Washington Slip and Fall Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations represents a law that limits your right to have a lawsuit heard in a state’s civil court system, and the statute of limitations for the majority of Washington States slip and fall lawsuits is the same as the larger statute of limitations that applies to most of the standard personal injury lawsuits that are filed in the state. Specifically, Washington Revised Code section 4.16.080 states that an action for “damage to the person or rights of another… shall be brought within three years.”
Therefore, if you intend to sue a property owner or another defendant who is accountable for the unsafe condition of the property where you were hurt, you must register the initial complaint within three years from when the incident occurred.
Section 4.16.080 establishes a three-year statute of limitations for bringing “an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property” if you choose to sue for property damage caused by the slip and fall accident — perhaps you damaged an expensive watch when you fell.
Whether or not your slip and fall lawsuit is for personal injury or property damage, the case’s success or failure will almost certainly rely on your ability to establish that the defendant failed to take reasonable precautions to keep the property safe and prevent your accident. Learn more about who is legally responsible for a slip and fall accident.
If you go and try to file your lawsuit after the period established by Washington’s statute of limitations has passed, the property owner will almost certainly request that the case be dismissed. And if the court grants the dismissal, your case is effectively done before it has begun. (Note: In exceptional circumstances, the statute of limitations clock may pause or “toll,” allowing you more time to file your complaint. Consult our attorneys for additional information on these exceptions in Washington.)
Comparative Negligence in Slip-and-Fall Cases in Washington
If you file an injury claim in Washington against the property owner who caused your slip and fall, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you share some blame for what happened. And, if your argument is successful, the settlement or court award you obtain may be much less than it otherwise would have been.
What arguments might you anticipate the property owner making? The following are a few examples:
- You should have been aware of the unsafe status of the property.
- Cones and signage were used to indicate the hazardous state.
- You weren’t paying close enough attention to your path.
- You were dressed inappropriately for the conditions.
Finally, the legalese: According to Washington’s Revised Code section 4.22.005, “in an action based on fault seeking to recover damages for personal injury or death or damage to property, any contributory fault assessed against the claimant reduces the amount awarded as compensatory damages proportionately for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault but does not preclude recovery.”
In plain English, this means that even if you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case and are found to be partially at fault for what occurred, you may still recover compensation from the property owner and/or any other party found to be at fault. Washington’s “comparative negligence” rule has the practical effect of reducing whatever damages award you obtain by an amount equivalent to your share of negligence in connection with the accident.
Assume a jury determines that you are 25% responsible for your slip and fall and that your damages total $20,000 (including medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses). This leaves the property owner or other defendant(s) liable for $15,000 (your $20,000 total damages less your 25% share of the blame for the accident, or $5,000).
Even if your lawsuit is not tried, Washington’s comparative negligence rule will come into play. During settlement negotiations, the property owner’s insurance company (and/or their attorney) are anxious about the possibility of your case ending up in court. As a result, any settlement offer will reflect the other party’s assessment of your role in creating or contributing to the slip and fall.
If you have recently been in a slip and fall accident and are looking for legal compensation, contact our experts at Carol, Colven, Robison & Shafton to figure out if we can help you file your claim and win your case.