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How do I File a Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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If you have sustained a personal injury on another’s property, one of the first things you may be thinking about is filing a lawsuit. A lawsuit against a property owner or manager for injuries is typically referred to as a “slip and fall lawsuit,” and its main goal is to penalize negligence. Slip and fall lawsuits are frequently filed, but not as frequently won. In order to file a slip and fall lawsuit, one generally need only prepare a complaint that is served on the entity allegedly responsible for the injury and is filed and recorded in a court of law. Filing a slip and fall lawsuit in almost any jurisdiction in the world is significantly easier than winning it, though a careful understanding of the governing laws and procedural requirements can help improve the chances of success.

Most slip and fall lawsuits center around negligence and owner liability. They allege that the injury at issue would not have happened but for the property owner’s inattention to detail, or failure to maintain the property to reasonable and expected standards. Staircases that are too narrow, broken hand rails, and hazardous conditions in public spaces are common examples of property owner negligence. Most of the time, simply tripping or falling alone will not support a slip and fall lawsuit. Before filing, you should be sure that you can form an argument around fault, not just injury or damages.

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A business owner’s negligence will usually support a slip and fall lawsuit filed by a visitor who is injured on the premises, but slip and fall lawsuits are not common recourse by injured employees. A workplace accident is often more effectively addressed under labor laws, not under a negligence theory. Labor laws are typically more aggressive than negligence law, which is a tort. Damages and awards for hazardous conditions in a workplace are usually higher than slip and fall compensation. The idea is that a workplace is somewhere that employees have to be, whereas visitors to a business choose to be there — while they can expect a reasonable degree of safety, the owner’s obligation to them is different than it is to his or her own employees.

The next thing to consider when filing a slip and fall lawsuit is jurisdiction. Most courts, regardless of country or legal system, can only hear lawsuits that pertain to matters in their district. If you sustained an injury at a hotel in New York, for example, you must usually file your lawsuit in a New York court, even if you live elsewhere. A lawsuit filed in a jurisdiction where the accident or incident did not occur, or where the defendant does not have substantial contacts, will more often than not be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.

Once you have identified the appropriate jurisdiction and your claim meets the negligence threshold set by that court, the actual filing is simple. A slip and fall lawsuit, like any lawsuit, must be filed in the form of a complaint. A complaint is a basic legal document that names the parties, sets out the allegations, and makes a demand for damages. Once the complaint is submitted to a clerk of court with the required filing fees, the lawsuit is considered filed.

Plaintiffs typically have a fixed amount of time after the filing of their lawsuit to notify the defendant of the action. It is always the plaintiff’s responsibility to serve the defendant with notice that a lawsuit is pending against him. Different courts have different rules about what makes service of process effective. Ineffective service, like failure to set out an actionable negligence claim or improper jurisdiction, can lead to swift case dismissal.

Different courts have very different rules, both procedural and substantive, that govern how a slip and fall lawsuit must be filed. Courts typically allow individuals to represent themselves and make filings on their own behalves. This is called pro se representation. Most people choose to at least consult with slip and fall lawyers before filing a lawsuit, however. Accident lawyers familiar with the jurisdiction and its rules can help a plaintiff craft a complaint that will more likely pass the court’s hurdles, can research industry standards and possible theories of negligence on the client's behalf, and can usually more effectively deliver persuasive legal arguments in court.

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