If you're filing a personal injury claim over a slip and fall accident on a sidewalk, you need to be able to prove that the person or entity charged with maintaining the sidewalk was at fault, and you also need to establish the nature and extent of your injuries. But how long will this process take? It depends on how far apart the parties are on key issues like liability and damages, and it also depends on whether the government played a part in causing the slip and fall. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.
Resolution Before a Lawsuit is Filed
As with all types of personal injury claims, if all parties involved in a sidewalk slip and fall claim -- which usually means the person who was injured, the owner of the property where the accident occurred, and their respective insurers and/or lawyers -- fundamentally can agree about what happened and the resulting damages, the case can settle without a lawsuit being filed.
This usually means:
- the claimant's injuries are minor or at least not susceptible of worsening over time
- the claimant did not have any pre-existing injuries that the accident is alleged to have aggravated
- the party who owned and maintained the sidewalk was clearly the only person at fault, and
- the negligent party was covered by insurance at the time of the accident. (More: The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Claim.)
In situations like this, there really is nothing to argue about in court, and both sides are motivated to settle. That usually becomes clear within the first 30 to 90 days after the sidewalk slip and fall accident, during which time settlement would be likely. That means the property owner (usually through a homeowners' insurance company) cuts the claimant a check in exchange for a signed release of all future claims in connection with the accident.
Discovery and Motions
If a personal injury lawsuit is filed, the sidewalk slip and fall case enters the discovery phase, where tools like interrogatories, depositions, and document production requests are used to shine more light on how the accident happened and the nature and extent of the claimant's injuries.
For example, if it turns out that the injured person was walking backwards, running, or texting while walking, those facts would suggest that the plaintiff may well share the fault -- or even bear complete responsibility -- for the accident.
The discovery phase usually lasts from six to 12 months following the lawsuit’s filing, and settlement is possible at any point in this process.
Shortly after discovery is completed, most courts schedule the parties for what is called “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR), typically mediation, to encourage them to reach a resolution with the help of a neutral third party. The mediator can help the parties understand the most likely outcome if the case goes to trial -- how a judge or jury probably will decide.
In a sidewalk slip and fall case, a mediator can help the parties see how successful their arguments and evidence might be to a judge or jury, including issues such as:
- whether the plaintiff was partially at fault
- the existence of large cracks, holes, misaligned sections, or any substance like water, ice/snow, oil or debris on the sidewalk, or
- any warning signs or tape around the area of the sidewalk where the accident occurred.
The mediation process itself may last between a few hours and a couple of days. If successful, the claim may be resolved and the lawsuit dismissed within less than a year after the accident.
The Rarity of Trials
Very few (typically less than five percent) of personal injury cases reach the trial stage. That's because trial is expensive, time-consuming, and unpredictable. Parties sometimes can wait as long as two years or more before their personal injury case gets to trial. Especially after a relatively minor slip and fall, your claim stands a good chance of being resolved well before trial.
A Note on Government Liability
If your slip and fall occurred on a sidewalk that is owned or maintained by the government (meaning a local municipality, the state, or even the federal government), then any injury claim you bring will need to play by a different set of rules. Depending on the jurisdiction, you'll need to file a "notice of claim" or similar administrative form giving the government an opportunity to investigate and respond to your claim of injury. You usually need to get this first notice filed in a relatively short time (60 and 90 day windows are common). If you think the government played a part in causing your sidewalk slip and fall, you may want to turn your case over to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.