A settlement in a slip and fall case can be reached in as little as a few months, but sometimes settlement negotiations break down in that same timeframe, and both parties must prepare for a civil lawsuit. When that happens, the process can take much longer, and in rare cases, a lawsuit over a slip and fall accident may even make it all the way to trial.
The course of a slip and fall claim hinges on so many variables that it isn’t possible to predict how long a given case will take. Does the other side dispute liability? What about the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff? Are both sides ready and willing to settle, or is there a "see you in court" mentality between the parties? These are just a few key questions that can impact how long your case might take.
Having said that, let's take a look at how the first few months of a slip and fall injury lawsuit might play out. Keep in mind that settlement discussions can and probably will be ongoing throughout this process.
February 1. You suffer a slip and fall injury in an aisle of your local store.
February 3. You begin receiving medical treatment for your injuries.
February 6. You meet with a personal injury attorney to discuss what happened, and to learn more about your options.
February 10. You and your attorney decide to pursue a legal claim against the store. At this point, the attorney may prepare and file a civil complaint, which is a document that initiates a formal lawsuit in the local branch of your state’s civil court system. In that situation, the store (the defendant) has a set amount of time to file a response to the complaint (this response is usually called an "Answer"). In many states, the defendant has 30 to 60 days to file the Answer with the court, but each state sets its own procedural rules.
Also at this point, instead of (or in addition to) filing a lawsuit, your attorney might send a detailed demand letter to the insurance carrier who underwrites the store’s general liability insurance policy (they would normally be the one defending the store against any legal claim arising from an injury on store property).
This demand letter can be sent at any time in the personal injury lawsuit process (or before a lawsuit is even filed). But since you’re including a dollar figure (the demand) as part of the correspondence, it’s better to send the letter only after you have a chance to quantify your damages (that means all losses associated with your slip and fall).
March 11. The defendant files an Answer to your complaint.
April 5. You and your attorney prepare and send interrogatories to the defendant.
April 15. The defendant sends a request for all medical records associated with treatment for your slip and fall injuries.
April 20. The court orders you and the defendant to attend a mandatory settlement conference or some type of mediation session in order to try to resolve your case out of court.
May 5. The defendant schedules your deposition and you attend, answering a series of questions under oath.
June 1. The court schedules a hearing on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment (a request that the court basically dismiss the case as lacking any reasonable merit).
If out-of-court settlement hasn’t been reached by this point, and the court has not dismissed the action, the case will proceed into the pre-trial phase, which includes hearings that set the stage for what is and is not in play in terms of evidence and witnesses.