In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at some key California laws that could affect an insurance settlement or lawsuit after a slip and fall accident. We'll begin with the time limits to file a slip and fall lawsuit in California's civil court system, then we'll discuss how the state's fault laws affect your case if you are found to be partly to blame for the accident. Finally, we'll look at the different rules you have to play by if your slip and fall claim involves the liability of a California government agency or employee.
California law gives you two years to file a lawsuit in court if you're injured in a slip and fall accident. This two-year "clock" usually starts running on the date of the accident, and it includes weekends, holidays, and other dates the courts are closed. If you do not file your court case within two years, your case will most likely be barred entirely.
While California's two-year time limit only applies to cases filed in court, it's a good idea to keep the deadline in mind when it comes to filing a claim with an insurance company (if you're making a third party claim under the property owner's coverage, for example). Getting the claims process started as quickly as possible is your best strategy. That way, if settlement talks stall, you'll still have the leverage that comes with the option of filing a lawsuit.
California has its own rule, known as "pure comparative negligence," for deciding how a case is affected when an injured person is partly responsible for the accident that led to their injuries. Under California's pure comparative negligence law, the amount of damages you can recover from a slip and fall accident is reduced if you are found to be partly responsible for the accident.
Here's an example of how California's pure comparative negligence rule works. Suppose that you're shopping in a grocery store when you come across a "Caution: Wet Floor" sign. The floor around the sign looks dry, so you decide to walk past the sign, only to slip and fall on a floor that is actually much more slippery than it looks.
Since you were injured in the fall, you decide to file an insurance claim or a lawsuit in court to seek compensation from the store. The insurance adjuster investigates your case or the jury considers all the evidence presented in court, and your total damages -- which include lost wages, medical bills, and all your other losses -- total $20,000. But the adjuster or jury also decides that you were 20 percent at fault for not paying closer attention to the "Caution: Wet Floor" sign.
What happens to your damages award? Under California's pure comparative negligence rule, you receive $16,000. This amount represents the difference of your total damages award ($20,000) minus $4,000 that represents the 20 percent of the fault attributed to you. Because California uses a "pure" comparative negligence rule instead of a "modified" one, this calculation remains the same no matter how much of the fault for the accident is assigned to you. For instance, if the adjuster or jury had decided you were 90 percent at fault, you would still technically be able to recover $10,000 from other at-fault parties.
Learn more about How Your Own Conduct Can Affect a Slip and Fall Case.
If a California government agency or employee was to blame for your slip and fall accident, a special set of rules applies. For instance, let's say you tripped on a broken staircase while entering a government building or you slipped and fell in a government parking lot.
You have six months from the date of the slip and fall to file a claim for personal injury against the California state, county, or city government that may bear responsibility for your accident. Claims against the California state government should be filed with the state's Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB). Claims against city or county governments should be filed directly with that unit of government. Claims forms are available online from the VCGCB website. You must also pay a filing fee of $25 when you file your claim.
More information about filing a slip and fall injury claim against a unit of California government is available in the VCGCB's frequently asked questions page, "How to File a Claim Against the State."