With the long Minnesota winter looming, everyone is pulling out their parkas, their boots, their snow shovels. We also are winterizing our cars, making sure the snowblower is operating properly and contracting for snow removal.
This also is a good time of year to become aware of the Minnesota laws on slip and fall liability as we prepare to negotiate those icy sidewalks, parking lots and streets.
Of course, falls can happen any time of the year and be caused by any number of conditions, but in Minnesota, ice is a main culprit. The information we present here will apply to other conditions as well, such as poorly maintained sidewalks or areas with inadequate lighting.
You’ve Fallen; Now What?
Your first actions after the fall will depend upon the extent of your injury. If you’ve suffered minor injury that requires no medical care or might cause you or a companion to drive you to a minor care center, you should report the accident to the business or residence owner. It’s also a good idea to examine the scene and determine what caused the fall. Taking photos with your phone will be beneficial, especially if you put a time-date stamp on the photos. Also, get names and phone numbers of anyone who witnessed the fall.
If your injuries are more severe and require an ambulance, police likely will respond so they can gather important information on the accident, interview witnesses and record the scene.
If the fall happens on government property, forms will need to be filed later with the proper authorities.
Who Is at Fault?
The first factor that must be considered when you’ve experienced injury from a fall is who’s to blame. Minnesota is a “comparative fault” state, meaning the court or insurance adjuster first must determine where fault lies.
Many factors can go into this decision, based upon the location of the fall, the conditions at the time and what you were doing. For instance, if you are texting on your telephone while walking along and not being aware of dangerous conditions, you are considered at least partially at fault and your compensation could go down or disappear entirely. If you are determined to be 50 percent or more at fault for the fall, you will not receive any compensation.
But let’s say you have no fault. Then the decision becomes whether the property owner should reasonably have known conditions could be dangerous. In Minnesota in winter, it’s a pretty good assumption you will have ice on your sidewalks and parking lots, so property owners are expected to treat the ice in a timely fashion to make the location safe.
However, if a soda delivery driver dropped a case of soda on the sidewalk and didn’t clean it up or notify the business, then the owner could not be expected to know of the danger. In such a case, the soda company and its delivery driver become liable for your accident.
How Soon Does This Need to Happen?
Minnesota is pretty generous in its statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits. Generally, you have up to six years to file a legal claim, giving you plenty of time to determine whether injuries are long-term and cause extensive time away from work.
Insurance companies, however, could have shorter time frames to file claims, so it’s always a good idea to start the process as quickly as possible. Long-term losses always can be amended to a claim later.
If your fall was the result of a defect in design or construction of a building, the statute of limits is only two years, so you have a shorter time frame to file your claim.
What Compensation Can You Expect?
Slip-and-fall cases are treated like any other personal injury claim in Minnesota. You can be compensated for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, possible future medical expenses and possible future lost wages.
Remember, earlier we talked about “comparative fault?” If you are determined to be partially at fault for your fall, your claim will be reduced by the like amount. For example, the case goes to trial and the judge determines your total cost for medical bills and lost wages was $5,000. But you were texting, so the judge says you were 25 percent at fault. That means your compensation will be reduced by 25 percent, or in this case $1,250, so your final payment is $3,750.
Do I Have to Have an Attorney?
For minor injury cases, you might not need an attorney. The business’s insurance likely will cover your losses without too much hassle, particularly if you have no fault and have done a good job of recording the conditions that caused the fall.
But, insurance companies don’t like to pay out large claims easily or quickly. If you have more extensive injuries or a more complicated claim, you increase your chances of getting a good settlement or outcome if you hire an attorney with experience dealing with personal injury cases. An experienced attorney also will ensure you properly fill out and file all the various paperwork that businesses, government agencies and/or insurance companies require.
While your main focus after a fall and injury will be on healing and getting back to work, an experienced personal injury attorney will work to get you all the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation on your slip-and-fall case to learn how we can ensure your rights are protected and your compensation will be fair and quick.