Most personal injury cases in Pennsylvania involve a statute of limitations. This is a state law which sets a specific deadline on the amount of time an individual has to file a lawsuit. Although these laws vary from state to state and can be different depending upon the type of civil or criminal action they concern, the statute of limitations on all personal injury cases, including premises liability lawsuits, is two years in Pennsylvania.
If an individual is injured on someone else’s property and they wish to file a premises liability claim, they must do it within two years of the date they were injured. If they wait longer than two years, it is very likely that the lawsuit will be dismissed.
However, there are exceptions to this two-year time limit. Some of them concern what is known as “tolling.”
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What Do You Need to Prove in a Premises Liability Lawsuit?
You may believe it is quite easy to win a personal liability lawsuit. That is not the case. In every personal liability case, there are strict standards you need to meet if you hope to be successful in your claim.
You and your attorney must be able to prove several things:
1. Duty of Care
A property owner has a duty of care towards the people who visit their property. For instance, a grocery store or a shopping mall need to provide a standard of reasonable care for the shoppers who enter their store. This means the owner of the property is responsible for safely maintaining the property. Creating a standard of reasonable care requires the property to take basic steps to minimize any possible harm to anyone who is legally on their property.
2. Breach of Duty
After showing that the property owner had a duty of care, you then need to show that they breached this duty either through carelessness or negligence.
Carelessness involves the property owner taking an action that creates a hazard for visitors, even if they did not think this carelessness could harm anyone. Negligence involves a situation where a property owner knows about a problem and fails to correct it and then someone suffers an injury as a result.
3. An Injury Resulting From a Breach of Duty
After you have shown that the property of the owner had a duty of care and they breached that duty of care, you then need to show that you suffered injury as a result of this breach of duty. A good example would be a faulty front door in a shop that the owner knows is faulty but fails to fix it. If the door comes off its hinges and injures someone when they try to open it, that injury is the result of a breach of duty.
4. Your Status as a Person on the Property
Next, you need to establish your status as a person. In Pennsylvania, establishing the status of the person in a premises liability case will often determine the success of the lawsuit. There are three categories that determine the status of the person on the property in a premises liability lawsuit.
If the store wants you to shop on their premises, or restaurant opens for business, and its owners want you to come in and eat a meal, you are considered an invitee. Invitees require the highest standard of reasonable care for any of the three categories.
A licensee could be a family member or a friend, someone who has come to your house to make a repair or to install household equipment or neighbors you invite to your backyard for a barbecue. The law assumes those people are there with your permission. In some cases, this permission is implied for individuals such as immediate family members or particularly close friends.
If for any reason you no longer want an individual considered a licensee on your property or at your place of business, you can ask them to leave. If you asked them to leave and they refused, they then fall into the third category — trespassers.
Trespassers are individuals who do not have permission to be on an owner’s property. A property owner does not owe a standard of reasonable care to a trespasser. This does not mean, however, that they can deliberately try to hurt trespassers. If a property owner is aware that trespassers frequently use their property, they are required to give warnings that they may be putting themselves in harm’s way by trespassing.
Children are an exception to the trespasser category. If a property owner has what is known as an “attractive nuisance” — such as a swimming pool — on their property, the property owner must assume this pool is attractive to children. As a result, people who own pools must surround them with fences and gates that can only be opened by adults, as well as posting warnings about the dangers of young people entering the pool area. If not, and a child wanders on to their property, falls into the pool and drowns, the property owner could face a premises liability lawsuit.
What Is a Tolling of the Statute of Limitations?
We mentioned above that there are exceptions to the two-year time limit to file a premises liability lawsuit. One of those exceptions is known as “tolling.” In some cases, a court will grant individuals who wish to file a premises liability lawsuit a halt on the statute of limitations. Those exceptions include:
- If the defendant leaves the state for a period of time after you suffer your injury, say a year, the court may give you an extra year to file your premises liability suit. Do not assume this is always the case, however, as it can be difficult to prove. It is always best to speak with an attorney who is familiar with premises liability lawsuits about how this tolling exception may apply in your state.
- If the victim is mentally or physically incapacitated because of the injuries they have sustained or if they were already mentally or physically incapacitated before the injury.
- If the defendant committed fraud or deception in an attempt to deny the plaintiff a chance to file the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expired.
- If you were under the age of 18 when you suffered the injury, the statute of limitations may be paused until you reach the age of maturity (18). You will then have two years from the date of your birthday to file your case.
The Discovery Exception
The discovery exception is another common exception concerning the statute of limitations in premises liability lawsuits. It comes into effect if:
- You did not immediately know that you were injured.
- You were not aware that the property owner’s actions might have caused your injury.
The discovery exception exists in case it takes an injury several weeks or even months to manifest itself if you did not realize you were hurt as a result of an injury you suffered on someone else’s property.
Suppose you were shopping one day, and the floor near the vegetable section of a grocery store was wet. You slipped and fell and hit your knee quite hard. It stung a little at the time, but you kept on going because you were in a hurry to pick up the kids or to get to an appointment. Then two years later you start to have a nagging pain in your knee, and it becomes difficult for you to walk. You visit a doctor who does an x-ray and tells you that you fractured your knee at some point and it never quite healed properly. The doctor determines this injury happened two years ago, and you realize the only place this could have happened was the grocery store where you slipped and fell.
In this situation, the two-year statute of limitations may not begin until the day the doctor told you when your injury occurred. However, do not assume that the defendant and their attorneys will accept this. They will probably argue that you should have sought medical attention immediately after you fell in the store.
What Happens If I Do Not File My Lawsuit on Time?
If you miss the two-year window to file a premises liability lawsuit and you cannot qualify for any of the exceptions mentioned above, it is extremely likely that a court will dismiss your lawsuit. It is also likely that the court may decide that you need to pay for the defendant’s court costs. So instead of receiving compensation for your injuries, your lawsuit will cost you money.
Do I Need to Have My Lawsuit Decided Within the Two-Year Statute of Limitations?
No. Your case does not need to be decided in that two-year window. The statute of limitations refers to the time limit that you have to file a premises liability lawsuit, not to settle such a claim.
If you are involved in negotiations with the defendant or with their insurance company, and you are approaching the two-year anniversary of when you were hurt, you should go ahead and file the lawsuit. Your negotiations with the defendant and their insurance company may be successful, and you will receive compensation to help you with your injuries and any lost wages. But filing a lawsuit is a great way to keep your options open and to protect your rights as the injured party.
If settlement talks fail, you then have the option of going ahead with the lawsuit and having the matter resolved in a court.
Pennsylvania operates under the rules of comparative negligence when deciding any personal injury lawsuit, such as a premises liability claim.
When determining who bears responsibility in a premises liability lawsuit, Pennsylvania uses comparative negligence to decide who is at fault and how damages will be awarded. Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff will only receive damages if the defendant is shown to be more than 50 percent responsible for the event.
The comparative negligence rule also affects the way damages are awarded. So if the defendant can show that you are at least 20 percent responsible for your injuries in a premises liability case, your award will be reduced by 20 percent. If you are awarded $100,000, you will receive $80,000 in damages.
If the defendant can show that you are more than 50 percent responsible for your injuries — perhaps you are trespassing on the property even if you did not know it — you will not receive any compensation.
Not a Simple Task
A lot of people are under the mistaken belief that premises liability cases are extremely easy to win. In fact, some people even believe they can act as their own legal representatives. As a result, they make mistakes no skilled lawyer would ever make, and they either damage their cases beyond repair or cause their cases to be thrown out completely.
Please do not make this mistake.
An experienced attorney who has dealt with premises liability cases will know how to prepare your case so it has the best possible chance of success. They will know the kind of evidence you need to gather, and they will interview witnesses if they are available. Experienced attorneys know where to find the best expert witnesses who can testify about your injuries or about how the hazard on the defendant’s property could have caused your injuries, and they know how to prove the defendant was in breach of care. They will make sure you file your lawsuit on time so your case does not expire because of the statute of limitations. And if you decide to settle with the defendant and their insurance company, an experienced attorney will make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.
Let KGB Injury Law Help You With Your Premises Liability Lawsuit
Contact an experienced attorney with KBG Injury Law to make sure you have the best possible chance of holding the property owner accountable for the negligence that led to your injury. If you have a question regarding the premises liability statute of limitations or want help with any other aspect of your case, get in touch with us as soon as you can. We offer a free consultation.Contact us online or call 717-848-3838 to learn more about how we may be able to help.