Iowa Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

Get an overview of the relevant laws, time limits, and procedural rules to bring a lawsuit against a doctor or other medical professional in Iowa.

Medical malpractice law in Iowa is a hybrid of tort reform concepts and more traditional, plaintiff-friendly laws. Damages are not capped, but expert testimony is strictly regulated. Read on to learn more about medical malpractice laws in Iowa.

Statute of Limitations

The medical malpractice statute of limitations in Iowa is set at two years, which means an injured patient needs to file any medical malpractice lawsuit within two years of being harmed. This time limit can be extended in Iowa if the patient's harm was not reasonably discoverable right away. However, under no circumstances may an action be brought if more than six years from the date upon which the alleged wrong occurred have elapsed. In cases involving patients with legal disabilities, the statute of limitations is extended to one year after the disability is removed.

Notice and Expert Requirements

Iowa does not require any type of pre-suit notice or expert affidavit of merit prior to filing suit. Simply filing a lawsuit in the appropriate civil court is sufficient to commence a medical malpractice claim in Iowa.

Expert testimony is required to establish a breach of the standard of care in all but the most obvious cases. Only in cases where the facts clearly establish negligence is medical expert testimony not essential. This differs from the prima facie exception found in states such as Kentucky. In Iowa, the lack of care must be so obvious as to be within the average juror’s comprehension. Forsmark v. State, 349 N.W.2d 763 (Iowa 1984).

When the standard of care is at issue in an Iowa medical malpractice case (and, in most cases, it is), Iowa laws set forth exactly who may testify as a medical expert witness. Only those heath care providers with qualifications relating directly to the medical facts at issue in the case at hand, including both injuries and treatment, are qualified to testify as experts. Iowa Code Sec. 147.139.

Damage Caps and Fault

Unlike a number of states, Iowa does not have any caps on non-economic damages, which makes Iowa a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction when it comes to medical malpractice cases. However, collecting on a judgment could be slightly more difficult when compared to other more plaintiff-friendly states, as reforms to joint liability have occurred over the last several years.

In Iowa, a doctor or other health care provider (defendant) is only responsible for their proportionate share of any judgment if a plaintiff is less than 50% responsible. Joint and several liability is still in effect, but for economic damages only.

This means that in cases where the plaintiff is less than 50% responsible for any injuries, the plaintiff may attempt to collect the full amount of economic damages from any or all of the liable defendants. Economic damages are the quantifiable costs arising from the injuries in question, including lost wages, medical expenses, and the loss of future earning potential. Non-economic damages -- that is, damages for pain and suffering -- are divided proportionately among the liable defendants.

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