Like most U.S. states, Iowa has a specific law that addresses dog bites, as well as more general legal principles that apply to all injury cases. In this article, we'll examine both the specific law and some key principles that apply to dog bite cases filed in Iowa, starting with the time limits for filing an injury case. Then we'll look at what Iowa's dog bite law says about such injuries and how a dog's owner might respond to a lawsuit over a dog bite or other injury.
Iowa's statute of limitations for personal injury cases applies to dog bite claims. Under this law, an injured person has two years to initiate a lawsuit seeking damages for injuries. Injury lawsuits are initiated by filing the proper paperwork in the state's civil court system. But if the case isn't filed before the two-year deadline expires, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.
Iowa's dog bite law appears in section 351.28 of the Iowa Code. It specifies that a dog's owner is liable for "all damages" a dog causes, if:
The law applies to "all damages," not just those caused by dog bites. Therefore, a person who is injured by another dog behavior, like pouncing, may also seek compensation from the dog's owner under Iowa's dog bite statute.
Iowa's dog bite law is a "strict liability" law, because it imposes liability on a dog's owner regardless of the care or knowledge the dog's owner displayed. However, the law specifies that a negligence standard, not a strict liability standard, applies when a dog has rabies. In Iowa, the owner of a rabid dog is not liable if that dog bites another person, unless the owner knew the dog had rabies and failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting others. If the owner used reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting, the owner will not be held liable if the dog still managed to bite a person.
An Iowa dog owner may have one or more defenses to a dog bite or other dog-inflicted injury claim, depending on the facts of the specific situation.
The most commonly-used defenses include "committing an unlawful act" and, in the case of rabid dogs, the owner's use of reasonable care. Iowa's dog bite law specifies that an owner is not liable for an injury a dog inflicts on another person if the person was committing "an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury." One possible act that may qualify for this exception, depending on the circumstances, is trespassing, which occurs when a person is on another's private property without permission or a legal duty. Many states limit homeowner liability for trespasser injuries in a number of ways.
However, the dog's owner may have to show that the trespassing directly contributed to the injury -- the trespasser startled the dog, for example. Because Iowa's statute uses a reasonable care standard for dog bites from dogs with rabies, a dog owner whose dog has rabies may also be able to escape liability by demonstrating that he or she used reasonable care to prevent the bite. However, this defense is only necessary if the owner knew or reasonably should have known the dog had rabies. For instance, if a rabies-free dog escapes its owner's yard, contracts rabies, and bites a person before the owner finds out about the dog's condition, the owner may not be liable.