What Is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Iowa?

Get the basics on Iowa's personal injury statutes of limitations, exceptions to the filing deadlines that might apply, and why it's so important to comply with the applicable statute.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Suppose you've been injured in Iowa. Maybe a careless driver hit you, or you slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk. You might be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit to get compensation (what the law calls "damages") for your injuries. You need to know how much time you have to file your case in court under Iowa's personal injury statute of limitations.

We'll fill you in on the basics. We start with Iowa's two-year general rule. From there, we'll explain when a more specific statute of limitations applies, and the circumstances where Iowa law might extend the limitation period. We close with a quick discussion of what happens if you miss the filing deadline.

Iowa's Personal Injury Statute of Limitations General Rule: Two Years

As a general rule, you have two years from the date you're injured to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. (Iowa Code § 614.1(2) (2024).) This is the filing deadline for cases involving:

Long story short: Unless a more specific statute of limitations applies, this is the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Iowa.

When There's a More Specific Statute of Limitations

When Iowa law has a statute of limitations that's specifically tailored to the facts of your case, you must apply the more specific deadline. For example, there's a more specific rule for Iowa medical malpractice cases. If you've been injured by a health care provider like a doctor or a hospital, you have two years to file your lawsuit. (Iowa Code § 614.1(9)(a) (2024).) The statute of limitations clock starts running on the earlier of:

  • the date you discover a malpractice-related injury or death, or
  • the date you should have discovered the injury or death, had you been reasonably careful.

Iowa has a second deadline that applies in medical malpractice cases. Regardless of when (or if) you discover a malpractice-related injury or death, the latest you can file is six years from the date the malpractice happened. This six year deadline doesn't apply when the injury or death was caused by a foreign object (like a surgical instrument) that was mistakenly left in the patient's body.

Special deadlines apply when the injured patient is younger than eight years old. The child's parent or guardian must file suit by the later of:

  • the child's 10th birthday, or
  • the deadline specified in section 614.1(9)(a), discussed above.

(Iowa Code § 614.1(9)(b) (2024).)

The Discovery Rule and Other Deadline Extensions

In some situations, Iowa law might give you an extension of the statute of limitations deadline. These extensions are the exception, not the rule. If you try to rely on an extension for more time to file, expect the other side to challenge you. This is one of many statute of limitations situations where you'll want to be represented by legal counsel.

Iowa's Discovery Rule

In some cases, you might not know right away that you've been hurt. When that happens, Iowa's "discovery rule" can give you more time to file. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start running until the earlier of:

  • the date you discovered your injury, or
  • the date you should have discovered your injury, had you been reasonably careful.

(See Chrischilles v. Griswold, 260 Iowa 453, 463 (1967).

If you're relying on the discovery rule, watch out for another deadline called a "statute of repose." A statute of repose puts a limit on the amount of time you can extend the statute of limitations using the discovery rule or another extension. The medical malpractice six-year deadline (discussed above) is one example, among many others. Iowa also has statutes of repose for:

Defendant Leaves Iowa or Can't Be Identified

The applicable statute of limitations clock might not run for the period of time that:

  • the party you're suing (the "defendant") doesn't live in Iowa, or
  • you can't identify the defendant, despite diligent efforts, and your injuries were caused by a felony or certain misdemeanors.

(Iowa Code § 614.6(1) (2024).)

Injured Person Is Legally Disabled

A person who's legally disabled can't manage their own affairs without help or supervision from a parent, guardian, or court. Under Iowa law, minors (those younger than 18 years old) and people who suffer from "mental illness" are considered to be legally disabled. (Iowa Code § 614.8 (2024).)

An injured person who's mentally ill has one year from the date their disability ends to file a PI lawsuit. (Iowa Code § 614.8(1) (2024).) A minor has one year from their 18th birthday to sue. (Iowa Code § 614.8(2) (2024).) These exceptions don't apply in all cases, so be sure to check the rules for your claim.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

The statute of limitations and its sidekick, the statute of repose, are claim killers. That's their only job, and they do that job with stone-cold efficiency. Miss the deadline without the benefit of some extension, and it's game over. Your claim is legally dead. If you file your case in court anyway, the other side will ask the court to dismiss it. The court will have no choice but to grant that request, regardless of how severe or disabling your injuries might be.

Don't expect to fare any better in settlement negotiations. Once the statute of limitations has run out. so does all your negotiating leverage. Your opponent knows that you've got no way to enforce your (former) legal claim in court. There's no point threatening a lawsuit, because suing is no longer an option.

Get Help With Your Iowa's Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

Here's one of the most important takeaways from this article: You need the help of an experienced lawyer to navigate your way through almost any kind of personal injury case. That's especially true if you're considering a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations are among the most complicated and difficult of all laws to understand and apply. And as you've likely figured out by now, a mistake can be very costly.

When you're ready to move forward with your personal injury case, here's how to find an attorney who's right for you.

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