If you've been hurt in an Iowa accident—maybe in a car wreck, a slip and fall mishap, or by a dangerous product—you might be thinking about filing a personal injury (PI) insurance claim or lawsuit. Chances are you don't know much about the Iowa laws and court rules that will control your case.
We'll walk you through some of the basics, including filing deadlines, where and how to file a lawsuit, Iowa's motor vehicle insurance requirements, and more.
Like every state, Iowa has deadlines, called "statutes of limitations," on filing personal injury lawsuits in court. Let's start with Iowa's general rule, then turn to some exceptions and special deadlines that might apply in particular cases.
As a general rule, you must bring a lawsuit for "injuries to the person or reputation" within two years from the date of your injury. (Iowa Code § 614.1.2 (2023).) Injury to "reputation" refers to a defamation claim.
A malpractice lawsuit against a health care provider or a hospital must be filed within:
(Iowa Code § 614.1.9.a (2023).)
When a child younger than eight years old is injured by malpractice, a suit must be filed by the child's tenth birthday. (Iowa Code § 614.1.9.b (2023).)
A person who claims to have been injured by "any municipality or any officer, employee, or agent of a municipality," must file suit within two years from the date of injury. This limitation period doesn't apply if the injured person is a minor or is mentally disabled as described in Iowa Code § 614.8 (2023) (see below). (Iowa Code § 670.5 (2023).)
The statute of limitations clock doesn't run for the period of time that:
(Iowa Code § 614.6.1 (2023).)
A person who suffers from "mental illness" has one year from the date their disability ends to file a PI lawsuit. (Iowa Code § 614.8.1 (2023).) A minor has one year from their 18th birthday to sue. (Iowa Code § 614.8.2 (2023).) These exceptions don't apply when the claim is for:
(Iowa Code § 614.8.1-2 (2023).)
When an injured person dies within the one-year period immediately before the statute of limitations expires, a PI lawsuit can be filed within one year of the person's death. (Iowa Code § 614.9 (2023).)
Your PI lawsuit against Iowa is "forever barred" unless, within two years from the date you're injured, you file your claim, in writing, with the director of the Iowa Department of Management. Importantly, note that filing your claim in this way is not the same as filing a lawsuit in court. You must file a written claim with the department as a prerequisite to later filing suit in court.
Let's begin with Iowa's fault-based insurance system. Then we'll look at the state's minimum insurance requirements.
To register your motor vehicle in Iowa, you must comply with the state's financial responsibility law (FRL). Most people satisfy the FRL by purchasing an auto liability insurance policy that meets Iowa's minimum coverage requirements (see below).
Suppose you're hurt in a car wreck caused by a negligent (careless) Iowa driver. Iowa's fault-based insurance law allows you to bring an insurance claim or a lawsuit against that driver to collect compensation (called "damages"). If your claim or suit is successful, you can collect damages for your medical bills, lost wages and benefits, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more.
To satisfy Iowa's FRL, a motor vehicle insurance policy must provide coverages of at least:
(Iowa Code § 321A.21.2.b (2023).)
Truth be told, Iowa's minimum liability coverages will run out quickly if you're responsible for an accident that causes serious injuries. Remember: You're on the hook for all damages you cause, whether or not you've got enough insurance.
In addition, the fact that Iowa law only requires liability insurance doesn't mean that's the only coverage you need. What happens if you're hurt by an uninsured (or underinsured) driver? How will you pay to repair or replace your car if it's damaged or destroyed in a wreck that's your fault? Your liability insurance won't cover those losses.
Talk to your insurance agent about the right coverages—and the right amounts of coverage—for your needs.
To win a typical personal injury case, you've got to prove that the defendant was legally at fault, or negligent. Quite often, the defendant will claim that you were at least partly to blame for what happened. This defense is called "comparative negligence," and it's available in Iowa. Here's how it works.
Iowa has adopted what's known as a "modified comparative negligence" rule. Under this rule, you can collect some damages for your injuries—as long as you were less than 50% at fault for the accident.
Your percentage share of the total negligence simply reduces the damages you can recover by that amount. But if you're found to be 50% or more at fault, you're not allowed to collect any damages.
(Iowa Code § 668.3.1 (2023).)
Suppose you're hurt in an auto accident. The other driver was clearly at fault, but you were speeding at the time of the wreck. After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $50,000 and assigns 80% of the blame to the other driver. Because you were speeding, the jury decides you were 20% at fault. How much in damages will you be able to collect?
You were 20% responsible for the accident, so under Iowa law, you can collect 80% of your damages: $50,000 x 80% = $40,000. The other driver's insurance company will write you a check for that amount. What would be the result had the jury decided you were 50% (or more) to blame? You'd get zero damages under Iowa's modified comparative negligence rule.
Your personal injury case is a type of civil lawsuit. Where and how you file your suit will be decided by Iowa statutes and court rules called the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules are complicated and can be difficult to understand and apply. If you aren't familiar with them—and chances are you're not—you should seriously consider hiring an experienced Iowa lawyer to handle your case.
The entry-level Iowa trial court—where most criminal and civil cases begin—is called the district court. Every Iowa county has one district court. Iowa law instructs you to file your PI lawsuit in the county where:
(Iowa Code § 616.18 (2023).)
If the defendant doesn't live in Iowa, you can file suit in the county where you live or you were injured. (Iowa Code § 617.3.7 (2023).)
You start your PI lawsuit by filing a petition in the district court. (Iowa R. Civ. Proc. 1.301(1) (2023).) Your petition must be accompanied by a cover sheet, which you can get from the court clerk. (Iowa R. Civ. Proc. 1.301(2) (2023).) You'll also need to pay the filing fee unless the court has waived it.
In separately numbered paragraphs (Iowa R. Civ. Proc. 1.412 (2023)), your petition should describe:
When describing the relief you want, you're not allowed to demand a specific amount of damages. (Iowa Code § 619.18 (2023).) Be sure to include the information required by Iowa R. Civ. Proc. 1.411(1) (2023).
Finally, sometimes the law requires your petition to allege (or omit) specific things, depending on the kind of PI case you're filing. Check the law and the court rules to make sure your petition complies with those pleading requirements.
Once you've filed your petition and cover sheet, you must serve each defendant with a copy of the petition and a "notice" that meets the requirements of Iowa R. Civ. Proc. 1.302(1) (2023). The court rules describe, in some detail, when and how service must be accomplished. (See, for example, Iowa R. Civ. Proc. 1.305-1.315 (2023).) The court can dismiss from your lawsuit any defendant who's not been properly served.
Iowa is one of many states that puts limits, sometimes called "caps," on PI damages. Specifically, Iowa caps "noneconomic" damages in medical malpractice cases.
In most PI cases, you can collect both "economic" and "noneconomic" damages. Economic damages reimburse you for medical bills, lost wages and benefits, the costs of replacement services, and other out-of-pocket expenses you pay because of an injury. Iowa law doesn't cap these damages.
Noneconomic damages are designed to make you whole for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship, disfigurement, and the like. Iowa caps these noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.
Iowa law includes both a "soft" cap and a "hard" cap on noneconomic damages. Here's how it works.
In a medical malpractice case, noneconomic damages are capped at $250,000. It's called a "soft" cap because a jury can award more than $250,000 if it finds "a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, or death, [such that] a limitation would deprive the plaintiff of just compensation for the injuries sustained." (Iowa Code § 147.136A.2 (2023).)
In February 2023, Iowa's governor signed into law H.F. 161, putting a "hard" cap on top of the existing soft cap, which remains in the law. For malpractice cases arising after the effective date of the act, noneconomic damages greater than $250,000 can't exceed $1 million, or $2 million if a hospital is a defendant. (Learn more about Iowa's hard malpractice damages cap law.)
The law provides that on January 1 of each year, the $250,000 soft cap will be increased by 2.1%. Starting on January 1, 2028, the hard cap will also be increased by 2.1% annually. Iowa's Insurance Commissioner must publish the adjusted cap figures each year on the insurance division's website.
If you're looking for legal advice that's tailored to your situation, talk to a personal injury lawyer in your area. You can also learn more about personal injury lawsuits, settlements, alternatives to resolving your case in court, and more:
- Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
- Determining Fault in a Personal Injury Case
- What Are Mediation and Arbitration?
- Tips for Getting the Best Personal Injury Settlement
- The Cost of Taking Your Personal Injury Case to Court
- The Deposition in a Personal Injury Case
- Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer or Handle Your Own Claim?
- Common Kinds of Personal Injury Cases