Iowans know our state is more than just cornfields. And while we take pride in kicking off presidential primaries, we’re more than just a convenient campaign stop as well. That’s proven by the tourists who come to see our trails, Bridges of Madison County, and Field of Dreams, and the out-of-state students who choose our world-class colleges and universities.
Iowa is also known as a safe place to live, work, and play, but accidents do happen. And if you’re a long-time Iowan, temporary resident, or weekend visitor injured in an accident, you might have some legal questions. Here’s a primer on Iowa personal injury law.
Your first step in any serious accident is to seek appropriate medical attention — for yourself and anyone else who suffered injuries. Once you’re safe, you can begin documenting the accident as best you can. Take note of any personal injuries, property damage, or additional harm caused.
For instance, if you’re involved in a car accident you’ll want to:
Your injury claim process will depend on the type of accident, and where it happened. In the example above, you’ll probably contact your auto insurance company first. You may also need to contact the other driver’s insurance as well, or at least get their insurance information. And if you were behind the wheel of a rental car when the accident happened, you’ll notify the rental agency.
If you slip and fall outside our famous state capitol building, you might need to file a notice of claim with the city, county, or state before filing a lawsuit. And you’ll want to call your homeowner’s insurance company if your neighbor’s basswood tree falls onto your house while you’re inside. Your insurance company may pay you for the damage or pass your claim on to an adjuster; and the municipality should respond to the claim notice, hopefully with an offer to compensate you for your harm.
Note that most injury claims can settle without the need to file a personal injury lawsuit. But if you don’t receive a response or settlement offers don’t fully compensate you for your injuries, the kind of lawsuit you file will also depend on your type of injury.
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are based on negligence which can be someone’s actions or, in a few specific instances, someone’s failure to act. But some types of claims have special rules for proving who was responsible.
While negligence sounds like someone just messed up, when it comes to personal injury lawsuits, negligence has a specific legal definition. In order to prove negligence, an injured plaintiff must prove four specific elements:
People generally have a duty to act with reasonable care, or, as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. But that duty can vary depending on personal or professional relationships.
It’s important to note that Iowa uses what’s known as a “modified comparative negligence” scheme, comparing a defendant’s negligence against the plaintiff’s based on percentages. So, let’s say you were speeding before your car accident — a jury could reduce your compensation by a percentage of your fault. If they find going too fast made you 25 percent liable for the crash, you would only receive 75 percent of your damages. But, if your negligent driving made you more than 50 percent at fault, you would recover nothing.
Doctors and medical professionals also owe a duty of care to their patients, albeit a higher level of care. Most courts broadly define the duty of care as the standards and practices that other medical professionals with similar training and experience would use when treating a patient under similar circumstances.
Health workers could be guilty of malpractice if they fail to meet that standard. However, proving a breach of that standard can be far more difficult than proving fault in a car accident. Often medical malpractice claims can be legally complex and based on the expert testimony of doctors in the field.
Property owners, managers, and even tenants can be liable for injuries that happen at private or public property. To prove a property owner’s fault in court, you will need to prove there was an unsafe condition on the property, that the owner should’ve known of the danger and could’ve done more to fix it, and that the condition caused your injury.
For instance, if you are a renter, your landlord has a duty to maintain your house or apartment and ensure the premises are safe. If you told them about some broken stairs and they fail to fix them, they have breached that duty. And if you slip and fall on the stairs, this breach has caused your injury and you could receive damages.
Remember, however, that under Iowa’s “modified comparative negligence” system, if you were drinking a few beers at at a bar before you fell, a jury could reduce your compensation by a percentage of your fault; or completely if you were so drunk that you were more than 50 percent at fault.
If you’re injured at work, or even off the job site but performing a work function, you could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits are paid out of a statewide system funded by employers. Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Compliance pays most claims without regard to fault.
If your claim is denied, however, you can contact a Workers’ Compensation Compliance Administrator in Iowa to discuss the issues or request a contested case proceeding before the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. Just be aware of Iowa’s workers’ comp deadlines: you must inform your employer of any injury within 90 days, and you only have two years to receive benefits or file an appeal.
If someone else caused your injuries, the compensation you could receive is called “damages.” Iowa classifies damages into two groups: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages include things like property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and other financial expenses. Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress, are available in most personal injury claims and are not limited to a certain amount, or “capped.” Pain and suffering damages don’t apply in Iowa workers’ compensation claims, however.
Every state has civil “statutes of limitation,” that place deadlines on how long an injured party has to file a claim or lawsuit. Under Iowa law, you generally have two years to file a personal injury claim, or five years for damage done to personal property. If you miss this deadline, courts will not accept your claim.
As noted above, most personal injury claims resolve themselves quickly and without litigation. Even without litigation, guidance from counsel can be critical to your recovery of damages. But we also explained how complex personal injury claims can be. So, if you’re considering filing a lawsuit, you should consult first with an attorney experienced in personal injury cases to assess your claim. And, if someone claims you were negligent in causing their injuries, you should strongly consider contacting a lawyer.
Many personal injury attorneys offer free consultations to discuss your case. And some offer flexible fee structures, including “contingency fee” agreements. Under this arrangement, the lawyers’ fees come from the settlement or award. If you don’t win your case, you may only owe expenses.
If you have more questions about personal injury claims, contact a local Iowa personal injury attorney.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills, and other complications. Before taking legal action or trying to negotiate a settlement on your own, you should talk to an attorney about your case. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local personal injury attorney to discuss the merits of your case. This one step can level the playing field, help you protect your rights, and put you in the best position for recovering the compensation that you deserve.