Within the past decade, unintentional injuries have been the leading factor in injury-related deaths throughout Iowa. In 2020 alone, the state lost over $20.5 billion in statistical life, with Iowans experiencing 37,451 years of potential life lost to injury. Because of this, the state’s government agencies initiate and maintain strategic plans that focus on preserving the safety of residents and mitigating the rise in incidents that result in accidental injuries. Their recent efforts include launching the Injury and Violence Prevention State Strategic Plan in 2021 and the State Trauma Plan in 2022. Both initiatives were designed to monitor relevant data, improve communication and resource-related processes, and adjust local injury prevention programs based on present data and needs.
In addition to these plans, Iowa has various personal injury laws that state residents can refer to in case they suffer any harm due to the negligence of others. These help accident and hazard victims prepare their respective personal injury claims or lawsuits alongside an attorney. This article aims to discuss several of these laws, along with the different legal factors and requirements present in most injury-related cases, including statutory limitations, damage caps, and liability-based principles. It will also discuss the insurance policies used to cover any resulting damages and the types of losses one can pursue from those at fault.
Iowa Premises Liability Guidelines
In general, all property owners in Iowa have a duty of reasonable care, wherein they must maintain their premises and provide adequate warnings and notices to ensure that no visitor or patron suffers harm. As such, they can be held liable for the losses of a person who ends up being injured on their property. Injuries can occur due to various factors, including slippery floors, defective staircases, improperly maintained grounds, and unattended cargo.
People entering a property are classified as invitees, licensees, or trespassers. Invitees are those who visit a property intending to conduct business, while licensees are those who are present for social purposes. The former can include customers at a store or diners at a restaurant, while the latter can refer to visitors at gatherings or parties. Following a Supreme Court decision in 2009, Iowa no longer distinguishes between invitees and licensees, meaning that property owners owe individuals from both categories an equal duty of care.
On the other hand, trespassers are people who enter a property without any consent from the owner, and as such, they are not owed any duty of care. However, if the trespassers in question are children, they must still be afforded a duty of care since they cannot be presumed negligent, given their age. A property owner must avoid harming a trespasser once their presence on the premises becomes known. They must also refrain from engaging in willful or wanton conduct that can result in the latter’s injury.
Dram Shop Liability and Insurance Laws in Iowa
In drunk driving cases that result in another person’s injury or death, the establishment that sold or served alcoholic beverages to the intoxicated driver may be held liable under Iowa’s dram shop liability law. This can apply if the driver was already visibly intoxicated when the establishment served or sold liquor to them.
Before obtaining and maintaining an on-premises retail alcohol license, an establishment that serves alcohol in Iowa must first get dram shop insurance. This type of policy is used to cover the resulting damages of aggrieved parties if the licensee is deemed liable for serving alcohol to a person who subsequently injures others. It does not protect the intoxicated individual who is directly liable for the accident or incident.
According to Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division, the minimum required amounts for dram shop insurance are as follows:
$50,000 for the bodily injuries or death of one person
$100,000 for the total bodily injuries or deaths in an incident
$25,000 for the loss of support of one person
$50,000 for the cumulative loss of support in an incident
Legal Statutes in Iowa Medical Malpractice Cases
Medical malpractice is an area of personal injury that involves instances where a patient suffers bodily harm or death due to the error or inaction of a doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider. Cases can include surgical and anesthesia errors, as well as misdiagnosed illnesses, childbirth-related injuries, and premature discharges.
Following state laws, a victim of medical malpractice in Iowa must first serve a certificate of merit affidavit to all the named healthcare providers in the case. This must be done before the commencement of discovery in the case and within 60 days of the defendant’s response to the victim’s complaint.
The affidavit must be signed by an expert witness who will certify under oath that they are familiar with the medical standard of care in their field and that the defendant in the malpractice case breached such a standard. Any plaintiff who fails to serve the affidavit will have their case dismissed with prejudice, and they will be barred from taking any further legal action.
Modified Comparative Negligence in Iowa
Iowa adheres to the principle of modified comparative negligence when it comes to personal injury cases. This means that any plaintiff who shares part of the blame for an accident or mishap that caused their injury will have their total recoverable damages deducted. The reduced amount will be equal to the percentage of their assigned fault in the case. In terms of specific examples, a motor vehicle accident victim who is awarded $100,000 in damages but is also found to be 30% liable for the crash that occurred will receive only $70,000.
States that follow the modified comparative negligence rule also bar plaintiffs from recovering damages if their apportioned fault reaches or exceeds a certain threshold. In Iowa’s case, a person can no longer pursue compensation from other parties if their fault is equal to or greater than 51%.
Joint and Several Liability in Iowa
If there are multiple liable parties in a personal injury case, Iowa law states that the rule of joint and several liability will only apply to those whose assigned fault exceeds 50%. This means that these defendants will be liable to pay for the total economic damages of the plaintiff, with the latter being able to recover their losses from any or all of them. However, under state law, joint and several liability does not apply in the payment of a victim’s non-economic damages.
Iowa Business Liability Insurance Requirements
Iowa does not explicitly require commercial establishments to have business liability insurance. However, owners are still encouraged to obtain this type of coverage to protect their business against financial losses in case a person suffers an injury at their establishment or due to the negligence of their employees.
Business liability insurance is used to pay for an injured individual’s medical costs and damaged property, as well as damages stemming from any act or instance that causes harm to a person’s rights. Additionally, it can be used by business owners to cover any expenses related to legal defense and judgments if the victim in question takes matters to court.
The amount of liability coverage a business owner in Iowa should get depends on several factors, including the type of establishment they operate, the number of employees they have, and their level of interaction with the public. For small businesses, the ideal liability coverage sits between $500,000 and $1 million, while high-risk companies and establishments that interact frequently with consumers are encouraged to purchase and maintain higher amounts.
Though business liability insurance is not required in Iowa, state law dictates that most business owners must have workers’ compensation insurance. This will be used to pay for an employee’s medical and repair expenses and lost income if they suffer any harm due to work-related accidents or hazards. Any employer who does not have the required insurance will be fully liable for all the damages of an injured worker if the latter takes legal action against the former. An employer can purchase workers’ compensation insurance from a private insurer or become self-insured after fulfilling requirements set by the Iowa Insurance Commissioner.
How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Iowa?
Iowa law does not limit the total amount of economic damages that a personal injury plaintiff can recover. This means that victims can pursue and recover maximum compensation for their monetary losses in terms of present and future medical expenses, repair costs, and lost income. Other economic damages include expenditures for assistance-based services, particularly for victims who cannot accomplish daily tasks due to their injury.
While the state also does not limit non-economic damages in most personal injury cases, it does have a cap on such damages in matters involving medical malpractice. These losses are caused by intangible factors that stem directly from a victim’s injury, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. According to state law, a victim of medical malpractice may only recover up to $250,000 in non-economic damages.
However, this “soft” cap may change if the victim has suffered severe disfigurement or the permanent loss of bodily function or if they perish from their injury. Based on a law passed in the state in 2023, if any of these factors are present, a victim’s non-economic damages are capped at $1 million if the defendant is an independent clinic or individual healthcare provider or $2 million if the defendant is a hospital.
Iowa courts may also award punitive damages to a personal injury plaintiff if there is sufficient evidence proving that the individual at fault showed a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others and if their conduct was directed towards the victim. If both factors are present, the defendant will be made to pay the total punitive damages awarded to the victim. On the other hand, if the defendant did not specifically direct their conduct towards the victim, they will only pay up to 25% of the total punitive damages awarded in the case, with the rest being paid into a civil reparations trust fund.
The Statute of Limitations in Iowa
According to Iowa’s civil statute of limitations, those who have suffered bodily harm due to the negligence of others have up to two years to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against those responsible. The same deadline applies for cases involving injury to a person’s character through slander or libel. In these cases, the statute of limitations begins on the date on which the plaintiff has suffered the injury in question. If an accident or mishap only results in property damage, the statute lasts five years.
Medical malpractice claims and lawsuits must also be filed within two years, though the deadline starts counting down from the date when the victim’s injury was reasonably discovered. A victim can no longer take legal action if more than six years have elapsed since the malpractice happened unless the case involves a foreign object unintentionally left in the victim’s body. If the victim of malpractice is younger than eight years old, their parent or guardian has up to two years or until the child’s tenth birthday to file a claim, whichever is later.
Extensions and Exceptions Regarding Iowa’s Statute of Limitations
Iowa’s statute of limitations lasts for a different duration if the person entitled to file a claim or lawsuit in a personal injury case is a minor or incapacitated due to mental illness. The state’s laws dictate that such individuals will have an additional year to take legal action after they reach the age of 18 or recover from their illness.
Certain exceptions also apply if the defendant in a personal injury case is absent from the state or could not be identified at the time, even after diligent efforts have been made to locate or identify them. According to Iowa law, the period of their absence or anonymity will not be calculated as part of the statute of limitations’ countdown. Lastly, if the person entitled to take legal action in a case dies during the year before the statute of limitations’ expiration, the limitation in question will not take effect until one year after the person’s passing.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Iowa
The Iowa State Bar Association has some online resources and services for residents with legal concerns. The association’s Find-A-Lawyer directory is open to those who wish to find a specific attorney based on their location, practice area, and the languages they can speak. Its website also has an Ask An Attorney section where visitors can watch short recordings of lawyers sharing basic information concerning standard topics and areas of the law. Lastly, people can visit the Legal Forms section to view and download different documents that they can use, including affidavits for small claims and power of attorney for healthcare-related matters.
People involved in a motor vehicle crash in Iowa can visit the Department of Transportation’s website for instructions on submitting an accident report form in case a law enforcement agency does not investigate the crash. This is required for accidents that result in injury, death, or property damage worth at least $1,500. Additionally, those who seek a copy of an accident report can contact the DOT’s Systems & Administration Bureau or submit a request form alongside other relevant details to the bureau at P.O. Box 9204 in Des Moines. A limited information report and an officer’s accident report both cost $4, while a driver’s report costs 50 cents.
The Iowa State Patrol grants the public access to crash reports compiled and produced through its website. Each report contains basic information concerning the accident in question and will only be available on the website for up to 15 days. Reports that are older than 15 days will be made available instead at the Iowa State Patrol District Office. To search for a specific report, website visitors can filter results involving injury and fatal crashes using the date of the accident and the specific county it occurred in.
The Iowa Insurance Division’s Consumers Section is open to residents seeking basic information about insurance-related matters and concerns. The section lets people read about the details behind specific insurance policies and guidelines for finding a licensed agent or company they can obtain coverage from. Additionally, it has informative subsections describing the processes and factors involved in submitting complaints against insurers suspected of fraud. The Online Consumer Complaint Form used for such matters is available in English and Spanish.
Employees can access the Iowa Workforce Development website to submit reports regarding work-related injuries or illnesses, read information concerning workers’ compensation benefits, and verify their employers’ insurance coverage. The website also provides access to digital copies of documents related to workers’ compensation, including annual ratebook spreadsheets and forms for information requests and settlements. Additionally, visitors can view maximum and minimum weekly benefit rates, adjusted annually by the Iowa Division of Workers’ Compensation.
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