Understanding Iowa Personal Injury

If you become incapacitated after an automobile crash or maimed as a result of your employer's carelessness, such an accident could trigger personal injury litigation that results in other parties being required to compensate you for damages. Iowa laws governing such lawsuits have some unique requirements, though legal systems are similar nationwide.

What Is the Jurisdiction for My Lawsuit?

All civil litigation in Iowa is filed in district court, and there is a courthouse in each county. Plaintiffs, the persons alleging injury, can file a lawsuit either in the county in which they reside or the county in which the incident occurred.

What Is the Statute of Limitations to File a Lawsuit?

In Iowa, most civil lawsuits, including personal injury cases, must be filed within two years of the time of the incident, though there are some exceptions.

What Is the Filing Procedure?

Preparing and filing the lawsuit begins with the document called the Complaint. This is the plaintiff's first action against the defendant, which is the business, organization, or individual being sued. The defendant has the opportunity to file a response to the Complaint and also can file a countersuit or counterclaims to contend that he was harmed as a result of the plaintiff's negligence. The defendant may also file a cross claim contending that a third party is responsible.

How Will Damages Be Determined?

The lawsuit can ask for economic damages, such as reimbursement for medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity. Non-economic damages, like compensation for pain and suffering, also are allowed. Punitive damages "punish" the defendant for particularly outrageous or negligent conduct. Iowa does not cap the amount of these damages, but plaintiffs are permitted to collect damages only if the plaintiff's negligence is found to be less responsible for the injury than the negligence of all the defendants combined. If the plaintiff is less responsible than the defendants, but still partly responsible, damages will be reduced in proportion to the plaintiff's fault.

Preparing for Trial

Several possible legal steps between the start of litigation and the trial include:

  • Discovery: A mutual exchange of information and evidence
  • Interrogatories: Submitted questions the other side must answer honestly
  • Depositions: Out-of-court oral testimony from witnesses
  • Examinations: Mental and physical examinations of the plaintiff.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The overwhelming majority of lawsuits are resolved before trial, often through arbitration, mediation or neutral assessment. In Iowa, state courts have approved a variety of alternate solutions, including a mini-trial that lets both sides gauge the strength of their cases and encourages parties to settle their differences before the lawsuit reaches trial.

Going to Trial

The personal injury trial in Iowa commences with the selection of eight jurors. The plaintiff and defendant present evidence in hopes of swaying jurors; all verdicts must be unanimous unless deliberations have lasted six hours or longer, after which time a verdict is official if seven of the eight jurors agree. Any party can appeal a verdict, and in personal injury lawsuits, appeals often center on the type and amount of damages.

What Will the Case Cost?

Personal injury litigators frequently take cases on a contingency base, which means they are not compensated beyond reimbursement for their expenses, unless damages are awarded to the plaintiffs. Iowa law does not specify a limit on the amount of contingency fees, although a court must determine that the fees are reasonable. A sliding scale that usually begins at 30 percent of the damages is common.

Contact an Iowa Personal Injury Lawyer

This article is a general overview of personal injury law in Iowa. Consult a local attorney for more information.

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