In this article, we'll look at some key aspects of Iowa laws as they apply to wrongful death cases. We'll start by examining how Iowa defines wrongful death, then turn to who may file a wrongful death claim in Iowa -- and under what circumstances. We'll also discuss Iowa's statute of limitations as it applies to wrongful death claims.
How is "Wrongful Death" Defined in Iowa?
Although Iowa statutes don't specifically define "wrongful death," any death that is caused by someone else's negligent or wrongful act would likely qualify.
In Iowa, when a "wrongful death" occurs, any damages awarded to the family or beneficiaries of the deceased person are distributed as part of the deceased person's estate.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. In Iowa, a wrongful death claim may be filed even if the case is also being tried in a criminal court. A wrongful death claim and a criminal case differ in two important ways. First, in a wrongful death claim, liability is expressed in terms of money damages. By contrast, in a criminal case, penalties may include jail or prison time, probation, or other penalties. Second, a wrongful death case must be brought by the beneficiaries of the deceased person's estate directly, while a criminal case is brought by the state.
One way to think of a wrongful death is as a personal injury case in which the injured person is no longer available to pursue his or her claims in an Iowa court. Instead, the family of the deceased person must bring the claim to court on the deceased person's behalf.
Who May File an Iowa Wrongful Death Claim?
Iowa law allows the following parties to file a wrongful death claim:
- the administrator of the deceased person's estate
- the spouse and surviving minor children of a deceased person
- the adult children of a deceased parent, and/or
- the parents of a deceased minor or adult child.
If the deceased person passed away without a will or other document naming an administrator for his or her estate, an administrator may have to be named before a wrongful death case can proceed.
Time Limits for Filing an Iowa Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim in Iowa must be filed within two years of the date of the decedent's death. If the claim is not filed within the two-year time limit (which is set by a law called the "statute of limitations"), the court will likely refuse to hear the case. So it's critical to pay attention to and abide by this lawsuit filing deadline.
In some wrongful death cases, the state pursues a separate criminal case based on the same incident or facts. For instance, if a car accident causes a death, the state may pursue a criminal case for vehicular homicide. However, the two-year time limit for filing a civil wrongful death claim remains the same whether or not a criminal case has also been brought to court.
Damages in an Iowa Wrongful Death Case
Damages in an Iowa wrongful death case may be paid to the estate, to the family members of the deceased person, or both. The types and amounts of injury damages paid depend on who brings a wrongful death claim to court and the particular facts of the case.
Damages in an Iowa wrongful death case may cover expenses such as:
- medical expenses for the deceased person's last illness or injury
- funeral and burial expenses, including lost interest on premature funeral or burial expenses
- lost wages, benefits, and other earnings
- compensation for loss of function of mind and/or body before death
- loss of the value of a deceased spouse's, parent's, or child's services
- costs related to damaged property, and
- pain and suffering.
The specific damages that are available in an Iowa wrongful death case depends in part on who is pursuing the claim in court.
For instance, the administrator of the deceased person's estate may pursue a claim for lost interest on premature funeral or burial expenses, but the parents of a deceased child must pursue a claim for the lost value of the child's companionship and services.
Finally, in an Iowa wrongful death case, it is important to include, or "join," all parties that might have a claim based on the wrongful death, or to demonstrate to the court that there is a good reason that all the parties were not joined in one case.