Iowa Car Accident Laws

The deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Iowa's courts, the state's comparative negligence law, and rules for reporting a car accident in Iowa.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged after any kind of traffic accident in Iowa, there are a number of state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make in Iowa, including:

  • the two-year deadline for filing most car accident injury lawsuits
  • the five-year time limit on the filing of most lawsuits for any vehicle or property damage caused by a car accident, and
  • Iowa's "modified comparative fault" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant's level of responsibility for causing the accident is less than that of the other party (or parties) involved.

That's the big picture in Iowa. Now, let's look at the specifics.

The Iowa Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.

It's important to note that the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.

Iowa Code section 614.1 sets the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all lawsuits over car accident injuries. This law gives you two years to ask Iowa's civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else. So, in the context of a car accident, any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this two-year filing deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.

That same deadline also governs a wrongful death claim that might be if anyone was killed as a result of the car accident. The only difference is that for these wrongful death claims, the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident victim's death (as opposed to the accident date).

Finally, any lawsuit over damage to a vehicle or other property must be filed within five years of the date of the accident, and that time limit can also be found in Iowa Code section 614.1.

It's crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your situation. That's because if you try to file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has already passed, the defendant is sure to ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court is very likely to agree that a dismissal is appropriate.

Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Iowa car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Iowa Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in an Iowa car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident—but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?

Under Iowa Code section 668.3, the state follows a modified "comparative negligence" rule. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence—as long as your share of liability is not greater than that of all other parties. You can't be more than 50 percent responsible for the crash, in other words. If you are, you can't receive any compensation in court.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $10,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $10,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $1,000, leaving you with a total award of $9,000.

The comparative negligence rule binds Iowa judges and juries (if your car accident case winds its way to trial), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.

Reporting a Car Accident in Iowa

If a car accident results in injury or death, or if it causes total property damage to an apparent extent of $1,500, any driver involved in the crash must file a written report of the accident—within 72 hours—to the Iowa Department of Transportation on an official form, a copy of which can be downloaded from the Iowa DOT Driver Services page.

Note that drivers are not required to file a written accident report if the accident was investigated by a law enforcement agency.

Iowa Car Insurance Requirements

In almost every Iowa car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Iowa's car insurance rules.

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