Any time you've been injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Iowa (whether it's residential or commercial property), it usually makes sense to explore your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially when the property owner's negligence likely played a part in what happened.
A number of Iowa laws and legal rules will almost certainly affect any lawsuit you decide to file over your slip and fall. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall lawsuit in Iowa's court system, and the state's "comparative negligence" rule, which can limit your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident.
Even if you're pretty sure your case will reach a personal injury settlement out of court, you still need to keep these state laws in mind, so read on for the details.
A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in a state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.
Iowa Code section 614.1 sets the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all injury lawsuits arising from a slip and fall (and most other personal injury cases). This law gives you two years to ask Iowa’s civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury that may have been caused by someone else.
So, in the context of a slip and fall, you have two years to file a civil lawsuit against the property owner or other party who was responsible for the condition of the property on which you were injured, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
What if you only had your personal property damaged as a result of the slip and fall (maybe you broke an expensive watch or phone but were uninjured)? Any lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of damaged 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.
Whether your slip and fall lawsuit is for injury or property damage, the success or failure of the case will most likely turn on whether you can prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe and to prevent your accident. Learn more about premises liability and proving fault for a slip and fall.
If you don't get your slip and fall lawsuit filed before the deadline passes, you can count on the property owner asking the court to dismiss the case once you do try to file it. In some rare instances, the statute of limitations clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your lawsuit started. Talk to a personal injury attorney for the details on these exceptions in Iowa, and whether they might apply to your situation, especially if you’re running up against the filing deadline.
You're making a slip and fall claim, only to hear the property owner argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. It's a common tactic in every state, Iowa included. And if some of the legal fault is pinned on you, any court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.
If your Iowa slip and fall case makes it to court, the state's "comparative negligence" rule will determine how much compensation you can still receive if you were at all negligent in connection with the accident. You can find this rule codified at Iowa Code section 668.3, which says: "Contributory fault shall not bar recovery in an action by a claimant to recover damages for fault resulting in death or in injury to person or property unless the claimant bears a greater percentage of fault than the combined percentage of fault attributed to the defendants, ... but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of fault attributable to the claimant."
Translation: In any Iowa personal injury case where the plaintiff is found to be at fault, that person can still get compensation for their injuries, as long as their share of liability does not exceed 50 percent. If it does exceed 50 percent, then the plaintiff can’t recover anything at all.
So, let's say the jury finds that you are 30 percent responsible for your slip and fall. They also find that your damages (including your medical bills, lost income, and “pain and suffering”) total $10,000. That will leave the property owner on the hook for $7,000 (that’s the original $10,000 minus the 30 percent that represents your share of fault).
So, what kind of arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Some common allegations include:
Even if your case doesn’t make it to trial -- even if a lawsuit isn’t actually filed, for that matter -- Iowa’s comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. After all, during settlement negotiations, the other side is concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect their view of the part you played in causing the slip and fall.
Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.