Any time your property ("real" or personal) is damaged by someone else's negligent or intentional action in Iowa, you might have the right to file a property damage claim or lawsuit and try to get compensation for your losses. In that situation, it's important to understand the Iowa statute of limitations for these kinds of cases.
A "statute of limitations" is a law that affects the right to file a lawsuit, by putting a strict limit on how much time can pass before the case must be started in court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.
Let's look at the specifics of the property damage lawsuit filing deadline in Iowa, including the (rare) situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In Iowa, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including vehicle damage), it must be filed within five years, according to Iowa Code section 614.1, which sets this time limit for any legal action based on "injuries to property."
So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of their house after a car crashes into it, that case must be brought within five years in Iowa. The same goes for a vehicle damage claim after a car accident. In both situations, the statute of limitations "clock" usually starts ticking as soon as the property owner becomes aware (or should have become aware, in the eyes of the law) that someone else caused damage to their property.
Get more details on how property damage claims work.
If you try to file your Iowa property damage lawsuit after the five-year time period has passed, it's a safe bet that the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, based on the fact that the filing deadline has passed. And the court is certain to grant the dismissal unless rare circumstances make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on these situations later).
If your lawsuit is dismissed, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and make sure you comply with) the Iowa statute of limitations as it applies to property damage claims. Even if you're only filing an insurance claim and you're convinced it will settle, make sure you've preserved the court option as leverage during settlement negotiations.
A number of situations could effectively extend the five-year filing deadline set out in Iowa's statute of limitations for property damage lawsuits.
If the person you're suing becomes a non-resident of the state of Iowa for any amount of time after your right to file the lawsuit arises, that period of non-residence probably won't be counted as part of the five years (according to Iowa Code section 614.6).
If the property owner is under the age of 18 or is suffering from a mental illness at the time the property damage occurs, they'll typically have one year to bring the property damage lawsuit once the period of "legal disability" ends (meaning they turn 18 or are declared competent). Iowa Code section 614.8.
Other circumstances may affect the Iowa statute of limitations, and how it's calculated. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit, an experienced Iowa attorney will have the answers.
Most property damage lawsuits are filed in one of Iowa's district courts (there's one in every county), which have the power to hear most civil cases in the state. Chances are you'll file your property damage lawsuit in the county where the person you're suing lives, or where your property is (or was) located.
Remember that the five-year statute of limitations we've discussed here also applies to cases filed in Iowa small claims court.
Even if you're filing a lawsuit in court, you don't necessarily need a lawyer to handle your property damage case. Paying for a lawyer at this stage might not be worth it (especially in small claims court), and it can be tough finding an attorney who will take a run-of-the-mill property damage case.
But an Iowa lawyer's help might be crucial if personal injury or some other legal issue overlaps with your property damage. A lawyer might also agree to take such a case on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won't pay for the lawyer's services unless you receive a settlement or court award. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.