After a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other incident in which someone else's conduct causes you harm in Iowa, you could be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations that applies to these kinds of cases.
As background, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in civil court. Every state has these kinds of laws on the books, with deadlines that differ depending on the kind of case being filed.
In this article, we'll explain how Iowa's statute of limitations for personal injury cases works, why the filing deadline is so important, and a few situations in which the filing deadline might be extended.
The statute of limitations that will apply to most Iowa personal injury lawsuits can be found at Iowa Code section 614.1, which sets a two-year time limit on the right to file a civil action "founded on injuries to the person or reputation."
So, if you want to turn to the state's civil court system and ask for a civil remedy (damages) after an injury caused by someone else in Iowa, this two-year deadline almost always applies. That's true whether your personal injury case is driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which includes claims filed after a car accident, slip and fall incident, and other mishaps), or you're suing someone for the harmful results of more purposeful action, like defamation or civil assault.
With most personal injury lawsuits, the two-year "clock" set by the Iowa statute of limitations will start running on the date of the accident or incident that caused the injury.
If the two-year filing deadline has passed, and you try to file your personal injury lawsuit in court anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly point this out in a motion to dismiss your case. And the court will grant the dismissal unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (we'll discuss a few of these exceptions later).
Iowa's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously crucial if you want to take your injury case to court by way of a formal lawsuit, but the statutory filing deadline is also pivotal to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. Two years can go by in a hurry, and if you've allowed the deadline to pass without getting your lawsuit filed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage. After all, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat when that same court is no longer an option for your dispute.
A few situations could pause the running of Iowa's two-year statute of limitations "clock," effectively extending the filing deadline.
For example, if the person who caused your injuries leaves the state of Iowa and is considered a "non-resident" of the state for any amount of time after the underlying incident, that period of non-residence probably won't be counted as part of the two years (according to Iowa Code section 614.6).
And when the injured person is under the age of 18 or is suffering from a mental illness at the time of the underlying accident or incident, he or she will typically have one year to bring a personal injury lawsuit once the period of "legal disability" ends (meaning the injured person turns 18 or is declared competent). Iowa Code section 614.8.
If you have questions about how the Iowa statute of limitations applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline is fast-approaching or has already passed -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Iowa personal injury attorney.