Iowa Personal Injury Law
What are personal injury cases?
Personal injury cases include automobile collisions, slip and fall cases, intentional injury cases, injuries from defective products and equipment, and other forms of injuries resulting from the negligence of others. In most cases, the issue is whether the other party was negligent or reckless in causing the victim’s injuries. It is the injured party’s burden to prove the wrongdoer acted unreasonably under the circumstances and the unreasonable actions or inactions caused his or her injuries.
How soon should I contact an attorney?
As with any legal action, personal injury cases are time-sensitive matters. If an injured individual fails to timely file a civil suit, he or she will forever be barred from doing so. While it can depend on the case in determining if an attorney is needed, there is usually no consequence for contacting an attorney for a free initial consultation to learn more about your rights in your specific case. Most attorneys also work on “contingent fees” where you are only charged a fee for legal services if the attorney is able to help you make a recovery as part of a settlement or as the result of a trial.
What if I received a traffic ticket?
Contact an attorney for advice about whether it is in your best interest to simply pay a traffic fine or whether you should contest the citation. Sometimes, simply paying the fine can be used to prove you were negligent in the accident. Know your rights not only about whether the citation can be challenged, but also whether the citation could end up being harmful to your potential personal injury claim.
What types of damages are available?
Several types of damages can be pursued in personal injury cases depending on the specific circumstances involved. The two main types of damages are (1) compensatory or actual damages and (2) punitive damages. Each case is unique in the types of injury and damages sustained, as well as the severity of the injuries and the extent of the damages suffered.
Compensatory or Actual Damages
- Property: These damages include money to compensate for property damage (such as paying for the repair or replacement of your car).
- Medical Expenses: These damages are designed to ensure the costs of your past and future medical care are properly paid.
- Lost Wages/Future Earnings: These damages are intended to pay you if you missed time from work due to your injuries, lose your job, or suffer other losses to your wages or earning capacity.
- Loss of the Body or Mind: Damages covering the loss of function of a body part or loss to mental capacities either during a period of recovery or as a permanent damage.
- Pain and Suffering: These damages are designed to compensate an injured party for enduring pain and suffering as a result of the injuries. Pain is very real, and can be traumatizing in some cases. Pain and suffering damages acknowledge a person would not have suffered through the pain from his or her injury had they not been injured by the negligence of another.
- Loss of Consortium: These damages compensate a family member who is unable to fulfill his or her role in the household as the result of an injury.
Punitive or Exemplary Damages
- Punitive damages: These damages go above and beyond compensating the victim for his or her actual losses in a personal injury claim. They are designed to punish the wrongdoer for his or her conduct and deter others from engaging in the type of conduct causing the victim’s injuries. These damages generally require showing the wrongdoer engaged in conduct with a “willful and wanton disregard” for the rights or safety of others.
How are insurance issues sorted out? Who pays for my car repair?
In any accident, make sure both your insurance company and the insurance companies of the others involved are aware of the incident. There are different types of insurance and different levels of insurance coverage. They may cover payments or be insufficient to cover your damages. Understand the complex issues surrounding insurance payments, which insurance companies should be paying for damages, and the rights of insurance companies to seek reimbursements for payments they make that end up being someone else’s responsibility. Do not feel compelled to simply go where an insurance company tells you to go for medical care or for vehicle repairs. If you are faced with confusing insurance issues, contact an attorney for a free consultation to understand your rights.
How is fault determined?
It is rare to see a case result in one side or the other being 100% at fault. Usually, each side is assigned a percentage of fault in an accident. If you are the plaintiff in a personal injury claim, you must prove the other side was at least 50% at fault in order to recover damages. Even then, you are only able to recover the percentage of the damages not your fault. In other words, if you have $100,000.00 in damages, but the other side was only 60% at fault, the recovery will only be for $60,000.00. Gather evidence to prove the other side’s fault to protect your rights. Make sure your statements to people involved with the claim do not create misunderstandings about the fault of any party, including your responses to police officers and your handling of traffic citations.
What is products liability?
Products liability is the area of personal injury law where a person is injured by a machine, piece of equipment, food product, vehicle, or other defective product. Defects may include problems with the way the product was designed, an error in how the product was manufactured, or problems with the warnings the manufacturer provided about using the product.
Are there special issues with wrongful death claims?
Wrongful death claims are often complex cases requiring careful attention to the legal requirements in bringing a claim for damages. Issues can include identifying the proper person or persons to bring the claim under Iowa law, proper coordination with the estate of the deceased, and the many difficulties in presenting evidence when the victim is unable to speak for him- or herself.
If I file a lawsuit, what all is involved?
The legal process may require pre-lawsuit negotiations. If a lawsuit is filed, there will likely be long periods of “discovery” where each side is able to get information about the case from the opposing side through written questions (interrogatories), statements taken under oath (depositions), and requests for production of documents relevant to the case. There may be motions filed by each side designed to narrow the issues or get the case resolved ahead of trial. There may be a mediation, where the parties agree to use a neutral negotiator to try to reach a resolution. If the case goes to trial, it could be appealed. In short, each case is unique. While some cases may be settled quickly, many take time before they are resolved.
How are small claims handled?
Small claims are cases with damages under $5,000. They are tried in a special court designed to resolve cases quickly and without many of the formal requirements of the civil court. While the rules are relaxed, consult an attorney before using the small claims process. Going through the proceedings alone may limit the amount of damages you can recover and you may need an attorney’s advice and assistance for a successful case.