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Last Reviewed / Modified On 29 Oct 2018.



Statutes of Limitation

  1. Bodily Injury/Property Damage
    1. Bodily Injury – Iowa Code §614.1(2) – Those founded on injuries to the person or reputation, including injuries to relative rights, whether based on contract or tort, or for a statute penalty, within two years.
    2. Property Damage – Iowa Code §614.1(4) – Those founded on unwritten contracts, those brought for injuries to property, or for relief on the ground of fraud in cases heretofore solely cognizable in a court of chancery, and all other actions not otherwise provided for in this respect, within five years, except as provided by subsections 8 and 10
  2. Breach of oral/written contract for cargo losses

  1. Breach of Oral Contract
  2. Iowa Code §614.1(4) - Those founded on unwritten contracts, those brought for injuries to property, or for relief on the ground of fraud in cases heretofore solely cognizable in a court of chancery, and all other actions not otherwise provided for in this respect, within five years. Diggan v. Cycle Sat, Inc., 576 N.W.2d 99 (Iowa 1998).

  3. Breach of Written Contract
  4. Iowa Code §614.1(5) - Except as provided in paragraph “b”, those founded on written contracts, or on judgments of any courts except those provided for in subsection 6, and those brought for the recovery of real property, within ten years from the date of breach, not from the date the agreement was executed. Krotz v. Sattler, 586 N.W.2d 336 (Iowa 1998).

  5. Carmack Amendment
  6. 49 U.S.C. § 14706(e)(1) – A carrier may not provide by rule, contract, or otherwise, a period of less than 9 months for filing a claim against it under this section and a period of less than 2 years for bringing a civil action against it under this section. The period for bringing a civil action is computed from the date the carrier gives a person written notice that the carrier has disallowed any part of the claim specified in the notice.

Negligent Entrustment, Hiring, Retention, Supervision

  1. Negligent Entrustment – Iowa courts have recognized a cause of action for negligent entrustment in a variety of circumstances. The owner’s liability is based on his own separate negligence in permitting the vehicle’ use by an incompetent or inexperienced person with knowledge of the probable consequences. Krausnick v. Hoegg Roofing, 20 N.W.2d 432, 236 (Iowa 985), 163 ALR 1413 (1945). While § 321.493(1) imposes liability on owners without a showing of negligence on the part of the owner in entrusting the vehicle to another, this theory of recovery is recognized as a separate basis for liability and has not been supplanted by the owner liability statute. This theory may still, therefore, have relevance to a claim for punitive damages against the owner for entrustment where egregious circumstances exist. No cases in Iowa have yet dealt with such a situation.
  2. Negligent Hiring – The following elements must be proven to sustain a cause of action for negligent hiring:

    1. the employer knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known, of its employee’s unfitness at the time of hiring;
    2. through the negligent hiring of the employee, the employee’s incompetence, unfitness or dangerous characteristics proximately caused the resulting injuries; and
    3. there is some employment or agency relationship between the tortfeasor and the defendant employer. Godar v. Edwards, 588 N.W.2d 701, 708-09 (Iowa 1999).

    Relevant inquiries with respect to a negligent hiring claim include what the employer knew about the individual at the time of hiring, what pre-employment investigations the employer performed, whether the employer followed its usual pre-employment procedure, how do the employer’s pre-employment procedure compare to efforts made by other similar employers, and the specifics of the employer’s policy or procedure in making new hires. See also Wilson v. Darr, 553 N.W.2d 579, 584 (Iowa 1996).

  3. Negligent Retention, Training, and Supervision – In order to establish a cause of action for negligent retention, supervision or training, the plaintiff must prove that:

    1. the employer knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known, of its employee’s unfitness at the time the employee engaged in wrongful or tortuous conduct;
    2. through the negligent supervision of the employee, the negligent employee’s incompetence, unfitness or dangerous characteristics proximately caused injuries to the plaintiff; and
    3. there is some employment or agency relationship between the employee and the defendant employer. Estate of Harris v. Papa John’s Pizza, 679 N.W.2d 673 (Iowa 2004).

    A claim of negligent supervision must also include an underlying tort or wrongful act committed by the employee. Cubit v. Mahaska County, 677 N.W.2d 777 (Iowa 2004) (in action by state trooper against county, alleging county negligently failed to train dispatcher with information that driver fleeing from law enforcement officers intended to crash vehicles into officers, negligent supervision claim arose out of act or omission in connection with emergency response so as to fall within scope of statutory immunity provided to county).

Course and Scope of Employment

In Iowa, under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is liable for the negligence of an employee committed while the employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment. Jones v. Blair, 387 N.W.2d 349, 355 (Iowa 1986); Sandman v. Hagan, 261 Iowa 560, 566, 154 N.W.2d 113, 117 (1967). A claim of vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior rests on two elements, 1) proof of an employer/employee relationship, and 2) proof that the injury occurred within the scope of that employment. Biddle v. Satori Mem’l Hosp., 518 N.W.2d 795, 797 (Iowa 1994). For an act to be within the scope of employment the conduct complained of “must be of the same general nature as that authorized or incidental to the conduct authorized.” Sandman, 261 Iowa at 567, 154 N.W.2d at 117. Thus, an act is deemed to be within the scope of one's employment “where such act is necessary to accomplish the purpose of the employment and is intended for such purpose.” Id.

Comparative or Contributory Negligence

  1. Iowa is a modified comparative fault state. Iowa law allows an individual to file a personal injury lawsuit as long as they were not more at fault than the defendant for causing the crash. Thus, Iowa Code § 668.3(1)(b) states that Plaintiff’s negligence will offset defendant’s liability, but plaintiff cannot recover if he is more than 50% at fault.
  2. Sudden Emergency Defense - The sudden emergency doctrine “allows a fact finder to excuse a defendant's failure to obey statutory law when confronted with an emergency not of the defendant's own making.” Foster v. Ankrum, 636 N.W.2d 104, 106 (Iowa 2001). A “sudden emergency” is defined as: (1) an unforeseen combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action; (2) a perplexing contingency or complication of circumstances; (3) a sudden or unexpected occasion for action, exigency, pressing necessity. Id. (quoting Bangs v. Keifer, 174 N.W.2d 372, 374 (Iowa 1970)). The doctrine “reflects the realization that a person who is confronted with an emergency situation is ‘left no time for thought, or is reasonably so disturbed or excited, that he cannot weigh alternative courses of action, and must make a speedy decision, based largely upon impulse or guess.’ ” Jones v. Blair, 387 N.W.2d 349, 352 (Iowa 1986) (quoting W. Prosser, The Law of Torts § 33, at 169 (4th ed.1971)). To excuse otherwise unlawful or negligent conduct, the event characterized as an emergency must compel “if not an instantaneous response, certainly something fairly close to that.” Foster, 636 N.W.2d at 106. The burden of proving a sudden emergency falls on the person asserting the excuse. Jones, 387 N.W.2d at 352. “[A] person is not entitled to the benefit of the emergency rule if it clearly appears [s]he either had actual knowledge of a dangerous situation or in the exercise of reasonable care could have such knowledge in time to act in relation thereto.” Rice v. McDonald, 258 Iowa 372, 380, 138 N.W.2d 889, 894 (1965).

Contribution or Implied Indemnity from Third-Parties

  1. Contribution
    1. Definition: Contribution distributes responsibility for a liability among parties. By distributing responsibility based on the fault of each party, contribution distributes liability according to the principles of comparative fault.
    2. A right of contribution exists between or among two or more persons who are liable upon the same indivisible claim for the same injury, death, or harm, whether or not judgment has been recovered against all or any of them. It may be enforced either in the original action or by a separate action brought for that purpose. The basis for contribution is each person’s equitable share of the obligations, including the share of fault of a claimant, as determined in accordance with § 668.3. Iowa Code § 668.5(1).
    3. Contribution is available to a person who enters into a settlement with the claimant only if the liability of the person against whom contribution is sought has been extinguished and only to the extent that the amount paid in settlement was reasonable. Iowa Code § 668.5(2).
    4. Section 668.7 provides that a release discharges the defendant from all liability for contribution, but it does not discharge any other persons liable upon the same claim unless it so provides. “Nothing requires naming these parties. The court did not require such a rigid rule when the released parties are otherwise sufficiently identified in a manner that the parties to the release would know who was to be benefitted”. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co. v. PGI Int’l, 2016 WL 1680978 (Iowa App. 2016). A court may reform the release to reflect the intent of the parties.
    5. A contribution action may be brought within the original action or a separate action brought within one (1) year if the parties’ percentages of fault have not been established by the court. Iowa Code § 668.6(3).
  2. Implied Indemnity
    1. Definition: Indemnity shifts the entire responsibility for a liability from the indemnitee to the indemnitor
    2. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, a motor carrier transportation contract, whether express or implied, shall not contain a provision, clause, covenant, or agreement that purports to indemnify, defend, or hold harmless, or has the effect of indemnifying, defending, or holding harmless, a promisee from or against any liability for injury, death, loss, or damage resulting from the negligence or intentional acts or omissions of that promisee, or any agents, employees, servants, or independent contractors who are directly responsible to that promisee. This prohibition applies to any provisions or agreements collateral to or affecting a motor carrier transportation contract. Any such provisions, clauses, covenants, or agreements are void and unenforceable. If any provision, clause, covenant, or agreement is deemed void and unenforceable under this section, the remaining provisions of the motor carrier transportation contract are severable and shall be enforceable unless otherwise prohibited by law. Iowa Code § 325B.1.

Exclusivity of Workers Compensation

  1. Under Iowa workers’ compensation law, an employer is immune at common law from lawsuits by injured workers. This employer immunity is the quid pro quo by which the employer gives up its normal defenses and assumes automatic liability for workplace injuries, while the employee gives up his right to common law verdicts. Ottumwa Hous. Auth. v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 495 N.W.2d 723, 729 (Iowa 1993).
  2. With limited exceptions, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act provides the exclusive legal remedy for an injured worker against his or her employer and co-worker(s) so long as the injury “is not caused by the other employee's gross negligence amounting to such lack of care as to amount to wanton neglect for the safety of another.” Iowa Code § 85.20
  3. When an employee is injured and entitled to workers' compensation benefits, that employer is immune from other liability for that injury. Even intentional torts may be outside the scope of remedies available under the Act as the Iowa Supreme Court has held that the exclusive remedy provision bars claims against an employer for intentional acts of supervisory personnel where those acts were not commanded or expressly authorized by the employer. Exclusivity precludes consortium claims. Injured workers can sue co-employees if they are "grossly negligent amounting to wanton neglect for the safety of another." The injured worker must show that the co-employee knew or should have known of the peril to be apprehended and that the injury was a probable, not just possible result of the danger. Finally, the injured worker must show that the co-employee consciously failed to avoid the peril.
  4. The following persons shall not be deemed “workers” or “employees” and are thus not subject to the Iowa Worker’s Compensation Act:
    1. A person whose employment is purely casual and not for the purpose of the employer's trade or business except as otherwise provided in § 85.1.
    2. An independent contractor.
    3. An owner-operator who, as an individual or partner, or shareholder of a corporate owner-operator, owns a vehicle licensed and registered as a truck, road tractor, or truck tractor by a governmental agency, is an independent contractor while performing services in the operation of the owner-operator's vehicle if all of the following conditions are substantially present:
      1. The owner-operator is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle. .
      2. The owner-operator bears the principal burden of the vehicle's operating costs, including fuel, repairs, supplies, collision insurance, and personal expenses for the operator while on the road. .
      3. The owner-operator is responsible for supplying the necessary personnel to operate the vehicle, and the personnel are considered the owner-operator's employees. .
      4. The owner-operator's compensation is based on factors related to the work performed, including a percentage of any schedule of rates or lawfully published tariff, and not on the basis of the hours or time expended. .
      5. The owner-operator determines the details and means of performing the services, in conformance with regulatory requirements, operating procedures of the carrier, and specifications of the shipper. .
      6. The owner-operator enters into a contract which specifies the relationship to be that of an independent contractor and not that of an employee. .
      7. Directors of a corporation who are not at the same time employees of the corporation; or directors, trustees, officers, or other managing officials of a nonprofit corporation or association who are not at the same time full-time employees of the nonprofit corporation or association.

Seat Belt and Helmet Use

  1. Helmet Use: Iowa currently has no mandatory helmet statute in effect.

    i. No Iowa statute requires the use of a helmet so courts are left to decide whether there is a common law duty. Most courts that have faced the issue-whether in the context of helmets or seat belts-have decided there is no such duty. This has been the case regarding whether contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery, or comparative fault, or comparative negligence is the controlling law.

  2. Seat Belt Use: The driver and front seat occupants of a type of motor vehicle that is subject to registration in Iowa, except a motorcycle or a motorized bicycle, shall each wear a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt or safety harness any time the vehicle is in forward motion on a street or highway in this state except that a child under eighteen years of age shall be secured as required under § 321.446. Iowa Code § 321.445 (2)(a).
  3. The nonuse of a safety belt or safety harness by a person is not admissible or material as evidence in a civil action brought for damages in a cause of action arising prior to July 1, 1986.
  4. In a cause of action arising on or after July 1, 1986, brought to recover damages arising out of the ownership or operation of a motor vehicle, the failure to wear a safety belt or safety harness in violation of this section shall not be considered evidence of comparative fault under § 668.3, subsection 1. However, except as provided in § 321.446, subsection 6, the failure to wear a safety belt or safety harness in violation of this section may be admitted to mitigate damages, but only under the following circumstances:
    1. (1) Parties seeking to introduce evidence of the failure to wear a safety belt or safety harness in violation of this section must first introduce substantial evidence that the failure to wear a safety belt or safety harness contributed to the injury or injuries claimed by the plaintiff.
    2. (2) If the evidence supports such a finding, the trier of fact may find that the plaintiff’s failure to wear a safety belt or safety harness in violation of this section contributed to the plaintiff’s claimed injury or injuries, and may reduce the amount of plaintiff’s recovery by an amount not to exceed five percent of the damages awarded after any reductions for comparative fault.


  1. Iowa has rejected negligent spoliation claims because they create endless litigation, it is difficult to impose on a stranger to the litigation a duty to preserve evidence, and it is speculative in nature Meyn v. State, 594 N.W.2d 31, 34 (Iowa 1999).
  2. Iowa remedies for spoliation of evidence include discovery sanctions, barring duplicate evidence where fraud or intentional destruction is indicated and instructing on an unfavorable inference to be drawn from the fact that evidence was destroyed. See State v. Langlet, 283 N.W.2d 330, 333 (Iowa 1979); Shinrone, Inc. v. Tasco, Inc., 283 N.W.2d 280 (Iowa 1979); Prudential Ins. Co. v. Lawnsdail, 235 Iowa 125, 15 N.W.2d 880 (1944); State v. Lambert, 501 N.W.2d 64 (Iowa App.1993).
  3. Evidence of spoliation may allow an inference that “a party who destroys a document with knowledge that it is relevant to litigation is likely to have been threatened by the document.” Lynch v. Saddler, 656 N.W.2d 104, 111 (Iowa 2003). Such inference may only be drawn when the destruction of relevant evidence was intentional, as opposed to merely negligent or the evidence was destroyed as the result of routine procedure. Id. However, such inference does not amount to substantive proof and cannot take the place of proof of a fact necessary to the other party’s cause. Smith v. Shagnasty’s, Inc., 2004 WL 434160 (Iowa App. 2004). Interestingly, the evidentiary inference is imposed both for evidentiary and punitive reasons. Phillips v. Covenant Clinic, 625 N.W.2d 714, 721 (Iowa 2001). Adverse inference instructions should be utilized prudently and sparingly. Lynch, supra
  4. .
  5. There is undoubtedly a trend towards the recognition of the spoliation of evidence as a separate tort. As the number of cases alleging spoliation of evidence increases and more jurisdictions adopt spoliation of evidence as a specific tort, the preservation of evidence is an important consideration for truck accident lawyers and litigants alike. Those in the transportation industry should preserve all information (i.e. potential evidence) that may be relevant in the event that a lawsuit is commenced following a motor vehicle accident. The following are examples of items to be preserved: Accident reports; Photographs/videotapes – including cell phone images; Vehicle inspection records; Maintenance and repair records; Driver’s logs; Routing information; GPS/ECM data. In addition to document preservation, it is important to retain tangible items including the vehicle itself and its parts.


Damage Caps

  1. Caps on Damages.
  2. Iowa does not impose statutory damage caps.

  3. Calculation of Damages.
  4. Iowa has different standards for calculating contract and tort damages.

    1. Contracts. In contract cases, a successful party may recover only those damages that were reasonably contemplated by the parties at the time of entry into the contract. New Hampshire Ins. Co. v. Christy, 200 N.W.2d 834, 844 (Iowa 1972); Macal v. Stinson, 468 N.W.2d 34, 36 (Iowa 1991). A non-breaching party is thus entitled to the “benefit of the bargain.” Midland Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Mercy Clinics, Inc., 579 N.W.2d 823, 831 (Iowa 1998) (court notes that such damages are also referred to as “expectation interest” damages.).
    2. Torts. In tort cases, the only limit on damages is foreseeability. Damages from direct injuries are compensated whether or not such damages were contemplated by the parties. See Norlin v. Nolan, 195 Iowa 1208, 193 N.W. 544 (1923). A party must establish damages to a measure of certainty; courts disallow speculative or remote damages. Robinson v. Perpetual Services Corp., 412 N.W.2d 562, 567 (Iowa 1987); Jamison v. Knosby, 423 N.W.2d 2, 6 (Iowa 1988). Once a party proves that damages have been sustained, the party need only provide a reasonable basis from which a jury may infer or approximate the amount of the award. Basic Chemicals, Inc. v. Benson, 251 N.W.2d 220, 225 (Iowa 1977).

Joint & Several Liability

Iowa law provides for joint and several liability only for defendants 50% or more at fault for plaintiff’s economic damages. Iowa Code § 668.4.

Standard of Proof Required for Compensatory Damages

  1. Compensatory damages are designed to place a victim in the position he or she would be in if the defendant's wrong had never occurred. Compensatory damages include the amount needed to replace or repair the lost or injured property, as well as any costs flowing from the injury (known as consequential damages). Consequential damages may cover the costs of interim replacement property (such as a rental car) as well as any lost profits resulting from the injury.
  2. Damages for personal injury are compensatory and an injured party or decedent's estate should receive no more than has been lost as a result of the tortious act. Adams v. Deur, 173 N.W.2d 100, 105 (Iowa 1969). Many elements of personal injury damage are not ascertainable with precision (e.g., pain and suffering). As there are no fixed rules for determination of such damages, they are left to the sound discretion of the trier of fact. Schnebly v. Baker, 217 N.W.2d 708, 725 (Iowa 1974). While the determination is within the discretion of the trier of fact, the discretion is not without limits. Hawkeye Motors, Inc. v. McDowell, 541 N.W.2d 914, 917–8 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995).

Collateral Source (Meds billed v. paid)

  1. The Iowa Comparative Fault statute, Iowa Code Chapter 668, provides for partial abrogation of the collateral source rule in personal injury cases. In such cases, “the court shall permit evidence and argument as to the previous payment or future right of payment of actual economic losses incurred or to be incurred as a result of the personal injury for necessary medical care, rehabilitation services and custodial care except to the extent that the previous payment or future right of payment is pursuant to a state or federal program or from the assets of the claimant or the member of the claimant’s immediate family.” The partial abrogation of the collateral source rule refers only to medical and rehabilitation-type benefits. The receipt of disability insurance likely is not allowed into evidence under the statute. Evidence of workers’ compensation benefits paid is not to be admitted into evidence. Iowa does not currently have no fault PIP insurance. For cases not brought under Chapter 668, the old collateral source rule still applies.
  2. Pexa v. Auto Owners Ins. Co., 686 N.W.2d 150, 156 (Iowa 2004)
    1. An injured plaintiff may recover only the reasonable and necessary costs of medical care. See Stanley v. State, 197 N.W.2d 599, 606 (Iowa 1972). Therefore, the plaintiff has the burden to prove the reasonable value of the services rendered. See id.; Ege v. Born, 212 Iowa 1138, 1153, 236 N.W. 75, 82 (1931). The reasonable value of medical services can be shown by evidence of the amount paid for such services or through the testimony of a qualified expert witness. Stanley, 197 N.W.2d at 606; Arnold v. Ft. Dodge, Des Moines & S. R.R., 186 Iowa 538, 547, 173 N.W. 252, 255 (1919). The amount charged, standing alone, is not evidence of the reasonable and fair value of the services rendered. Stanley, 197 N.W.2d at 606–07; Arnold, 186 Iowa at 547, 173 N.W. at 255. The billed amount is relevant only if that figure was paid or an expert witness has testified to the reasonableness of the charges. Arnold, 186 Iowa at 547, 173 N.W. at 255. We have consistently held that evidence of the amount charged will not, in the absence of proof of the reasonableness of the billed sum, support recovery of medical expenses. Stanley, 197 N.W.2d at 606–07; Ege, 212 Iowa at 1151–52, 236 N.W. at 82; Arnold, 186 Iowa at 547, 173 N.W. at 255.

Hedonic Damages

Hedonic damages compensate an individual for the lost value of life and the lost enjoyment or pleasures of living. Under Iowa law, hedonic damages are calculated as part of pain and suffering and not as a separate damages element. Poyzer v. McGraw, 360 N.W.2d 748, 753 (Iowa 1985); Brant v. Bockholt, 532 N.W.2d 801, 804-05 (Iowa 1995).

Life Care Plans

  1. A life care plan is a comprehensive, dynamic document that details all of the future care a client will need and how much it will cost. It is created by an expert who has the background and training to understand the medicine behind a client's injuries and who will work diligently to research and document these costs. The expert will assess needs such as medical care and treatment, medical and home health support, educational and vocational training, adaptive equipment, adaptive living environments, and personal equipment. Bryan Slaughter, Craft A Credible Life Care Plan, June 2011, at 22.
  2. Life care plans are admissible in Iowa.

Wrongful Death Standing and Damages

  1. When a person dies due to the wrongful or negligent act of another, Iowa law authorizes the personal representative to commence a wrongful-death action on behalf of the estate. Iowa recognizes no common law action for wrongful death. Roth v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc., 886 N.W.2d 601, 605 (Iowa 2016). Power to maintain such actions is entirely statutory. Our first statute was enacted in 1851 as Code § 2501. That section is today § 611.20, a survival statute, which keeps alive for the benefit of his estate the cause of action which the deceased prior to his death could have brought had he survived the injury, with recovery enlarged to include the wrongful death. Egan v. Naylor, 208 N.W.2d 915, 917 (Iowa 1973). Iowa Code § 611.20, the present statutory foundation for wrongful-death actions, provides, “All causes of action shall survive and may be brought notwithstanding the death of the person entitled or liable to the same.” Iowa Code § 611.20 (2015). Furthermore, “Code §§

    611.20, 611.22 and 633.336 and their predecessors have consistently been held to vest the right to recover wrongful death damages exclusively in the estate representative.” Egan, 208 N.W.2d at 918

  2. When a wrongful act produces death, damages recovered as a result of the wrongful act shall be disposed of as personal property belonging to the estate of the deceased; however, if the damages include damages for loss of services and support of a deceased spouse, parent, or child, the damages shall be apportioned by the court among the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the decedent in a manner as the court may deem equitable consistent with the loss of services and support sustained by the surviving spouse, children, and parents respectively. Any recovery by a parent for the death of a child shall be subordinate to the recovery, if any, of the spouse or a child of the decedent. If the decedent leaves a spouse, child, or parent, damages for wrongful death shall not be subject to debts and charges of the decedent's estate, except for amounts to be paid to the department of human services for payments made for medical assistance pursuant to chapter 249A, paid on behalf of the decedent from the time of the injury which gives rise to the decedent's death up until the date of the decedent's death. Iowa Code § 633.336.
  3. Damages recoverable for wrongful death include: (1) the interest on funeral and burial expenses from the time of the premature death, until the likely date of death, absent the wrongful act, Hurtig v. Bjork, 258 Iowa 155, 138 N.W.2d 62, 63 (1965); Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 200.16; (2) the present value of the lost accumulation to the estate by virtue of the premature death; Iowa Code §§ 613.15 and 633.336; Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 200.15; (3) the loss of support for spouse and children; Iowa Code §§ 613.15and 633.336; Iowa Civil Jury Instructions 200.17 and 200.18; and (4) lost consortium of spouse, parent, and child; Iowa Code §§ 613.15 and 633.336; Iowa Civil Jury Instructions 200.19 and 200.20. Pre-death pain and suffering are recoverable by the estate if shown by substantial evidence that the decedent was “ ‘sufficiently conscious in extent and time that reasonable minds could differ as to whether [she] suffered pain.’ ” Estate of Long ex rel. Smith v. Broadlawns Medical Center, 656 N.W.2d 71, 85 (Iowa 2002), as amended on denial of reh'g, (Feb. 10, 2003) and (abrogated on other grounds by, Thompson v. Kaczinski, 774 N.W.2d 829 (Iowa 2009).

Punitive Damages

As with many other states, Iowa courts award punitive damages as both punishment and deterrent. Charles v. Epperson & Co., 258 Iowa 409, 137 N.W.2d 605, 618 (1965).

  1. Circumstances.
    1. Malice. Punitive damages are generally reserved for cases in which a defendant has committed a tort with malice. Iowa Code § 668A.1. Where a defendant intentionally inflicts severe or extreme emotional distress, even where no physical injury results, punitive damages may be awarded. Meyer v. Nottger, 241 N.W.2d 911 (Iowa 1976). In Iowa, punitive damages are recoverable only upon a showing that "by a preponderance of clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence" the defendant's conduct constituted "willful and wanton disregard" for the rights and safety of the plaintiff. Iowa Code § 668A.1(1). Conduct is "willful and wanton" if "the actor has intentionally done an act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow, and which thus is usually accompanied by a conscious indifference to the consequences." Fell v. Kewanee Farm Equip. Co., a Div. of Allied Prods., 457 N.W.2d 911, 919 (Iowa 1990). Merely objectionable conduct will not suffice to meet the procedural requirements of section 668A.1, rather, the plaintiff must be able to offer evidence that the defendant engaged in a persistent course of conduct to show that the defendant acted with no care and with no regard for the consequences of those acts. See McClure v. Walgreens Co., 613 N.W.2d 225 (Iowa 2000).
      1. Employers could be liable for punitive damages involving the actions of its employees in some cases. In Briner v. Hyslop, 337 N.W.2d 858 (Iowa 1983), the Iowa Supreme Court held that an employer may be held liable for punitive damages for the reckless employment or retention of an employee, the ratification or approval of outrageous acts by its employees, or for outrageous acts performed by an employee in a managerial capacity. In Seraji v. Perket, 452 N.W.2d 399, 402 4 5 (Iowa 1990), a negligent hiring case, the Iowa Supreme Court held the following evidence was not enough to meet the standard required for an award of punitive damages: the employees driving record was not good, the company learned that the employee’s license had been revoked on at least one occasion, that the employee had been convicted of speeding on at least four occasions, and that the employee was also convicted of driving without a license. The Court held that the employer’s conduct did not amount to the type of reckless disregard required for an award of punitive damages.
    2. Contracts. Iowa Courts do not allow punitive damages awards for breaches of contract unless the breach (1) constitutes an intentional tort, and (2) is committed maliciously, in a manner that meets the standards of Iowa Code § 668A.1. Magnusson Agency v. Public Entity Nat. Company-Midwest, 560 N.W.2d 20, 29 (Iowa 1997).
  2. Standard.
  3. Punitive damages may be awarded if the plaintiff has proven by a preponderance of clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence the defendant's conduct constituted a willful and wanton disregard for the rights or safety of another and caused actual damage to the plaintiff. Iowa Civ. Jury Instruction 210.1; Iowa Code § 668A.1.

  4. Insurability.
  5. A standard liability insurance contract covers punitive damages in the absence of an express exclusion. City of Cedar Rapids v. Northwestern Nat. Ins. Co. of Milwaukee, Wis., 304 N.W.2d 228 (Iowa 1981) (overruled on other grounds by, Parks v. City of Marshalltown, 440 N.W.2d 377 (Iowa 1989)).

  6. Caps.
  7. Iowa courts largely leave the assessment of punitive damages to the jury’s discretion. Brause v. Brause, 190 Iowa 329, 177 N.W. 65 (1920). Actual damages must have been awarded to support a punitive damages award. Speed v. Beurle, 251 N.W.2d 217, 219 (Iowa 1977). Courts have noted that the award “must generally be proportionate to the actual damages.” McCarthy v. J. P. Cullen & Son Corp., 199 N.W.2d 362, 368 (Iowa 1972).

Offers of Judgment

  1. Before an action for the recovery of money is brought against any person, the person may go before the clerk of the county of the person s residence, or of that in which the person having the cause of action resides, and offer to confess judgment in favor of such person for a specified sum on such cause of action. Iowa Code § 677.1.
  2. After an action for the recovery of money is brought, the defendant may offer in court to confess judgment for part of the amount claimed, or part of the causes involved in the action. Iowa Code § 677.4.
  3. If the plaintiff accepts the offer and notifies the defendant within five days after the offer is made upon proper filing, the offer will become a judgment by confession. Iowa Code § 677.8.
  4. If plaintiff does not accept the offer, and thereafter files and pursues the action to judgment but obtains less than offered by the defendant, the plaintiff must pay the defendant’s costs in the action (not including attorney’s fees). Iowa Code §§ 677.2, .10.
  5. An offer to confess is not admissible in evidence upon trial and is not considered an admission in the action. Iowa Code §§ 677.3, .6. The making of any offer to confess cannot be used as a cause to continue the action or postpone the trial.


  1. A biomechanics expert will perform an injury causation analysis, comparing the mechanical forces involved in the incident with the body's injury tolerance. For injury to occur, loads must be applied to tissue in a manner and with enough force to exceed the strength and tolerance of the tissue. Biomechanics experts have extensive experience in injury causation and are often designated as experts during litigation proceedings to provide expert analysis and testimony regarding the causal relationship between accident forces and the injuries/damages suffered.
  2. Biomechanic expert testimony is admissible in Iowa.

Must policy limits be disclosed pre-suit?

Iowa law does not require pre-suit disclosure of limits or layers of coverage, other than the rules requiring a driver to present proof of compliance with the state minimum financial responsibility requirements. After suit, the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a party may obtain discovery of the existence and contents of any insurance agreement under which any person carrying on an insurance business may be liable to satisfy part or all of a judgment which may be entered in the action or to indemnify or reimburse for payments made to satisfy the judgment. Information concerning the insurance agreement is not by reason of disclosure admissible in evidence at trial. For purposes of the rule, an application for insurance shall not be treated as part of an insurance agreement. Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.503(2).

May claimant recover general damages if the claimant does not have own auto-insurance? So called no pay no play rules

Yes; but if a person was injured in an automobile accident while that person was in the process of committing a felony and was convicted of that felony, the injured person is barred from non-economic recovery. Iowa Code § 613.20.

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