Iowa Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Over 300 people die on Iowa roads every year, and many more are injured. About a third of these casualties are caused by drunk driving. If you were injured in an Iowa road accident, or if your close relative was killed, you may file a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the culpable party. The following Iowa legal principles will determine the outcome of your claim.

Statute of Limitations: The Iowa statute of limitations requires you to file a car accident personal injury lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident. Although you have five years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit for property damage, if you want to include both personal injury and property damages claims in the same lawsuit, you will have only two years to file. If you wish to file a wrongful death claim, the deadline is two years from the date of the victim’s death.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: Iowa takes a modified comparative fault approach to awarding damages when the victim is partly at fault. The court (or the insurance company, if you are settling out of court) will determine the victim’s percentage of fault and then subtract that exact same percentage from your damages. If the court determines that the victim was more than 50 percent at fault, however, you will receive no recovery at all.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Iowa is a “fault” auto insurance state – you are entitled to claim directly against the other driver’s liability insurance policy or even file a lawsuit.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: Iowans must purchase auto accident liability insurance with coverage of no less than $20,000 per victim, $40,000 per accident (no matter how many victims) and $15,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Drivers Coverage: Iowa does not require its drivers to carry uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance.

Types of Damages Available: Full compensatory damages are available for both economic and non-economic losses. Punitive damages require “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant’s conduct was directed at the victim. State law imposes no cap on punitive damages.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: Strict tort liability is limited to the original manufacturer, as long as a design or manufacturing defect is alleged and as long as the manufacturer is solvent and within Iowa’s jurisdiction. Negligence and warranty theories of liability are also available.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): The Iowa Tort Claims Act allows lawsuits against the state government. A lawsuit must be filed within six months unless a notice is filed with the Iowa state government within 60 days, in which case the lawsuit filing deadline will be extended to two years. No punitive damages are allowed.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: Iowa does not require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants must wear seat belts while sitting in the front seat. The maximum fine for a first offense is $127.50

Dram Shop Laws: Alcohol vendors are liable for damages caused to a third party when the vendor serves a minors under 21 or an obviously intoxicated adult who harms the third party due to intoxication. Social hosts face limited liability to third parties for serving minors under 21, but not for serving intoxicated adults.

DUI/DWI Penalties: A first offense can result in jail time of 2 days to 1 year and a fine of $624 t $1,200, along with a driver’s license suspension of 180 days.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Although Iowa bans all drivers from texting while driving, it is a secondary offense — you cannot be cited unless the officer stops you for another infraction such as speeding. Drivers on Restricted or Intermediate licenses are banned from using cell phones, whether or not hand-held.