The Basics Of Iowa's Comparative Fault Law

Oftentimes in personal injury or wrongful death cases, the defendant is clearly 100% at fault for the accident. Defendants that are completely at fault are required to pay the full damages of any injured parties. But there are times, especially in car accident cases, when both parties may bear some of the blame for the accident. Using the motor vehicle accident example, one driver may have been speeding and the other driver may have gone through a stop sign without yielding the right of way. In that situation, Iowa's law of "comparative fault," (Iowa Code Chapter 668) will apply to the case.

Iowa's Comparative Fault Act can be implicated in any many different kinds of cases. Examples include fire or explosion, products liability, dog-at-large/vehicle accidents, premises liability, truck, boating, drunk driving, motorcycle, train or railroad, bicycle, or pedestrian accidents. The Iowa Court of Appeals recently denied the plaintiffs' recovery in a railroad accident case when it was determined that the deceased driver was 100% at fault for a train/vehicle collision at a railroad crossing.   

Under Iowa's comparative fault law the total possible fault among all parties is 100%. Fault is then assigned to each party depending on how much blame they bear for the accident. For example, using the car crash hypothetical above, the speeding driver may be found 25% at fault and 75% fault may be assigned to the driver who failed to stop and yield the right-of-way.

The apportionment of fault affects the plaintiff's monetary recovery. A defendant only has to pay money damages to the extent that defendant is found at fault. Similarly, a plaintiff's monetary recovery is reduced by the amount of fault that's assigned the plaintiff. Returning to our car crash example, if the speeding plaintiff is awarded $100,000 in damages but is found 25% at fault, that plaintiff's recovery will be reduced by 25%, or $25,000, leaving the plaintiff with a $75,000 recovery.

Iowa's comparative fault rules apply up to the point that the plaintiff is found to be 50% at fault. At that point the plaintiff receives exactly half of the money damages awarded in the case. But it's all over for the plaintiff once the plaintiff is found to be more than 50% at fault. Iowa's Comparative Fault Act prohibits a monetary recovery for any plaintiff that is found to be greater than 50% at fault.

Juries have tremendous latitude in apportioning fault among the parties to a lawsuit. The standard comparative fault jury instruction tells juries that "damages may be the fault of more than one person. In comparing fault, you should consider all of the surrounding circumstances as shown by the evidence, together with the conduct of the parties and the extent of the causal relation between their conduct and the damage claimed. You should then determine what percentage, if any, each party's fault contributed to the damages."

Harley Erbe