Comparative Negligence in Iowa

Under Iowa’s comparative negligence law, you can recover damages from a car accident as long as you aren’t found to be more than 50% at fault.
Written by Samuel Todd
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Iowa is a modified contributory negligence state, which means that you can recover damages from an accident as long as you were not more than 50% at fault.
Imagine that you’re driving through an intersection, going a little over the speed limit. Out of the corner of your eye, you see another car charging through the intersection (through a red light!). You slam on the brakes, but can’t quite stop in time and skid into their car. So, who’s at fault?
This is where the legal doctrine of comparative negligence comes into play. Essentially, comparative negligence allows blame to be shared—so you’re responsible for part of the accident (for speeding), and your red-light running counterpart shares some of the blame.
Every state has a slightly different law when it comes to comparative negligence, so it’s a great idea to become familiar with your state’s law. That’s why
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What is comparative negligence?

When it comes to car accidents, comparative negligence is a legal concept that allows fault to be shared.
Let’s say that you’re found to be 30% at fault for speeding and the other driver gets pinned with 70% of the blame for running a red. In that case, you could recover 70% of the total damages that you sustained (100% minus your own fault of 30%). 
Keep in mind that comparative negligence applies to both personal injury lawsuits and insurance claims. So, if you sue the driver who ran into you, a judge or jury will decide who’s at fault and award damages accordingly. Should you choose to file an insurance claim, the insurer will use comparative negligence to decide how much money they’ll pony up. 

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

Comparative negligence comes in three types: pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Here’s a quick run-down of each:
  • Pure comparative negligence: Both injured parties can collect damages according to their share of fault. So, you could collect damages in an accident whether you’re 10% at fault or 90% at fault.
  • Modified comparative negligence: An injured party can collect damages unless their share of the blame is greater than 50% (or equal to 50%, in some states). So, if you were found to be 60% at fault for a crash, you couldn’t recover anything. 
  • Contributory negligence: The injured party can’t recover damages if they have any share of the blame. Although it’s still used in a handful of states, this doctrine is frowned upon because of its unjust outcomes. Just imagine—if a driver rear-ended you at 100 mph, you might not be able to recover any damages if you forgot to use your blinker!
Only 12 states recognize pure comparative negligence, and only 5 states recognize pure contributory negligence. 

What is Iowa’s comparative negligence law?

Under Iowa law, you can recover damages as long as you were not more than 50% at fault. Iowa is one of 33 states that uses modified comparative negligence.
  • If you were 10% at fault for an accident, the other driver will be responsible for 90% of your damages.
  • If you were 50% at fault for an accident, the other driver will be responsible for half of your damages.
  • If you were more than 50% at fault for an accident, you won’t be able to recover anything.

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties?

If there are more than two drivers in an accident, they’ll all split the blame for the collision. Although dividing up blame between multiple drivers becomes a bit trickier, here’s the bottom line: if you get into an accident with more than one other car, you can submit a claim to any or all of their insurance companies. 
If one of the drivers can’t pay their share (maybe they don’t have enough money), the other at-fault parties will have to cover for them so that you get a full recovery

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

To accurately assign fault in a car accident, insurance companies will examine all available evidence and review police reports
Though handing out fault in an accident can be complicated, you can help to make the process easier. If you’re at the scene of an accident and you can safely approach the vehicles involved and do things like:
  • Note the types of vehicles in the accident
  • Note The weather conditions and time of day
  • Ask for witness reports (or provide a witness report, if you saw the accident)
  • Take photographs of the damage (be sure to photograph the vehicles in their entirety—it’s easy to miss damage at first sight!)
Once you’ve made sure that everybody is safe, it’s important to call the police as well. Police officers will be able to help anybody who was hurt in the accident. Plus, their accident report could be pivotal evidence when an insurer or jury is deciding who’s to blame.

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence?

In a modified comparative negligence state like Iowa, you can file an insurance claim as long as you weren’t more than 50% at fault for the accident.
Let’s take one last look at our earlier collision conundrum. An insurance company reviews the incident and finds you 30% at fault for speeding. The other driver is given 70% of the blame for
running a red light
(maybe they were driving while distracted, which is a big no-no for your insurance rates).
If the damage to your car is $4,000, you’ll be able to recover $2,800 from the other driver’s insurer (70% of the total damage). Because their percentage of the fault is greater than 50%, they won’t be able to recover anything from you.
Key Takeaway As long as you weren’t more than 50% at fault for an accident, you can file an insurance claim and recover damages, which will be equal to the total damages reduced by your portion of the blame. 

How to find affordable car insurance

If you get into an accident or commit a traffic violation (even if you were just going a little over the limit!) your insurance rates might jump. Nobody wants to pay more for insurance—but most people don’t reevaluate their insurance, even after it spikes.
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