Iowa Car Accident Laws

No matter where you are in Iowa, if you’re in a crash, you’ll need to know the laws for reporting and claiming damages.
Written by Jacqulyn Graber
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
If you’re involved in a collision in
, state law requires you to file reports in two instances: if your accident resulted in injury or death of any person, or if total property damage apparently exceeds a total of $1,500. Regardless of the severity of the accident, you’ll be able to claim all damages through your insurance or a personal injury lawsuit in accordance with your level of fault. 
A car accident can be a traumatic experience—especially if you’re unfamiliar with what to do afterwards. Whether you were just involved in a minor fender bender or a major collision, filing an accident report may not be the first thing on your mind. Thus, it’s essential to understand your state’s car accident laws before an accident happens. 
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What to do after a crash: Iowa car accident reporting laws

after a car accident
, your number one priority should be to make sure that you and your passengers are safe. If possible, move the vehicle out of harm’s way. Then, check for injuries—among your passengers and the passengers of any other vehicles involved—and immediately call 911 if anyone is hurt.
Next, you’ll want to document the crash in any way possible—photographic evidence is always best! You must also exchange insurance information with the other driver(s), and/or record details about their vehicle’s make, model, and license plate number. Do not leave the scene until you have provided your personal information to the other driver(s) and the police (if they have been called to the scene).
Once you complete all these steps, you still have to inform involved organizations in order to legally pursue a claim. In the state of Iowa, you may be required to report the accident to three separate entities: 
  • The police
  • The DOT
  • Your insurance company 
Here’s a closer look at Iowa’s car accident reporting laws and what steps you can take to file a claim.

When to report an accident to the police

If you’re involved in an accident that results in any injury or death, Iowa law requires you to contact the sheriff of the county in which the accident occurred immediately and by the quickest means of communication available. 
You are not otherwise required by law to contact the police—but you may wish to do so anyway. A law enforcement officer can come to the scene of the accident, investigate the situation, and file a report to the Department of Transportation (DOT) on your behalf

When to report an accident to the DOT

If you’re involved in an accident that results in any injury or death, or if there are apparent property damages that clearly exceed the amount of $1,500, you’re required to file a written report with Iowa’s DOT within 72 hours of the accident.
To file, completely
fill out this form
and mail it to:
The Iowa Department of Transportation - Systems & Administration Bureau
P.O. Box 9204
Des Moines, Iowa 
Failure to complete the form in a timely manner could result in a suspension of your driving privileges. 
Note that if a law enforcement officer investigated the accident at the scene, they will automatically file this report for you. If you would like to obtain a copy of a police officer’s report of an accident, you can
use this form
to request one for a fee of $4

Financial responsibility and coverage minimums: Iowa’s insurance laws

To reduce the headache of getting into an accident, Iowa’s car insurance laws require all drivers to demonstrate financial responsibility for their vehicle. To do so, Iowa drivers must purchase a minimum amount of
liability insurance
to protect themselves, other drivers, and pedestrians. 
The minimum amount of coverage required in Iowa is as follows:
You’ll need to provide proof of this coverage when registering your vehicle at the DOT and maintain this coverage for as long as you own and operate your car. Failure to carry this minimum coverage can result in a fine of $250,
vehicle registration
suspension, and a one-year license suspension if you’re involved in an at-fault accident with damages exceeding $1,500.
Despite these laws, not every driver in Iowa carries adequate car insurance. In fact, a 2019 study conducted by the
Insurance Information Institute (III)
estimates that approximately 11.3% of all Iowa drivers lack insurance policies. 
Even if you have car insurance, you could have trouble claiming damages to your vehicle if you’re ever involved in an accident with an uninsured driver. That’s why it’s always smart to add
uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage
to your policy.

Claiming damages after an accident: Iowa’s personal injury laws

In some situations, you may want to go above and beyond an insurance claim by filing a personal injury lawsuit. With this lawsuit, you have the right to claim damages associated with the collision. These include:
  • Economic damages: Any expenses resulting from the crash, such as medical bills, lost wages, missed business opportunities, loss of use of property, burial expenses, etc
  • Non-economic damages: Includes personal damages that are not quantifiable dollarwise, but negatively impact the victim’s quality of life, such as pain and suffering, mental suffering, long-term disability, inconvenience, etc
While there is no cap on the economic damages you may claim, the state senate placed a “soft cap” of $250,000 on the amount you may claim for non-economic damages. However, this “soft cap” may not apply in every case, so it’s important to seek legal counsel if your non-economic damages are significant. 
It’s also important to note that Iowa adheres to strict comparative fault rules. That is, if you are deemed partially at fault for an accident, you can still collect money in a personal injury case, but the money you collect will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. For example, if your verdict was for $100,000, but the court deemed you 20% at fault for an accident, you will receive a total of $80,000. 
Bear in mind that Iowa also has a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits stemming from accidents—but the exact time frame depends on the nature of the damages you’re claiming. 
  • For property damage claims, you have five years to file a legal claim
  • For bodily injury claims, you have two years to file a suit

Exceptions to Iowa’s personal injury laws

According to
Iowa Code 614.1(2)
, the statute of limitations could be extended to allow a longer window for claims in two instances:
  • If the injured party has a mental illness at the time of the injury
  • If the injured party is a minor at the time of the injury
On the other hand, filing a personal injury case against a government entity may result in a window shorter than two years because of special rules about suing government agencies and employees. 
Additionally, if you are found to be mostly at fault for an accident—that is, 50% or more—you will not be able to collect anything via a personal injury lawsuit.

Who’s to blame: Iowa’s pure comparative negligence law

As we mentioned earlier, Iowa adheres to strict comparative fault laws.
Comparative negligence laws in Iowa
state that each party is responsible for damages in proportion to the percentage of fault they caused—unless the plaintiff’s negligence reaches 51% or higher. 
This means that if you are involved in an accident but deemed to be partially at fault, the amount of compensation you are seeking will be reduced by the percentage of your responsibility. For example, if you were seeking $10,000 in total damages, but the court found that you were 10% to blame for an accident, you would receive a total of $9,000 in compensation. 
If the court finds that you are over 50% to blame, you will not be able to receive any compensation. 

How to save money on car insurance in Iowa

A single car accident could raise your car insurance rates significantly—especially if the resulting damages were severe. It may seem impossible to find lower rates after a collision, but Jerry is here to help. 
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Need to cut car insurance costs? Keep the coverage and find the savings with Jerry—the average user saves $800 or more per year!
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