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How Can Iowa’s “Comparative Fault” Rule Affect the Outcome of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?


Iowa follows a modified comparative negligence rule in personal injury cases. What does this mean in practice? Basically, if two drivers are involved in an auto accident, and one driver ends up suing the other for damages, the judge jury has to apportion relative fault between the two parties. The plaintiff driver can then only recover damages if their fault was 50 percent or less. And even then, the defendant’s recovery is offset to account for the plaintiff’s share of the fault.

Rural Postal Carrier Found Not At-Fault for Collision with Motorcyclist

Because of this rule, a defendant has every incentive to try and shift blame for the accident to the plaintiff. Take this recent case from a federal magistrate judge here in Iowa, Kleckner v. United States. This case involved an auto accident between a motorcyclist and a vehicle operated by a rural mail carrier for the United States Postal Service.

It should be noted that while most personal injury cases are tried in state court, this one was heard in federal court because the United States government was the defendant. Federal law allows such personal injury claims to be tried applying the law of the state where the accident took place. So Iowa law governed the outcome of the trial, which was held before the magistrate judge with the consent of both sides.

The basic facts of the accident were not in dispute. One afternoon in May 2014, the plaintiff was traveling west on Iowa State Highway 64 between Sabula and Miles. A postal service vehicle, driven by a man named Smith, was making deliveries along IA-64. Coincidentally, the accident took place just as Smith happened to be turning into his own driveway, as he was returning home for lunch. As Smith turned left into the driveway, the plaintiff’s motorcycle “collided with the left site” of Smith’s delivery vehicle.

What was in dispute was who caused the collision. The plaintiff said he assumed Smith was delivering mail to the mailbox, which was located on the right side of the road. The plaintiff therefore decided to pass Smith on the left lane, which required him to cross the double-yellow line in the middle of IA-64. The plaintiff said he had no idea Smith intended to turn left into the driveway, as Smith did not have his left-turn signal flashing.

Smith disputed this. He maintained his left turn signal was on the from the moment he left the previous mailbox on his route until he reached his driveway. Smith also testified that it was his practice to travel on the gravel shoulder of IA-64 when making deliveries, and he was on the road itself when making the turn home.

Ultimately, the magistrate judge found Smith’s account, and the government’s overall case, persuasive. Critically, the court determined that the plaintiff violated Iowa traffic laws by crossing a double-yellow line and failing to keep his motorcycle under control. In other words, even if “some percentage of fault” could be attributed to Smith, there was no question the plaintiff’s comparative fault was at least 51 percent–so he could recover nothing under Iowa law.

Speak with an Iowa Car Accident Attorney Today

When you are involved in an auto accident, do not assume that just because you think the other driver was at-fault that means your own actions will not be challenged in court. This is why it is crucial to work with an experienced Southeast Iowa auto accidents lawyer who can assist you in fully investigating the circumstances surrounding your case. Contact the Noyes Law Office, P.C., to schedule a consultation with a member of our team today.


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