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Proving Negligence for a Fatal Car Accident


Losing a child in an auto accident is a parent’s worst nightmare. It is therefore understandable that the grieving parents want to hold a negligent driver responsible. But it’s important to understand that it is evidence, not grief, that decides a personal injury lawsuit in Iowa. And even when the victim is no longer able to speak for himself, the defense may still put his conduct on trial in order to avoid liability for the fatal accident.

Iowa Appeals Court Rejects Parents’ Appeal

Recently, the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict in favor of the defendant in a fatal auto accident case. This lawsuit began with a May 2014 collision between a 16-year-old victim and the defendant, who was the victim’s neighbor. The defendant was driving her van home from work. At the same time, the victim was riding his dirt bike. The two actually passed on the street leading to their houses. But the victim then turned around and headed back towards the defendant’s van.

The defendant approached her driveway and signaled a left turn. The victim hit the van on the driver’s side. He was thrown from his bicycle and landed on the ground nearby. The defendant called 911. Although paramedics arrived at the scene, the victim ultimately died from his injuries.

The victim’s estate and parents sued the defendant. They alleged her negligence caused the fatal accident. At trial, the defense moved to introduce evidence that the victim “was not licensed to operate a motorcycle on the highway” and that his dirt bike “lacked turn signals and a headlight” as required by law. The plaintiffs objected, but the trial judge reserved the right to admit this evidence as “presented during the court of the trial.”

The jury returned a verdict for the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued the verdict “was not supported by sufficient evidence and failed to effectuate substantial justice between the parties.” The plaintiffs also cited the judge’s failure to exclude all evidence discussed above.

The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments. With respect to the challenged evidence, the appeals court noted that under the trial court’s ruling, the plaintiffs were free to object to “the evidence of the motorcycle’s lack of a headlight and [the victim]’s lack of licensure at the time the evidence was presented during trial.” The plaintiffs failed to do so, therefore the Court of Appeals refused to consider their challenge on appeal.

As for the verdict itself, the appeals court said the burden of proof was on the plaintiffs to show the defendant was negligent. In effect, their case was that the defendant “failed to keep a proper lookout before turning into her driveway.” And although there were no witnesses to the actual collision, the evidence available to the jurors was sufficient for them to conclude the defendant was not “at fault for the collision,” especially since the victim was driving his dirt bike illegally and unsafely at the time.

Speak with a Southeast Iowa Auto Accident Lawyer Today

Auto accident cases are never simple affairs. Indeed, when the victim is dead, that can make it all the more difficult to prove a defendant’s negligence. This is why, if you have lost a loved one in an accident, you need to work with a skilled Southeast Iowa personal injury attorney who can assist you in investigating what happened and taking appropriate legal action against the responsible parties. Contact the Noyes Law Office, P.C., if you need help today.


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Our Southeast Iowa personal injury, workers compensation and bankruptcy attorneys serve clients in Fairfield, Ottumwa, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa City, Knoxville, Oskaloosa, Fort Madison, Muscatine, Keosauqua, Birmingham, Centerville, Bloomfield, Keokuk, Sigourney, Richland, Burlington, Washington & Columbus Junction.

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