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The Role of “Foreseeability” in an Iowa Car Accident Lawsuit


When you file a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence, you need to prove the defendant violated some legal “duty” owed to you. For instance, in an auto accident, you might show the other driver violated the duty to operate their vehicle in a reasonably safe manner according to local traffic laws. In other cases, determining a defendant’s duty may require a more detailed analysis of the particular facts and circumstances of a case.

West Des Moines Strip Club May Face Trial Over Death of Patron

A recent decision from the Iowa Court of Appeals, Morris v. Legends Fieldhouse Bar and Grill, LLC, illustrates the difficulties that personal injury victims can face in establishing a defendant’s duty. This case arises from a fatal auto accident–but notably, the defendant was not a party directly involved in the accident.

Here is what happened. The victim in this case was drinking at a strip club in West Des Moines. A bouncer asked the victim to leave because he believed the victim “had too much to drink.” The victim refused the bouncer’s offer to call a cab and instead walked out of the strip club. Shortly thereafter, he was struck and killed by a drunk driver who, coincidentally, was on his way to the same strip club.

The victim’s estate subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the owner of the strip club. The lawsuit alleged that the club was negligent in allowing the victim to leave its premises “when he was clearly too intoxicated to drive or otherwise safely make it back to his hotel without assistance.” In response, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing it violated no legal duty owed to the victim.

A trial court granted the defense’s motion, in part because the judge held there was a lack of “foreseeability.” That is to say, the judge concluded there was no way the strip club could have anticipated the victim would be hit and killed by a drunk driver after leaving its premises. While the judge agreed the defendant had a duty to “exercise reasonable care in maintaining [the victim’s] safety” while he was in the club, that duty ended once he left.

But as the Court of Appeals explained, the trial judge should not have considered “foreseeability” as part of his analysis. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court expressly rejected foreseeability as a factor when assessing a defendant’s duty in a negligence lawsuit. It may be considered as “part of the reasonable care and scope of liability” portions of a case. Those are questions for a jury to decide, however, rather than the judge at the summary judgment stage. The Court of Appeals therefore returned this case to the district court with instructions to consider the issue of duty without regard to foreseeability.

Speak with a Southeast Iowa Car Accident Lawyer Today

There are many steps involved in any successful negligence lawsuit. An experienced Southeast Iowa personal injury attorney can provide you with skilled representation at every stage of the process. If you, or someone in your family, has been seriously injured in a car accident and you need legal advice, contact the Noyes Law Office today to schedule a consultation.


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