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Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Iowa?


If you sustain injuries in a car accident caused by one or more third parties, you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages. But where do you actually file such a lawsuit? And does it even matter?

To answer the latter question first, it definitely matters. No court may hear a lawsuit unless it is considered the proper venue for that action. Here in Iowa, personal injury claims are normally filed in one of the state’s district courts. There is a district court located in each county. It is therefore important that you know which county’s court you need to file in.

You might think the answer to this is simple: You can file the lawsuit in the county where you live. But that is often incorrect. Iowa law defines venue in a personal injury case based on one of two things: Where the defendant lives, or where the accident itself took place.

Let’s take a simple hypothetical example. Say you live in Jefferson County and are driving through Washington County when you are rear-ended by another driver who happens to live in Van Buren County. If you want to sue that other driver, you need to do so in either Washington (where the defendant lives) or Van Buren (where the accident occurred) county.

Choosing Venue When There Are Multiple Defendants

Now what if there is more than one defendant? How does that affect venue? A recent decision from the Iowa Court of Appeals, Gustafson v. Zephier, provides a more practical, real-world example of what we are talking about.

In this particular case, the underlying auto accident occurred in Harrison County. Both the plaintiffs and the defendant driver also lived in Harrison County. So you might assume that the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in Harrison County.

But as it turned out, they opted to file their case in Polk County instead. The reason for this was that there was a second defendant–the plaintiff’s insurance company. As you probably know, most Iowa auto insurance policies include “uninsured motorist” (UM) coverage. This means your own insurer is liable for the amount of any personal injury award that an uninsured or under-insured defendant cannot pay.

It is common practice to name a UM carrier as a co-defendant in a personal injury claim when, as in this case, the defendant driver may be underinsured. And since the insurance company was based in Polk County, the plaintiffs opted to file their lawsuit there. The insurance company objected, insisting the case should be heard in Harrison County. But the Court of Appeals, reversing a trial judge’s earlier ruling on this issue, explained that under Iowa law, when there are multiple defendants who reside in different counties, the plaintiff can decide which county to proceed in.

Speak with a Southeast Iowa Car Accident Lawyer Today

Venue is just one of many legal issues that must be addressed in a successful car accident lawsuit. A qualified Southeast Iowa personal injury attorney can provide you with advice and representation. Contact the Noyes Law Office today to schedule a consultation with a compassionate and understanding lawyer today.


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