Iowa Wrongful Death Claims and Lawsuits

Iowa Wrongful Death Claims and Lawsuits

Dealing with the wrongful death of a loved one is never easy, and at VanDerGinst Law, we know how difficult it can be to think about filing a claim or a lawsuit when you are grappling with the unexpected death of a spouse, parent, or another family member.

Yet filing a wrongful death claim can help you to obtain financial compensation for the loss of your loved one, and it can also allow you to hold the responsible party accountable for his or her actions that resulted in your family member’s death.

Wrongful death claims can be extremely challenging, but they also can bring some closure during a difficult time.

A compassionate Iowa wrongful death attorney can answer your questions about filing a claim. 

VanDerGinst Law can be that resource in your time of need. 

What Is Considered a Wrongful Death in Iowa?

A wrongful death claim is a way of describing all legal claims that may be brought by an estate and/or the family of a person who dies as the result of negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct of another person or business.

Wrongful death claims are designed to compensate those who suffer losses through the fault of a third party. There are many causes of wrongful death, including motor vehicle accidents, death caused as a side effect of various medications/pharmaceuticals, construction accidents, defective equipment or medical devices and other product liability accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home negligence and abuse, “dram shop” claims, assaults and other intentional behavior, agricultural accidents, deaths related to hazards on commercial or residential property, also known as premises liability, and death due to animal attacks.

In Iowa, the legal basis for wrongful death claims has been defined through statutes passed by the Iowa legislature and by decisions from numerous Iowa courts. Wrongful death laws can vary widely between states. One difference between Iowa and some other states is that there is no separate cause of action necessary to be pled to recover compensation for damages the decedent may have recovered if she or she had survived the injuries that caused death.  This is sometimes known as a survival action.  In Iowa, those damages can be requested, if applicable, as part of the same wrongful death lawsuit that also requests compensation for the decedent’s spouse, children and/or parents, if applicable.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and be Entitled to Recover Compensation in Iowa?

The following parties have the right to file a wrongful death claim in Iowa:

The executor or administrator of the deceased party’s estate

 If the deceased does not have a will or other document that names an executor for their estate, one will need to be appointed before a wrongful death case can go forward.  The claim this person can bring is on behalf of the estate for the pre-death injuries of the decedent and the loss of accumulation of value to the estate. 

Any surviving children or spouse of the deceased

These persons may bring claims for the financial and consortium losses they suffered due to the loss of their parent or spouse. “Children” includes natural and adopted children but does not include stepchildren. The estates of unborn children do not have a claim for wrongful death.  But the parents of an unborn child may have a claim for their losses. 

Parents of a deceased minor or adult child

Under Iowa law, the parents of a deceased child, including a deceased adult child, may bring a claim for their losses due to the death of their child.

Damages Available for an Iowa Wrongful Death Claim

Section 633.336 of the Iowa Probate Code states as follows:

633.336 Damages for wrongful death.

When a wrongful act produces death, damages recovered as a result of the wrongful act shall be disposed of as personal property belonging to the estate of the deceased; however, if the damages include damages for loss of services and support of a deceased spouse, parent or child, the damages shall be apportioned by the court among the surviving spouse, children and parents of the decedent in a manner as the court may deem equitable consistent with the loss of services and support sustained by the surviving spouse, children, and parents respectively.  Any recovery by a parent for the death of a child shall be subordinate to the recovery, if any, of the spouse or a child of the decedent.  If the decedent leaves a spouse, child or parent, damages for wrongful death shall not be subject to the debts and charges of the decedent’s estate, except for the amounts to be paid the department of human services for payments made for medical assistance pursuant to chapter 249A, paid on behalf of the decedent from the time of the injury which gives rise to the decedent’s death up until the date of the decedent’s death.

Iowa wrongful death claims include several related but distinct claims, including:

(1) the claim the deceased person would have had for injuries and damages up to the time of death; and for losses to the estate

If the decedent survives his or her injuries for any period before perishing, that person’s estate can recover damages for what was suffered between the time of injury and death, including medical expenses, lost income, compensation for physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of function of mind and body and loss of enjoyment of life.

The estate can also recover the “present value” of amounts the deceased person would have reasonably been expected to accumulate if he or she lived to his or her natural life expectancy. 

Further, the estate can recover the interest on burial expenses from the time of death until when those would have been paid if the decedent had lived to his or her natural life expectancy.

The amounts awarded to the estate are distributed to person named in a decedent’s will if there was one.  Otherwise, these amounts are distributed according to inheritance laws applicable in Iowa.  Usually, that results in the award being distributed in the following order, depending on who exists at the time the award is made: spouse, children, parents, more distant relatives. 

(2) the claims of the spouse, children, and/or parents of the deceased person for loss of financial support and for loss of their relationship with the deceased person, commonly called “loss of consortium”.

Spousal Claims: The surviving spouse of a decedent may recover the present value of the amount of financial support that the deceased person would have contributed to his or her spouse, but for his or her death. The surviving spouse is also entitled to recover the present value of the “services” that the deceased person would have performed for his or her spouse, but for the premature death. This is commonly called spousal consortium and is defined under Iowa law as “the fellowship of a husband and wife and the right of each to the benefits of company, cooperation, affection, the aid of the other in every marital relationship, general usefulness, industry and attention within the home and family.”

Child’s Claims:  Surviving children are entitled to recover the present value of the amount of financial support which the deceased person would have contributed but for decedent’s death, limited in time to when the child reaches the age of eighteen (or marries before then), unless there is proof that the child will have a need for support beyond that date.

Parental Claim: A parent may recover the present value of the “services” that the deceased person would have performed for his or her children (including adult children), but for the premature death, and further defined as the relationship between parent and child and the right of the child to the benefits of companionship, comfort, guidance, affection, and aid of the parent in every parental relationship, general usefulness, industry and attention within the family.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

Most grounds for wrongful death claims are like those that result in personal injury lawsuits.

There are many different causes of a wrongful death, including but not limited to:

Common Damages in a Iowa Wrongful Death Claims

  • Medical bills for the deceased’s illness or injury
  • Pre-death pain and suffering of the deceased person.
  • Lost wages, income and/or value of lifetime earnings of the deceased
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Property damage
  • Loss of services and companionship to family
  • Punitive damages

Time Limits for Filing an Iowa Wrongful Death Claim

A wrongful death claim in Iowa must be filed within two years decedent’s death. If the claim is not filed within the two-year time limit (which is set by a law called the “statute of limitations“), the case may be forever barred from proceeding.

In some wrongful death cases, the state pursues a separate criminal case based on the same incident. However, the two-year time limit for filing a civil wrongful death claim remains the same whether a criminal case has also been brought to court.

Therefore, it is important to contact the Iowa Wrongful Death attorneys at VanDerGinst Law as soon as possible.

Contact an Iowa Wrongful Death Attorney

An experienced and compassionate lawyer can discuss your case with you today.

Contact VanDerGinst Law at 800-797-5391 or online for more information about the services we provide to clients and their families in Iowa.

The information contained on this website is presented by VanDerGinst Law P.C. It is not intended nor should it be construed as professional legal advice. The information is general in nature about the Firm, the scope of services we offer, and our community outreach, it is not legal advice. Please contact us by phone, email, mail, or via this website for inquiries. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation regarding your situation. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the State of Iowa and/or the State of Illinois.

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