As we prepare for spring, it’s easy to get caught up in all the outdoor activities and fun events planned that come with the warmer weather. However, if you are a property owner, spring is also a good time for something else: taking a look at your property and repairing any damages the winter has caused. Why? Of course we all want our properties to look good and function well, especially if we own a business property. From a legal aspect though, repairing any damage or doing updates to your property can also save you from future legal issues. If someone is injured on your property and it’s found the reason is because you were negligent in caring for your property, you could be facing a lawsuit.
Negligence laws can vary from state to state, but in Iowa, the property owner must be at least 50% at fault (and there must be some actual injuries or losses suffered by the plaintiff) before the property owner will be liable. This is called Iowa’s Comparative Fault law and basically states that in the event of an accident there is 100% of fault to be assigned and, if the injured person is more than 50% at fault, they cannot recover any damages from the property owner. Many property owners panic at the prospect of someone tripping on their front steps and suing them, but it’s really a lot more complicated than that. If someone tripped on your stairs because they weren’t paying attention, there is no case. However, if someone tripped on your stairs because there was a loose floorboard you were well aware of all year but did nothing to fix, that might be a different story.
These facts are also good to keep in mind if you are the one who is injured on someone else’s property. While many injuries are purely accidental and not due to someone else’s negligence, in instances where an injury is at least 50% the property owner’s fault, you may want to seek legal counsel. If you have been injured, here are some questions to consider:
Did the owner do something wrong? This could include not scooping or salting snowy or icy walks, not fixing broken pavement, not having adequate lighting or not properly restraining a dog or other pet.
Was the owner more, or at least as much, at fault than I was? Even if the owner’s negligence played into the accident, if you’re more at fault than the owner (if you intoxicated, for example), you won’t have a case under Iowa’s Comparative Fault law.
Do I have a serious enough injury to make the claim worth pursuing? If you’ve skinned a knee or bruised an elbow, it won’t be worth the time, effort and money to contact counsel. However, head injuries, broken limbs or other injuries that are expensive to treat and could lead to permanent health issues might be a different story.
If you win, will you be able to collect from the owner? Many times, this comes down to the question of whether the property owner has adequate insurance or not.
If you still think you have a case, try to get contact information or statements from any witnesses, take pictures of the location of the injury and reason for it, seek appropriate medical treatment, and then seek legal counsel.