Suing someone in Iowa

During your life, you will, at one time or another, find yourself needing legal advice.

Hopefully, the situation will be a minimal interruption in your life, but sometimes problems come up that you could not have expected or anticipated.  Now it is up to you to decide if you are going to file a lawsuit.

I am a regular forum user for www.avvo.com.  It is a webpage that allows the public to post questions on a Q&A forum where attorneys can voluntarily provide legal information.  More than half of the time, after providing general advice, I recommend the person consult with a lawyer about his or her options.  Every case is fact specific and a forum can only provide legal information not a specific analysis of your case.  A consultation with an attorney has nominal cost involved.  It will save you time and energy to find out "where you stand" according to the law.  

If you meet with an attorney, who practices in the area of law related to your issue, you will learn if there is a legal remedy available for your situation.  

There are times in your life where circumstances are unfair and it seems that there must be a way to get compensation or "justice" for your unpleasant and inconvenient situation.  In some circumstances there may not be a remedy under the law for your circumstances or the remedy costs more than walking away from the situation.

Here are a few issues that I have seen occur and make me concerned that an attorney consultation wasn't done before filing a lawsuit.

1.  Little or no available remedy example:
Grandparent visitation:  grandparents in Iowa do not have a legal right to visitation of their grandchildren.  The United States Supreme Court, in 2000, clarified this question in Trowel v. Granville and Iowa law has followed that parents presumably act in the best interest of their child.  It doesn't mean a grandparent can't try, but it is an uphill battle.  See Iowa Code 600c.1.

I have advised individuals that even if you file a suit on your own, which is an available option in almost any case, you may not be able to collect on the judgment.  

2.  Judgment-proof defendant example:
Parked Car: someone hits your parked car and you sue for damages and win.  If the defendant did not have insurance to cover the damage, they may be judgement-proof, meaning they have no money in the bank and no job to garnish wages.  Collecting on a judgment costs money and time and, if you are able to garnish wages, there is a statutory limit to how much can be garnished each calendar year.  In one scenerio, I estimated it would take 15 years of garnishments to collect on the judgment.  The collection process costs money and has a precise statutory process to follow.  The collection procedure is best handled by an attorney, who will in turn, keep a certain percentage (usually 1/3) as compensation for their services.

I have advised individuals that they would have had more success and less expense in small claims court than filing in district court.

3.  The People's Court example:
Don't be greedy:  The maximum limit of money damages for a small claims complaint in Iowa is $5,000.  If someone owes a few hundred, or even a few thousand over the small claims limit, you may be better off filing a claim for $5,000.00 worth of  damages that you are owed and get the case resolved in less time.  Below is a comparison of time and money considerations for district court and small claims court in Iowa.

Small Claims Court in Iowa

  1. Efficiency: the judge will hear your case within a few months of the defendant being served.
  2. Relaxed rules of evidence:  not to be confused with no rules of evidence, just more accommodating to the parties so the judge can hear the entire story.
  3. Fast results:  you will get the decision on your case within weeks.
  4. People's court: the rules of small claims are to accommodate individuals who represent themselves.
    Compared to district court
  5. Your case will get to trial in 8-12 months.
  6. If the opposing party files motions or discovery requests, you have to respond to them.  The rules of evidence apply at the trial.
  7. You may get a decision from the judge at trial or it could be weeks to months.
  8. It is very difficult to navigate the rules of civil procedure and how to prepare a case for trial without an attorney.

Note: small claims is not available for family, juvenile, probate, guardianship and other equitable areas of law.  Basically you need to be asking for money damages.

A consultation with an attorney is the best first step to take when you are in a legal dilemma.  Unless you agree to hire the attorney for representation, there is no obligation for you or the attorney to pursue the case.  And there is no reason you can't get a second opinion if you disagree with the feedback you receive during the consultation.

It will be a relief to know what your options are and a very good use of your time to call an attorney for a consultation.