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ISSUE -  Legislative proposals are often made which are intended to “reform” the manner in which civil litigation is handled in Iowa.


ISBA POSITION -  The Iowa State Bar Association supports a judicial system which provides a fair, balanced approach to determining disputes between litigants. Iowa’s judicial system must preserve the rights granted to Iowans by the state and federal constitutions. Furthermore, Iowa’s judicial system should not favor Plaintiffs or Defendants. Iowa’s civil justice system should not establish barriers to having a dispute settled by a court of law.


BACKGROUND - Iowa’s civil justice system is actually very progressive in comparison to the approach of other states. In the past twenty-eight (28) years, the legislature has enacted over seventy (70) significant pieces of legislation that affects the manner in which the manner that civil cases are handled to include: 

  1. The manner in which fault is determined

  2. Provide immunity from liability to certain entities or individuals in over 50 different circumstances

  3. Regulating the use of expert witnesses in court proceedings

  4. Punishing those who bring frivolous lawsuits

  5. Establishes alternative methods of dispute resolution

  6. Limit the time periods in which actions can be brought against various defendants


A summary of significant changes in Iowa tort law is attached outlining more than 120 separate revisions to Iowa tort law since 1983. Many of the changes which Iowa has already adopted are those which tort reform advocates still clamor for in other states and on the federal level. 


A summary of statewide case filings and jury verdicts in Iowa from 2003 to 2013 is attached.  The statistics are quite telling compared to claims of a litigious society.  Over the past 10 years, the number of medical malpractice filings has dropped over 35% with only 158 claims being filed in 2013. Total tort filing have dropped 27.4% and small claims have dropped over 23%.  In 2013, Iowa had only 191 civil jury trials, and handed down 187 civil jury verdicts. There were 3,407 tort filings in District Court.  In the entire state in 2013 there were only 15 malpractice jury trials.


Proposals to “reform” Iowa’s civil justice system should be considered carefully in light of changes made in the past, preservation of fairness for all litigants, and consideration of the unique facts of Iowa.


The Iowa Bar Association has also historically opposed piece-meal legislative attempts to overrule Supreme Court decisions. Only in very rare cases would the ISBA support legislation designed to specifically overrule one case.

Last updated 9-15-2014

Additional Resources
2013 Judy Verdicts by County
Iowa Jury Trials  1994-2013
Statewide Civil Case Filings 2003-2013
Statutory Modifications to Iowa Tort Law 1982-2014