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Premises Liability in Iowa

The world can be a dangerous place, but you don’t have to venture far from your Iowa home to encounter potential danger. Any time you go anywhere, whether it is to a store, a business, a restaurant, a public event or meeting place, or even a private residence, danger may be lurking in the form of an icy sidewalk, a loose railing, an item falling off a shelf, or a lack of security.

Iowa property owners must exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of people who come onto their property, regardless of whether the property is public or private, commercial or not. Nevertheless, injuries sometimes occur when a person is on someone else’s property. If negligence or carelessness by the property owner caused an injury, the property owner may be legally liable for any damages resulting from the injury.

This area of Iowa civil law is known as premises liability. Broken bones from slip-and-fall accidents, burns, poisonings, or other trauma resulting from a visit to someone’s property are a just few examples of what may result from a property owner’s negligence, but determining who is at fault and to what degree is often a thorny issue.

Des Moines, Iowa Premises Liability Attorney

If you suffered injuries while on someone else’s property in Des Moines, IA, due to negligence, you may be able to make a legal claim to recover damages. The personal injury attorneys at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. represent people who suffered injuries due to negligence by a property owner throughout Polk County, Dallas County and throughout the state of Iowa.

If your injuries were caused by someone else, you may be able to recover damages, either through negotiation or in civil court. The experienced personal injury attorneys at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. can help you decide what to do. We aggressively negotiate with insurance companies to compensate our clients fully for their injuries and financial losses. We are also prepared to go to trial to seek justice for you.

Contact McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. at (515) 279-9700 to schedule an appointment where we can discuss the laws related to premises liability and help you determine whether someone is liable for your injuries. For the sake of your health and recovery, call us today.

Iowa Premises Liability Information Center

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Determining Premises Liability in Iowa

Iowa property owners have a legal obligation to maintain safe conditions on their property. Both businesses and private citizens must eliminate hazards and unsafe conditions when they invite or license visitors to be on their property.

Invitees or Licensees

Unlike some states, Iowa no longer distinguishes between an “invitee” and a “licensee” in premises liability cases after a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that found “the distinction between an invitee and a licensee no longer makes sound policy, unnecessarily complicates our law, and should be abandoned.” (Under common law in other states, invitees typically enjoy more rights than licensees.)

“We impose upon owners and occupiers (of property) only the duty to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of their premises for the protection of lawful visitors. Among the factors to be considered in evaluating whether a landowner or occupier has exercised reasonable care for the protection of lawful visitors will be:

  • The foreseeability or possibility of harm;
  • The purpose for which the entrant entered the premises;
  • The time, manner, and circumstances under which the entrant entered the premises;
  • The use to which the premises are put or are expected to be put;
  • The reasonableness of the inspection, repair, or warning;
  • The opportunity and ease of repair or correction or giving of the warning; and
  • The burden on the land occupier and/or community in terms of inconvenience or cost in providing adequate protection.”

See Koenig v. Koenig, 766 N.W. 2d 635, 645-646 (Iowa 2009).

The Koenig ruling established that to be liable for damages, a property owner knew or should have known about a danger or risk on his or her property; knew or should have known that the victim would not know about the risk, would not realize its dangers, or would not be able to protect himself or herself; and the property owner failed to reasonably protect the victim from the risk, which directly resulted in the victim’s injuries.


A person who enters or remains on someone else’s property without the property owner’s consent is a trespasser. Under Iowa law, a property owner has no duty of care to trespassers, but a property owner who intentionally inflicts injuries on trespassers may be liable. In addition, the law provides for children who trespass by stating that they are owed a duty of care because they cannot be presumed negligent due to their age.

Public Property

Although the state may be sued for negligence in a premises liability case, Iowa statutorily limits the amount of damages the state must pay when someone is injured on public property. (Iowa Code Ann. Title XV, Subtitle 5, Chapter 669).

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Types of Premises Liability Accidents in Iowa

Bad weather is often a factor in premises liability accidents in Iowa, but other premises liability accidents happen on nice, sunny days or inside buildings with controlled environments. Some of the most common types of premises liability accidents include, but are not limited to:

  • Slip and Fall Accidents
  • Retail Store and Shopping Center Accidents
  • Homeowner Liability (accidents at private residences)
  • Hotel Accidents
  • Hotel Theft
  • Restaurant and Bar Accidents
  • Parking Lot Accidents
  • Elevator and Escalator Accidents
  • Swimming Pool Accidents
  • Landlord Negligence
  • Animal Attacks (dog bites, etc.)
  • Sexual Assault Due to Negligent Security
  • Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

Injuries are not always immediately apparent, but Iowa law limits the amount of time to file a claim in a premises liability accident to two years, so visiting a doctor right away after an incident occurs is recommended to provide documentation for a possible future claim. Consulting with a personal injury attorney experienced in premises liability cases is also a smart move.

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Typical Injuries in Premises Liability Cases

Serious injuries may result when property owners fail to maintain safe conditions. A property owner who failed to maintain safe conditions may be legally liable for any injuries that occurred as a result of negligence, including monetary damages.

Some of the conditions that may cause premises liability injuries include, but are not limited to:

  • Slippery Surfaces
  • Inadequate Slip Protection
  • Inadequate or Improper Snow Removal
  • Icy Sidewalks and Walkways
  • Black Ice
  • Cracks or Breaks in Pavement or Walkways
  • Potholes
  • Faulty Railings
  • Faulty Balconies
  • Faulty Staircases
  • Unsafe Doors
  • Electrical Malfunctions
  • Improper Elevator or Escalator Maintenance
  • Improper Swimming Pool Maintenance
  • Item Falling Off a Shelf
  • Unattended Cargo
  • Negligent Security
  • Neglect of Grounds (leading to falling tree branches, etc.)

Some of the kinds of injuries that can occur in a premises liability case include:

  • Back Injuries
  • Broken Bones
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Concussions
  • Cuts and Lacerations
  • Exposure to hazardous materials
  • Eye Injuries
  • Muscle Injuries
  • Neck Injuries
  • Poisonings
  • Skin Injuries
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Sprains or Strains
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

Unfortunately, people sometimes die as a result of injuries sustained while visiting someone else’s property. If you or a loved one were injured or died as a result of an injury on someone else’s premises in or around Des Moines, you should contact a personal injury attorney today.

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Determination of Damages in Premises Liability Cases

If you suffered injuries while on someone else’s property, you may have a “tort,” the legal term for a civil wrong that results in “wrongful death or injury to person or injury to property or injury to personal or property rights.” (Iowa Code Ann. Title XV, Subtitle 5, Chapter 670.1(4).)

A person injured while on another’s property due to negligence by the property owner may be entitled to compensatory damages, which may be economic, non-economic, or both.

Economic damages are financial losses that can be calculated, such as past and future medical expenses, rehabilitative care, property damage, lost wages, or funeral expenses. Non-economic damages are less specific and may include pain and suffering or emotional distress.

Depending on the severity of injury or the way the injury occurred, punitive damages may sometimes be awarded in a premises liability case in addition to compensatory damages.

Iowa is a “modified comparative fault state,” which means that once damages are awarded, they may be reduced depending on the amount of fault of each party. For example, if a plaintiff is adjudged as 20 percent at fault and the defendant 80 percent at fault and damages were $10,000, the plaintiff will only be awarded $8,000, because the defendant was declared to be only 80 percent liable for the damages.

“In determining the percentages of fault, the (judge or jury) shall consider both the nature of the conduct of each party and the extent of the causal relation between the conduct and the damages claimed.” (Iowa Code Ann. Title XV, Subtitle 5, Chapter 668.3(3)).

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Additional Resources

Iowa Administrative Code, Title XV, Subtitle 5, Chapter 668 (Liability in Tort – Comparative Fault): This portion of Iowa law addresses comparative fault in tort cases that may arise out of premises liability issues.

Negligence (Retail Compendium of Law): This 12-page summary of Iowa negligence law includes information about general negligence principles and premises liability along with examples of actual negligence cases and damage awards under established Iowa case law.

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Find a Premises Liability Lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa

If you suffered an injury while on someone else’s premises in Des Moines, Iowa, you need an experienced, aggressive personal injury attorney to fight to recover damages for you. The lawyers at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. have more than four decades of combined legal experience. We represent accident victims throughout the Des Moines area, including Polk County, Dallas County, and throughout Iowa.

We will seek just compensation for your injuries and help you recover what you have lost. We can negotiate with the insurance company to get the highest settlement they will offer. We are also experienced trial attorneys and we are prepared to go to court if necessary. Call us today at (515) 279-9700 to schedule a consultation.