Iowa Jury awards could be lowered 25 percent if seat belts not worn

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Legislation that could result in juries lowering damages in personal-injury lawsuits by 25 percent if the party seeking compensation did not wear a seat belt became an argument about insurance company profits before the Iowa House voted 58-38 on Monday to approve Senate File 2135.

Under current law, juries can lower awards by 5 percent if they believe the injuries were the result of the plaintiff not wearing a seat belt. Based on an agreement between attorneys who represent plaintiffs and defendants, SF 2135 would raise that to 25 percent.

Bill manager Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, said it was a matter of expecting people to “have some skin in the game for failure to wear your seat belt.”

“If you’re not wearing your seat belt, you’re breaking the law,” Heartsill said.

“Here we are again. We’re doing another bill for the insurance companies,” said Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, adding that no one should think that the change will result in lower insurance premiums.

It’s not about safety either, he said, because if that were the case, the bill would reduce judgments by 25 percent if motorcyclists aren’t wearing helmets.

“But we don’t want to go there,” he said. SF 2135 “is not about anything but putting money in the pockets of insurance companies.”


However, Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, who has introduced the bill more than once, said it was a “simple personal- responsibility bill that we’re somehow bastardizing into, ‘Oh, I should wear a helmet on my motorcycle’ or this is through no fault of my own.”

“If I don’t follow the law and because I did not follow the law I sustain injuries, the other side should not be held responsible for my failure to follow the law,” Baltimore said.

In the end, seven Democrats joined 51 Republicans to pass the bill, while five GOP representatives voted against it.

Chronic waste disease

In other action, the House designated the Department of Natural Resources to take responsibility for stopping or containing the spread of chronic wasting disease, which has been found in deer harvested in three counties.

At present, no state agency has specific responsibility for addressing CWD. It has been found in deer in Clayton and Allamakee counties in northeast Iowa and more recently in a deer harvested in Wayne County in south-central Iowa.

There is a concern that the disease could transfer to swine.

House File 2466 designated the DNR as the agency in charge of containing the spread of diseases in wild animals. The legislation gives the DNR the authority to establish zones, create special hunting seasons, require samples from harvested animals and other necessary actions to stop the spread of diseases.

HF 2466 also established regulations on imported deer meat from states where CWD has been found.

It was approved 93-1, with Rep. Tedd Gassman, R-Scarville, voting against it.

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