11 Critical Steps After an Iowa Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after an Iowa car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Iowa Car Accident Today we drive vehicles that are safer than ever, yet wrecks happen every day, resulting in more than 4.5 million people injured in U.S. car accidents annually.¹

Iowa is no exception, with recent yearly reports of more than 55,000 car accidents causing more than 19,000 injuries and 400 fatalities.²

Car accidents happen when you least expect them. One minute you’re driving your usual route, minding your own business. The next minute, you’re on the roadside, waiting for help.

You can’t avoid every accident, but you can be ready to protect yourself when an accident happens. Your successful insurance claim starts at the accident scene, if you know what to say and do, and just as importantly, what not to say or do.

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in an Iowa Car Accident

If you’ve been the victim of an Iowa car accident, you’ll want to be fully compensated for your bodily injuries and property damage. This guide can help.

Here are 11 steps to help you build a successful car accident insurance claim. We’ve also answered 32 of the most frequently asked questions about accident claims.

Step 1. Stop, Call 911, Help the Injured

Iowas stop help call

Do I have to stop at the actual scene?

Iowa law requires drivers to stop immediately, as near to the accident scene as possible, without blocking traffic.

What should I tell the 911 operator?

Tell the 911 operator:

Your location: Emergency responders can get there faster if they know where to find you, so tell the dispatcher the street you’re on, which direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting roads or mile markers, or any other landmarks that will help describe your location.

Possible injuries: Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured, or is asking for medical help.

Scene description: Accidents scenes can be dangerous, with noise and activity around the crash and from passing traffic. Tell the dispatcher if anyone may be in danger, if there are overturned vehicles, or if there are hazards in the area like leaking fuel or downed power lines.

What if someone is injured?

When anyone has been injured or killed in an Iowa car accident, drivers must provide their name, address, car registration information, and show their driver’s license to the other driver and passengers.

Iowa law also requires drivers to give “reasonable assistance” to anyone who was injured or is asking for medical help. This means making arrangements to transport the injured person for medical treatment, either by driving them yourself or by calling for police or rescue responders and waiting at the scene until the emergency help arrives.

What if I’m injured?

Your injuries from a car accident may be immediately obvious, like gaping wounds or amputations. The fact is, accident injuries aren’t always easy to see, even critical injuries like a fractured skull or internal bleeding. Some injury symptoms may not appear for hours or even days after the crash.

Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Tell emergency responders about any symptoms you’re having, even if you think they are mild. Fear or shock can mask symptoms of injuries. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go.

If you are not taken directly to a hospital from the accident scene, make sure you are evaluated by a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can seriously undermine your insurance claim later when the insurance company alleges that your injuries were not caused by the accident.

What if no one was hurt, but the cars were damaged?

If you are in an accident that only involves property damage, you are still required to stop at the scene, and make sure there are no injuries.

You must provide your name, address, and vehicle registration information to the driver or occupants of the other car in the collision. If requested, you must also show your driver’s license to the driver or occupants of the other vehicle.

What if I hit an unattended vehicle?

If you hit an unattended vehicle, stop at the scene. Locate the driver or owner of the vehicle you hit and share your name and address. If you don’t own the car you’re driving, you’ll also have to provide the owner’s name and address.

If you can’t find the other car’s driver, leave a note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle you hit with your name and address, and the name and address of the owner of the car you were driving, if the car isn’t yours, and an explanation of what happened.

Step 2. Start Gathering Evidence

Iowa gather photo evidence

Accident scenes are cleared away quickly. Cars are towed, and the drivers and witnesses leave. Take advantage of the small window of time right after the accident to collect information from the crash site and the people involved.

Evidence gathered at the accident scene will significantly support your claim with the insurance company, especially if the accident happened because of a negligent driver.

What are Damages?

Property damages include:

  • Vehicle repair costs
  • Rental costs while your car is being repaired
  • Car value, if it is “totaled”

Personal injury damages can include:

  • Medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for medical needs
  • Costs of travel for treatment
  • Mental health services
  • Pain and suffering

Where do I start?

Start by collecting the following information from the other driver:

  • Name and address
  • Vehicle owner name and address, if different from driver
  • Vehicle registration information
  • Driver’s license information
  • Insurance information

Passengers: Ask for all passengers’ full names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and any other contact information. Passengers are not required to share any information with you, but you can make notes for yourself about how many passengers, their ages, what they looked like, and any passenger statements and behaviors you observed.

Vehicles: Look for the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle involved in the accident. If you have permission to enter the other vehicle, the VIN can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner at the bottom where the dashboard and windshield meet, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door.

Witnesses: Witnesses are not required to stay and talk to you, but you can try to speak with potential witnesses long enough to find out if they saw anything that might help your claim. If you have a cooperative witness, ask for their name, address, phone numbers, e-mail address, and if they will write down a statement of what they witnessed. Have the witness sign and date any written statement.

Diagrams: Make a drawing of the accident scene showing where the cars were before and after the accident. Indicate the direction each car was heading. Include information on road conditions and add notes about the weather, road construction, and anything else that contributed to the collision.

Are photographs or video important?

Yes. Taking photos or videos with your phone, camera or any other device is very helpful to your claim. Walk around the crash scene, taking as many pictures and videos as you safely can from different angles.

Photos and video footage can show important details of the vehicles involved, the accident scene and adjacent area. Sometimes, pictures or video can show how the drivers and passengers were acting, apparent drunkenness, and other significant factors that may have been involved.

Photographs and videos often become convincing evidence that makes it harder for those involved to change their story after the accident.

Step 3. Notify Your Insurance Company

Iowa accident call insurance

Your auto insurance policy is a legal contract between you and the insurance company. You bought auto insurance to protect yourself in case anything happens while you are driving.

Understanding your obligations under the policy will keep those protections in force after an accident.

What is a Cooperation Clause?

Most auto policies have a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company if you’re in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation of the accident. The clause will have language something like this:

“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”

Do I have to call my insurance company if it wasn’t my fault?

Yes. Your obligation under the insurance policy is to report every accident, even if the accident isn’t your fault or no one seems to be hurt.

Your insurance company needs to hear your side of the story. By promptly notifying your insurer, and cooperating with their investigation, you give your insurance company the best opportunity to protect your interests.

Reporting the accident, even a low-impact collision, will help protect you later if the other driver decides to blame you for the crash, or anyone from the other car starts to complain of injuries.

If anyone from the other car hires an attorney, you can count on their attorney to contact your insurance company, putting you and the insurance company at a disadvantage if you hadn’t already reported the accident.

Failing to notify your insurance company can cause the company to raise your rates, decline to renew your policy, or completely cancel your auto insurance policy.

Here’s a sample Notice of Occurrence Form with examples of accident details your insurance company will want to know.

Can I use an app to report the accident?

Yes. There are free apps for Apple and Android devices to make reporting an Iowa car accident faster and easier. Many of the apps help you collect important information and start the insurance claims process.

Apps can help:

  • Gather personal information, including driver’s license, car registration, and insurance information
  • Collect witness names and contact information
  • Create diagrams of the accident scene
  • Take photographs and video
  • Find the GPS location of the accident scene
  • Notify your insurance company

Here’s a sampling of free accident reporting applications. Your insurance company may offer a similar app.

Google Accident Report

Allstate Mobile

State Farm




Step 4. Reporting to Police and the Iowa DOT

Iowa accident call police

When do I have to call the police?

If an accident in Iowa has caused death or injury to any person, drivers must contact the local police immediately, by the fastest method available.

Unless the police are already investigating the accident, drivers are required notify the Department of Transpiration (DOT) of any accident occurring anywhere within the State of Iowa causing death, personal injury, or total property damage of $1,000.

The report can be made by submitting an Iowa Accident Report form to the DOT within 72 hours of the accident.


Do I have to file a report if police respond to the accident?

No. Drivers are not required to report accidents that are under investigation by law enforcement.

How can I get a copy of the police accident report?

A copy of the police officer’s accident report costs $4 and may only be given to persons involved in the accident, their attorney, insurance companies or insurance agents. To obtain a copy of the report, send a written request with the date of the accident, time, location, and names and driver license numbers of the drivers involved.

Mail your request to:

Iowa Department of Transportation
Office of Driver Services
P.O. Box 9204
Des Moines, Iowa 50306-9204

Step 5. Learn About Third-Party Liability

Iowa 3rd party liability

Iowa is not a no-fault state, where each driver in a crash relies on his own insurance and pays his own expenses. Under Iowa ’s third party liability rule, drivers who are in an accident caused by another driver can file claims against the other driver’s insurance company.

What is third-party liability?

When it comes to auto insurance, if you make a claim on your own insurance policy, you are a making a first party claim. If you make a claim under someone else’s policy, where you are not covered or listed on the policy, you are making a third-party claim.

A third-party liability claim is your claim for property damage or personal injuries against the other driver’s insurance, because the other driver is at fault, or “liable” for the accident.

What are my options under Iowa’s third-party liability rules?

In Iowa, if you are the victim of a negligent driver, you have three options:

  • File a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company
  • File a claim with your own insurance company (if the negligent driver is uninsured or underinsured)
  • Sue the negligent driver

Step 6. Understanding Iowa’s Insurance Laws

Iowa auto insurance

Iowa law requires drivers to carry minimum levels of liability insurance. The insurance is meant to protect anyone who suffers personal injury or property damages in a car accident caused by the insured.

What are the minimum car insurance limits required?

Liability Insurance covers injuries or damage to other people or property when you are to blame for an accident.

Vehicles registered in Iowa must be insured for at least the minimum liability coverage for bodily injury in the amounts of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, as well as $15,000 per accident for property damage.

Step 7. How Comparative Negligence Laws Affect You

Iowa comparative negligence

What do I need to know about comparative negligence laws?

Iowa follows the Comparative Negligence rule, meaning you can file an accident claim against the other driver, even if you are partially at fault (liable) for the accident, so long as you are not more to blame for the accident than the other driver.

If you are 51% or more to blame for the accident, you won’t be able to recover any damages from the other driver. If your liability is 50% or less, you can still receive a settlement, but the amount will be adjusted according to your share of liability for the accident.

Example of how Iowa’s comparative negligence law affects a settlement:

Albert was driving west on 80th Street to pick up his daughter from soccer practice. He was texting his wife to let her know he was running late.

At the same time, Avery was driving northbound on Peavey Drive, heading home from work. As she approached the intersection of 80th and Peavey, she sped up to make it through the intersection before the yellow traffic light turned red.

Unfortunately, the light turned red as Avery entered the intersection. She collided with Albert’s car, causing serious injuries to Albert.

Albert was demanding $60,000 for his personal injury claim, to cover his medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Avery’s insurance company refused to pay more than $30,000, so Albert sued Avery.

During trial, the evidence showed Avery failed to stop at the red light, so she was legally responsible for causing the accident. However, the jury also saw evidence that showed Albert was texting at the time of the accident.

While the jury agreed that Albert’s personal injury claim was worth $60,000, they determined that he was 50% at fault because he was texting while driving. Avery was also 50% at fault for the crash, for failing to stop at the red light.

Since Avery and Albert were equally to blame for the auto accident, under Iowa’s comparative negligence rules, Albert was only awarded $30,000 (50%) of his damage claim.

If the jury had determined that Albert was 51% or more at fault, he wouldn’t have recovered any money for his personal injury claim.

Should I admit to causing the accident?

No. Because of Iowa’s comparative negligence law, it is never appropriate to discuss fault at an accident scene. Don’t say anything that can be used against you. Every accident is different, and you don’t have enough information to admit fault.

Until the accident has been thoroughly investigated, you won’t know about the actions or omissions by the other driver that contributed to the accident.

Remember, Iowa’s comparative negligence law means that if the other driver is partially to blame for the accident or more to blame than you, they may only be entitled to a partial settlement or nothing at all from you or your insurance company.

Step 8. Cooperate with Law Enforcement

Iowa police at accident

Police are usually dispatched to accidents involving injuries, traffic congestion, or where the accident scene is hazardous. After securing the scene, the officer will investigate to determine what happened and who was at fault for the accident.

What is the role of law enforcement at accident scenes?

Law enforcement officers are highly trained in accident investigation. When the police respond to a car crash, they are authorized to:

  • Secure the accident scene
  • Make arrangements for the care and transport of the injured
  • Take statements from the drivers, passengers, and witnesses
  • Conduct sobriety tests
  • Determine fault
  • Issue traffic citations

Do the police have to listen to me?

No. While you have the right to try to tell your side of the story, the officer is not required to listen to you. The police have a job to do. When a police officer asks you to wait or otherwise gives you directions, you must cooperate.

Don’t argue with the police. Confrontational remarks like “I know my rights. I want to talk to your boss!” not only interfere with the accident investigation, but they can also lead to a traffic citation, or possibly your arrest.

What if I’m issued a traffic citation?

If the investigating officer decides you violated Iowa traffic laws, you may be issued one or more citations. You can try persuading the officer not to give you a ticket, but once the citation is issued, you must accept it.

Accepting a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. If you want to argue about the citation, do it in court, not at the accident scene.

Step 9. When to Hire an Attorney

Iowa hire attorney self represent

Some insurance claims can be successfully resolved without an attorney. Other claims need an experienced personal injury attorney to convince the insurance company to pay enough to fairly compensate you for your damages.

Can I represent myself?

Before deciding to represent yourself in a personal injury claim, think about the type of injuries you suffered in the accident:

“Soft tissue” injuries include scrapes and bruises, strains and sprains, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are usually uncomplicated, consisting of medical, chiropractic, or physical therapy bills, some lost wages, and a limited amount of pain and suffering.

Soft tissue injuries don’t usually require expensive medical tests, and can be settled without expert medical testimony, pretrial legal procedures, or litigation.

“Hard” injuries are much more serious and can include spinal cord injuries, multiple fractures, deep lacerations, head trauma, amputations, and similar severe, and sometimes life-threatening injuries. Hard injury claims are complicated, requiring the insurance company to pay out significantly more money for an appropriate settlement.

There’s just too much to lose for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.

Convincing the insurance company to pay what your claim is worth when you’ve suffered hard injuries usually requires expert medical testimony, interrogatories, records subpoenas, witness depositions, the expectation of a lawsuit, and more.

When you’ve been seriously injured in an accident, you have limited power to handle insurance negotiations and legal procedures on your own. Without legal representation, once the insurance company makes their “final” offer, you probably won’t have the knowledge or energy to fight them. Insurance companies count on that and regularly offer far less settlement money to claimants without an attorney.

Experienced personal injury attorneys have the skills, knowledge and legal tools needed to compel the insurance company to pay the settlement amount you deserve, to fairly compensate you for your injuries and suffering.

How much do attorneys charge?

Most reputable personal injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation. You can consult with more than one attorney before selecting the attorney who will fight for you.

If you’ve been seriously injured, gather your medical records, accident report, witness statements and other important papers related to the accident. Bring the documents to the initial consultation with each attorney you meet.

After looking over your documents and talking with you, the attorney will explain your claim’s value, how long it might take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit.

Personal injury attorneys normally charge a contingency fee, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from around 25% up to a maximum of about 40% of the settlement amount or court award.

You won’t owe any fees if your attorney doesn’t settle your claim, or loses your case in court.

Step 10. Deciding to File in Small Claims Court

Iowa small claims court

Small claims courts were created to provide Iowa citizens with a low-cost, simple process for resolving civil disputes involving relatively small amounts of money. There are no jury trials in small claims courts. Each case is decided by a judge.

When should I file a small claims court lawsuit?

Filing a small claims lawsuit may be a good option if:

  • The insurance company offered a low-ball settlement
  • The insurance company has denied your claim
  • The at-fault driver was uninsured
  • An attorney will not take your case on a contingency fee basis

How much can I sue for in Iowa small claims court?

You may file a lawsuit in Iowa small claims court for claims up to $5,000.

How can I learn more about Iowa small claims court?

Visit the Iowa Judicial Branch page on Representing Yourself in Small Claims Court.

How can I find the Iowa small claims court closest to me?

Iowa small claims cases are heard in the district court and may be found using the Iowa Judicial Branch Court Directory.

Step 11. Beware of Iowa’s Statute of Limitations

Iowa statute limitations

A statute of limitations is the legal time period for an accident victim to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit.

If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will lose your legal right to pursue your claim with the negligent driver or the driver’s insurance company.

What is the Statute of Limitations period in Iowa?

The State of Iowa has a two-year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims.

The statute starts to “run” on the accident date. This means you have two years from the date of the accident to settle your property damage or personal injury claim or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

What if the insurance company isn’t cooperating?

The insurance company and the claims adjuster don’t have to help you settle your claim before your time runs out. If negotiations are going slowly, it’s up to you to keep an eye on the statute of limitations deadline.

The insurance company is under no legal obligation to settle your claim before the statute of limitations expires. If you miss the two-year deadline, there is nothing you can do to make the insurance company pay for your damages.

What if time is running out and my claim hasn’t settled?

Don’t risk forfeiting your claim. If you don’t have a written and signed settlement agreement, don’t wait until the last day of the deadline to preserve your claim. Remember, the insurance company doesn’t have the authority to give you an “extension” on the statute of limitations.

They know what happens if your claim isn’t settled and you haven’t sued their insured before the deadline.

If you fail to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within two years of the car accident date, you can’t do it later by blaming the insurance company.

Be vigilant about the statute of limitations deadline for your accident. Schedule alerts on your phone, mark the date on your calendar, or anywhere else that will remind you. Don’t wait until the last day to act on protecting your claim.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>