Uninsured And Underinsured Motorist Insurance Coverage

Not everyone complies with Iowa’s motor vehicle financial responsibility law, which requires liability insurance for all motor vehicles.  Even motor vehicle owners that do comply with the law may only carry the minimum $20,000 of coverage mandated by Iowa law.  If you’re in an accident with such a driver, that driver may have no or insufficient coverage for your bodily injuries and property damage.  You may then have to resort to your own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.

Every motor vehicle policy issued in Iowa includes at least minimal uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage ($20,000 per person/$40,000 per accident bodily injury; $15,000 property damage).  That is mandated by Iowa law.  You can also buy greater uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage by paying a higher premium to your insurance company.

An uninsured or underinsured motorist claim is made against your own insurance company.  Therefore, like any other insurance claim, your insurer may raise various policy provisions or exclusions to avoid paying your claim or minimize the amount paid.  So you not only have to prove that you would be legally entitled to recover against the uninsured or underinsured driver, i.e., that the other driver is liable, but you also have to navigate any policy provisions or exclusions that your insurer throws at you.  Consequently, some uninsured or underinsured motorist claims never even reach the question of the other driver’s liability.  Instead, they get stuck at the preliminary issue of whether your insurer is even exposed to a potential uninsured or underinsured motorist claim under the terms of your insurance policy.

If your insurer denies your uninsured or underinsured motorist claim or you and your insurer cannot agree on a fair amount for payment of the claim, you will have to resort to a lawsuit against your insurance company for breach of the insurance contract.  Although that suit is technically a contract/insurance lawsuit, and may include preliminary contract and insurance legal disputes, at the end it becomes a basic personal injury case and the jury is asked to determine the amount of damages you suffered in the accident with the uninsured or underinsured driver.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance claims are complicated matters that blend insurance law, contract law, and personal injury law in a unique way.  To fully determine your legal rights you have to analyze your insurance policy, state statutory law, and state court law and apply all of that to the circumstances of your accident.  That is not something that you should not undertake without an attorney.  Please contact me if you have a question about insurance law or personal injury or wrongful death law.


Statutes Of Limitations And Statutes Of Repose

Some legal claims are governed by two time limits: a “statute of limitations” and a “statute of repose.”  Technically, all legal actions have a statute of limitations.  Only a very few, such as construction defect cases or products liability claims, also have a statute of repose.

Most people are familiar with statutes of limitations.  Those are time limits under which you must assert your legal rights or lose them.  In Iowa, depending on your claim the statute of limitations could be two, five, or ten years.  You must file suit within that time period or lose the right to do so.  If you exceed the time limit for suing, there is very little, and usually nothing, that you can do to save your legal claim.

The time period under a statute of limitations begins to “run,” like a backwards countdown, at varying points depending on the type of legal claim and the specific facts of the case.  It is important to accurately determine when that time period begins because, if it started earlier than you realized, your mistake will not allow you to get around the limitations period.  One example that I’ve seen variously involves people believing that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until you hire an attorney, or contact an insurance company, or settlement negotiations fail, or until you decide that you needed to pursue legal action.  The clock on your claim does not stop and is not delayed by any of those.

Folks also often think that statutes of limitations don’t apply to egregious cases of wrongdoing or cases that have great evidence because “the guy just shouldn’t be able to get away with it.”  That may be true, but you still have to sue within the limitations period, regardless of how great your case is or how badly someone else wronged you.  Otherwise, the guy “will just get away with it.”

Statutes of repose are a little more difficult.  They can be frustrating for people when they impact a legal claim.  Statutes of repose begin at a fixed date (for example, when your house was finished or you bought a product) and then continue for a set period of years.  Once that time period has expired, you lose your legal rights even if you have not been injured yet.  Some statutes of repose allow for a delayed time period in certain circumstances.  But it is possible that you could try to begin a claim within the applicable statute of limitations but have it be outside the statute of repose time period.  In that situation you cannot sue.

As you can see, statutes of limitations and statutes of repose are very important because they can prevent your lawsuit.  It takes careful legal analysis and knowledge of the statutes and how they’ve been applied by Iowa’s courts to navigate this area of law, especially in personal injury or wrongful death, motorcycle accident, car accident, construction defect and products liability cases.   Please feel free to contact me for more information or to discuss a legal matter that includes statute of limitations or statute of repose issues.

Payment Of Bonuses Upon Employment Termination

I sometimes get calls from folks whose firing or resignation cost them a bonus.  They wonder whether they can claim the bonus that they’d have been entitled to had they not left employment.  That’s not always an easy answer because it depends on the individual’s situation.

Bonuses are considered wages under Iowa law.  In most instances your employment termination, voluntary or involuntary, will cost you any wages, including bonuses, that you’d not earned on the effective date of your termination.  So if your employer requires you to be employed on a certain date or work so many hours to be eligible for the bonus, and you miss that mark because your employment ends for any reason, you likely will not be entitled to the bonus.  But if you did reach bonus eligibility before your termination then your employer has to pay you that bonus as earned wages even though your employment has ended.

Iowa’s courts have not generally recognized a claim for a “pro rata” bonus.  If you miss the bonus eligibility by a day because your employment ends, courts usually do not order your employer to pay 95% of the bonus.  Bonus claims are pretty much an all-or-nothing proposition — either you met the eligibility requirements set by your employer and can claim the bonus, or you missed the requirements and cannot claim a bonus, regardless of how close you were to being eligible for one at the time you were terminated.

About the only exception to that rule applies to contractual (as opposed to at-will) employees.  An employee who is under contract with an employer for a set period of employment may be able to make a pro rata bonus claim if the employer unilaterally terminates the employment contract before the contract’s set termination date.

Erbe Law Firm can assist with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact Erbe Law Firm for a free initial consultation with an employment law or labor law attorney.