Personal Injury Or Wrongful Death Cases Involving Children And Attractive Nuisances

Normally property owners are not responsible for a trespasser’s personal injuries or wrongful death on their property.  The reason for that is simple — A property owner can’t protect people that have no business being there and aren’t known to be there.   But children who are too young to appreciate danger are an exception to that general rule.  Under the “attractive nuisance” doctrine, property owners can be held liable for injuries to or the death of a young trespassing child.

Attractive nuisance claims are difficult to prove.  Iowa’s courts have been reluctant to ascribe a broad meaning to the concept of an “attractive nuisance.”  In fact, the Iowa Supreme Court sometimes seems to regret ever having recognized the attractive nuisance doctrine in the first place.

A sign of that regret is the supreme court’s strict concept of what constitutes an attractive nuisance.  A person suing for personal injuries to or wrongful death of a child must prove quite a bit to be successful:

  • The property owner was aware or should have been aware that children were likely to enter the property.  Perhaps there’s something on the property that would attract young children and draw them onto it.  Or maybe the property is near a school, park, or some other area where children are frequently passing by.
  • The property owner has something on the property that could clearly be harmful or deadly to children.
  • The trespassing child is too young to comprehend the risk of the dangerous or deadly object on the property.
  • The danger to children is greater than any difficulties that would confront the property owner if the owner eliminated the hazardous object or exercised caution to make the object safer.
  • The property owner did not take reasonable safety measures to protect children from the dangerous or deadly object.

The attractive nuisance doctrine is a corollary of the special rules regarding child/vehicle car accidents.  Both recognize that in certain situations regarding young children adults must give more care than adults normally would for older children or adults.


Remedies For Partnership Disputes

I previously wrote about the rights and obligations between business partners and between partners and the partnership.  I also noted that a partnership agreement can help avoid many business disputes among partners or at least end a dispute before it becomes fullblown litigation.  But if litigation does arise, what are the available legal remedies?

First, business partners or partnerships can always bring standard legal claims such as breach of contract, fraud, defamation, or negligence.  Iowa Code 486A.405(2)(c) specifically allows legal claims involving partners or partnerships that arise independently of the partnership relationship.  Because of that, many partnership lawsuits can become complicated and involve many different claims, counterclaims, and defenses because each partner starts blaming the other partner(s) for everything that’s gone wrong or been done wrong for the past several years preceding the lawsuit.

Second, Iowa Code 486A.405 provides special remedies for partnership issues.  A partnership may maintain an action against a partner for a breach of the partnership agreement, or for the violation of a duty to the partnership, causing harm to the partnership.  A partner can also sue the partnership or another partner for legal or equitable relief, with or without an accounting as to partnership business.  Those types of claims by a partner can include enforcing the partner’s rights under the partnership agreement and enforcing the partner’s rights under Iowa’s partnership law (Iowa Code Chapter 486A).

Please note that, as with other types of litigation, partners or a partnership involved in a lawsuit are responsible for their own attorney fees and litigation expenses.  That’s one reason why it’s important to try to avoid or at least minimize partnership disputes before they get out of control.  Not many true “winners” emerge from a partnership lawsuit.

A Partnership Agreement Can Help Prevent Partnership Disputes

In an earlier post I described some of the basics rights and responsibilities for members of a business partnership under Iowa’s partnership law, Iowa Code Chapter 486A.  But avoiding partnership disputes is more important than knowing your rights as a business partner under Iowa law.  A common method of eliminating or reducing partnership disputes is the existence of a partnership agreement among the partners.

Per Iowa Code 486A.103, partnership agreements usually govern the relations between partners and between partners and the partnership.  Iowa Code 486A.103 does provide a few exceptions to business partners’ freedom to enter into a partnership agreement, some of which I summarized in my earlier post.  But in general partners can set up their partnership in whatever manner they see fit.

A partnership can prevent many legal problems and partnership disputes.  The partnership agreement should include the terms and conditions of the partnership.  Some of the standard topics for partnership agreement include:

  1. The business’s name.
  2. The business partnership’s milestones and goals.
  3. Each partner’s percentage of ownership.
  4. The manner in which profits will be divided.
  5. How important partnership decisions will be made.
  6. The procedures for a handling a partner’s withdrawal or death or the introduction of new partners.

The best practice is to set up the partnership equally.  That means each partner has an equal ownership interest in the business and shares equally in the profits.  Many partnership disputes arise when one or some of the partners believe that they’re being treated unfairly or unequally.  Treating all partners the same in all respects from the beginning (to the extent possible) can help reduce the risk of bad feelings expanding into a full-blown partnership dispute.

Loss Of Consortium Claims Involving Children And Personal Injury Or Wrongful Death

Earlier I wrote about spousal loss of consortium claims.  But loss of consortium claims involving children can also arise from personal injury or wrongful death, defective product, car accident, motorcycle accident, or dog bite claims.  There are two types of consortium claims involving children — Those in which a parent sues for injury or death to a child and those in which a child sues for injury or death to a parent.

A child’s claim for damages caused by a parent’s injury or death is known as “loss of parental consortium.”  Loss of parental consortium represents the loss of the services that the injured or dead parent would have provided to the parent’s children.  Loss of parental consortium also  can compensate for the loss of the injured or deceased parent’s company, affection, and cooperation and the assistance of the injured parent.  In Iowa, adult children can also recover for the loss of parental consortium.

Another claim available to children that arises only for the death of a parent is “loss of parental support.”   A child may recover the value of the amount of financial support that the deceased parent would have contributed had the parent lived.  Damages for loss of support are generally limited in time to when the child reaches age eighteen, although there are a few exceptions to that rule that rarely come into play.

The factors used in determining the value of loss of parental consortium and loss of parental support are the same as those for spousal consortium and spousal support claims.  I identified those in my earlier post.

Iowa law also provides parents claims for injury to a minor child and death of a minor or adult child.   A parent may recover damages for the expense and actual loss of services, companionship, and society resulting from injury to or death of a minor child.  A parent may also recover for the expense and actual loss of services, companionship, and society resulting from the death of an adult child.  Note the key distinction between minor children and adult children under this law — Once a child is considered an adult under Iowa law, a parent may only sue for loss of consortium and other damages if the adult child dies.  Parents usually do not have any legal rights stemming from an adult child’s injury, no matter how bad that injury might be.

Partnership Liability Under Iowa Law

Business disputes sometimes arise among the members of a partnership or between one partner and the partnership itself.  The members of a partnership frequently execute a partnership agreement that governs the partners’ relationship.  The partners are generally free to structure their partnership however they wish.  But Iowa Code 486A.103 restricts to some extent the ability of partners to modify Iowa’s standard rules concerning partner access to information and the duties that partners owe to each other and to their partnerships.

Iowa Code 486A.403 provides Iowa’s rules governing partners’ access to partnership information.  A partnership must keep its books and records at its main business office.  Partners (including former partners) and their agents and attorneys are allowed access to partnership books and records.  The right of access provides the opportunity to inspect and copy books and records during ordinary business hours.  Among the documents that may be inspected or copied are any information concerning the partnership’s business and affairs reasonably required for the proper exercise of the partner’s rights and duties under the partnership agreement or Iowa’s partnership law, Iowa Code Chapter 486A, and any other information concerning the partnership’s business and affairs, except to the extent the demand or the information demanded is unreasonable or otherwise improper under the circumstancesA partnership may impose a reasonable charge, covering the costs of labor and material, for copies of documents furnished. 

Iowa Code 486A.404 sets the general standards for partner conduct towards the partnership and other partners.  Partners owe duties of loyalty and care.  Partners can be sued for breaching either type of duty owed the partnership or other partners.

The duty of loyalty requires partners to account to the partnership and hold as trustee for the partnership any property, profit, or benefit derived by the partner in the conduct and winding up of the partnership business or derived from a use by the partner of partnership property, including the appropriation of a partnership opportunity.  Loyalty also means that partners must refrain from dealing with the partnership in the conduct or winding up of the partnership business as or on behalf of a party having an interest adverse to the partnership andfrom competing with the partnership in the conduct of the partnership business before the dissolution of the partnership.

Proving breach of a partner’s duty of care requires more than establishing mere negligence.  That’s because a partner’s duty of care to the partnership and the other partners in the conduct and winding up of the partnership business is limited to refraining from engaging in grossly negligent or reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, or a knowing violation of law.  Somewhat related, under Iowa partnership law partners must discharge their duties to the partnership and the other partners under Iowa Code Chapter 486A or under the partnership agreement and exercise any rights consistently with the obligation of good faith and fair dealing.


Remedies For Injury To Or Wrongful Death Of A Spouse Under Iowa Law

Under Iowa law, when one spouse suffers personal injuries or wrongful death, for example in a dog attack, motor vehicle accident, motorcycle accident, by a defective product, or as a result of police misconduct, the uninjured or surviving spouse has the right to sue for “loss of consortium.”  Spousal consortium is the fellowship of a husband and wife and the right of each one to the benefit of company, cooperation, affection, services, useful, industry, attention, and aid of the other.  Those types of damages are often placed in the categories of “loss of services” and “loss of marital benefits.”  If a spouse dies, the surviving spouse may recover  the value of the amount of financial support that the deceased spouse would have contributed had the spouse lived.

To decide the value of a deceased spouse’s services that would have been provided to the surviving spouse, courts evaluate  the circumstances of the deceased’s life; the deceased’s age at the time of death; the deceased’s health, strength, character, and life expectancy; the deceased’s capacities, abilities, and efficiencies in performing spousal duties; the deceased’s skills and abilities in providing instruction, guidance, advice, and assistance to the surviving spouse; the surviving spouse’s needs; and all other facts and circumstances bearing on the value of the deceased spouse’s services.

In determining how much support a deceased spouse would have contributed to the other spouse, courts consider the deceased spouse’s  age at the time of death; health, strength, character, skills, and training; life expectancy of the deceased and the surviving spouse; previous employment and earnings; expectancy for earnings in the future; the age of the surviving spouse; the present and future need for support; the amount of money out of the deceased’s income that would have been available for support after payment of federal and state taxes; and all other facts and circumstances bearing on the value of financial support.

Police Use Of Deadly Force And Federal Civil Rights Law — When Have The Police Gone Too Far?

There recently has been an extensive amount of media coverage and opinions about the deadly shooting of a teenager by the Ames Police Department after a vehicle pursuit.  Some support the officer’s actions, others criticize him for various reasons.  I’m not offering opinions on whether the officer’s actions were justified.  Instead, I wanted to review the legal standards under federal civil rights laws that govern law enforcement use of deadly force.  These are the general rules that are used when law enforcement agencies are sued for personal injuries or wrongful death stemming from the use of deadly force.

Well, maybe one opinion first.  Commentators who criticize the officer’s actions frequently assert that the teenage suspect was unarmed.  That’s wrong.  The teenager was armed with a truck.  He had used that truck as a battering ram/weapon during the police pursuit that ended with his shooting death by police.  Now, whether or not he was trying to again use the truck as a weapon at the time the officer shot him is a subject for fair debate.  But let’s stop pretending that the suspect wasn’t armed.  I once had a police tactics/use of force expert point out in court that any of the tools, implements, and other objects found in a garage can be used as a weapon, including a can of beer.  So the concept of an “armed” suspect extends well beyond guns and knives and easily includes motor vehicles.

Moving on to the general law concerning deadly force, apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.  The Fourth Amendment prohibits officers from using deadly force to make an arrest unless the individual poses a threat of serious physical harm.  When the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, deadly force is not justified.   Notwithstanding probable cause to seize or arrest a suspect, an officer may not always do so by killing the person.

All claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force, whether deadly or not, in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s objective reasonableness standard.  The key question is whether officers’ actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them.  Officers’ underlying intent or motivation in using force is not a factor in the objective reasonableness inquiry. 

The reasonableness of an officer’s use of force, including deadly force, is evaluated by looking at the totality of the circumstances.  Relevant circumstances include the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade by flight.  If the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, when feasible, some warning has been given.