Recovery Of Money Damages For Assault And Battery

Along with negligence and other types of civil money damage claims, plaintiffs sometimes have the option of suing for assault and battery.  Assault and battery are intentional wrongs.  “Assault” refers to threats, fear, and the like that doesn’t result in actual physical contact while “battery” covers cases in which the defendant has intentionally made contact with the victim in some manner.

Assault and battery are separate claims.  An assault may not always be followed by a battery if the defendant stops the threatening behavior before it progresses to physical contact.  But once there’s unlawful physical contact a battery has occurred.  Thus an act battery is almost always preceded by an act of assault, although the assault may be extremely brief. 

An assault is an act done with the intent to put the victim in fear of physical pain or injury or in fear of physical contact thatwould be insulting or offensive.  The victim must reasonably believe that the act would be immediately carried out.  Threatening words alone do not constitute an assault unless it appears that the person has the ability to carry out the threat at the time the words were spoken.

There are two types of physical contact that may constitute a battery: (1) harmful contact and (2) offensive contact.  “Harmful” contact requires a physical impairment of the condition of the victim’s body or physical pain or illness.  Under the second type of battery, “offensive” contact, a defendant is subject to liability if the defendant acts intending to cause insulting or offensive contact with the victim or the victim’s imminent apprehension of such a contact and offensive contact with the victim directly or indirectly results.  An “offensive contact” battery claim does not require proof of a physical injury.  Bodily contact is offensive if it offends a reasonable sense of personal dignity.


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.