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Money Damages in District Court, Including Contract, Personal Injury, and Property Claims

How do I begin a lawsuit for money damages of more than $6500?

You must file a petition for money damages in the Iowa District Court to begin a lawsuit. The petition must be served on the person or persons who caused the damages.

The rules of procedure for cases in the Iowa District Court are much more complicated than the procedures for small claims cases and the filing fee for district court cases is higher. You should talk to an attorney.

In what county, or state, do I file my case?

The correct place to file a lawsuit depends on the type of case that is being filed, where the parties live, or where events took place. This question may require legal advice, and you should talk to an attorney if you are unsure where to file your lawsuit.

How long do I have to file my petition? Or, what is a “statute of limitations”?

Iowa Code chapter 614 addresses this question, but other code chapters could apply depending on the type of case and facts involved. This time period is also known as the “statute of limitations.” A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit starting from a particular event for bringing a lawsuit in a case. For example, the date of an automobile accident in a personal injury action. If the applicable statute of limitations has passed, you are barred from filing the lawsuit.

Determining the applicable statute of limitations is a legal question and you should talk to an attorney if you are unsure how much time you have to file your petition.

How do I serve my petition on the opposing party? Or, what does “service” or “service of process” mean?

“Service” or “service of process” means the formal delivery of a legal document, such as a complaint or petition, to ensure that the opposing party is aware of the action and is given an opportunity to respond.

  • “Personal service” means the actual delivery of the notice to the person to whom it is directed and is usually required to start most law suits. Personal service is typically performed by a sheriff or process server.
  • “Service by publication” is allowed under certain circumstances, usually when a defendant cannot be located

Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure 1.302 and 1.305-.315 set forth various means of service. Using the correct form of service is very important and can be difficult to determine. You should talk to an attorney if you have questions about the proper means of service of your court papers.

Why is the filing fee so high?

The Iowa Legislature sets filing fees, not the judicial branch, court, or clerk of court office, and the fees are deposited in the State of Iowa’s general fund. Plaintiffs must pay filing fees to the clerk of court when beginning a lawsuit. Some documents in certain legal proceedings also must be accompanied by a filing fee. Civil court fees are listed on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/civil-court-fees/. In some limited circumstances the court may allow filing fees to be paid at the end of the case.

A petition has been filed against me, what do I do?

You should read carefully the documents you have received. Typically, you must file an answer with the court within 20 days after the petition was served on you.

What is an “answer” and how do I file an answer?

An “answer” is a defendant’s or respondent’s written response to a petition or complaint. An answer either admits or denies each of plaintiff’s or petitioner’s allegations and may include any counterclaims or affirmative defenses.

A defendant’s or respondent’s answer must be electronically filed with the court. The papers (original notice and petition) that were served on the defendant or respondent tell how long the defendant or respondent has to file an answer. For information on calculating answer deadlines, see Iowa Code section 4.1(34).

What if I’m late filing my answer?

You can file an answer at any time, even if it is late, but if you do not file your answer on time, you may lose your case by default. You should talk to an attorney as soon as possible.

Can I get a jury trial for my case?

Yes, for a civil trial about money damages in district court you can have a trial by jury or just to a judge (a “bench trial”). If you want a jury trial, you should request it in your petition. A defendant may also request a jury trial in the defendant’s answer to the petition.

I cannot attend court on the date or time of the hearing. What should I do?

If you are unable to attend your court hearing at the time scheduled, you may electronically file a request in writing with the court before the hearing explaining why you cannot attend and requesting a new hearing time or date. There is no guarantee that the court will approve your request.

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