The Iowa General Assembly is currently considering legislation that would change the kind of claims that a plaintiff can bring in a wrongful death suit. Wrongful death suits are civil claims brought against a person who causes the death of another. Generally, such a suit is brought by a close relative of the person whose life is lost, most often by a spouse or parent. Iowa already allows for wrongful death plaintiffs to recover for economic damages (such as lost future wages, medical bills, funeral expenses) and noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering). Plaintiffs can also include claims and receive damages for loss of a loved one, sometimes called loss of consortium. A bill that recently passed through Iowa’s House, HF 758, would also allow plaintiffs to claim damages for the future loss of enjoyment of life of their loved ones. The bill now be considered by the Senate. Only five other states in the nation have similar laws.
Some critics, such as Ann Weber, the Property Casualty Insurers (PCI) vice president, claim that if the bill passes, it will increase the value of claims and increase the overall cost of insurance for Iowan consumers. However, claims will still have to make their way through the court system, unless those claims are settled by insurance companies. Typically, insurance companies only settle viable claims. Therefore, the idea that the ability to recover for the future loss of enjoyment of life will increase prices of insurance coverage in Iowa is probably an over-generalized fear. In fact, Iowa juries may simply reduce the amount of damages for loss of consortium or even pain and suffering to provide verdicts that aren’t too different from those being issued now. Regardless, it will be those who decide the cases to actually put a dollar amount on how much future loss of enjoyment of life is worth. This may be a difficult task for some juries, but there is no reason to believe that juries will be unreasonable in their duties…in fact, the courts have the power to protect against excessive awards. The new bill being considered will not change that fact. Supporters point out that only one “leading economist” has warned about the high average of jury verdicts under the proposed new system. Supporters also argue that allowing the new claim more accurately compensates plaintiffs harmed by wrongful death.