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SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY



 

     When a governmental entity causes injuries or damages is there a way to obtain compensation? The Iowa Tort Claims Act and the Iowa Municipal Tort Claims Act provide mechanisms for such claims.

     The Iowa Supreme Court has observed that prior to the passage of the Iowa Tort Claims Act, the maxim the “the King can do no wrong” prevailed in Iowa.  No tort action could be maintained against the State or its agencies due to the doctrine of “Sovereign Immunity.”  In other words, the State is immune from suit except where immunity is waived by statute. 

     The Iowa Tort Claims Act is found at Iowa Code Chapter 669.  The Iowa Municipal Tort Claims Act is found at Iowa Code Chapter 670.  Chapter 669 relates to situations involving the State of Iowa. Chapter 670 applies to municipalities, counties and their subdivisions.  

     Chapter 669.  Iowa Tort Claims Act.  The Iowa Supreme Court has observed that the legislature intended the act to be the only path for suing the State and state officials acting in their scope of employment. 

     The Act mandates compliance with an administrative scheme before suit can be filed. The claimant must first file a claim with the director of the department of management.  The claim must then be considered by the attorney general who makes a final disposition before the claimant may sue in district court. 

     The central purpose of this prerequisite is to give the state an opportunity to investigate and resolve the claim.

     There are a number of exceptions to the waiver of immunity.  For example, any claim based upon performance of a “discretionary function” by a state actor is not covered by the act. A long list of exceptions is found at §669.14.

     There are many pitfalls under the Iowa Tort Claims Act.  When one has been harmed by an action of the State, immediate action and an understanding of the detailed provisions of the act are necessary to protect one’s rights. 

     Chapter 670. Iowa Municipal Tort Claims Act.  This act applies to cities, counties, townships, school districts and most other units of local government.  The act provides the exclusive remedy for torts against municipalities and their employees. 

     Although this act does not have the procedural requirements contained in the State Tort Claims Act, it also has a myriad of exemptions.  A long list of these is found at §670.4.

     Conclusion.  Historically, in our legal jurisprudence, the King made the rules.  Under the doctrine of “Sovereign Immunity” the State is now the sovereign.  We have a system of asserting claims against governments.  But those claims are only those which the state allows and must be made according to the rules promulgated by the state

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