In continuing with the series on total loss standards state by state, I looked at my map of the U.S. to determine what states have yet to be covered. This time, my eyes were drawn to Iowa. Of the states that hug the mighty Mississippi River, Iowa is the only state we have not blogged about.

Now, back to business. In my research, I came across an early case decided by the Supreme Court of Iowa. In H.S. Chase & Co. v. Fleming,1 a case involving a building fire, the court attempted to settle the question of what constitutes a total loss. The building at issue had burned for several hours before it was finally suppressed. The extent of the damage was described as follows:

In a large section flames had eaten their way from the basement to the top with, and in this section, all of the section all of the several floors and the roof were entirely consumed or had fallen into the basement. In other sections the floors had not fallen in, and the partitions between the rooms were left standing. In many of the rooms the woodwork was burned off or badly charred….The flames did not come in direct contact with the outer walls, but there is evidence tending to show that they were in places at least subjected to great heat….The brick in the walls were to some extent ‘spawled’ by the heat, and the cohesive strength of the mortar in which the brick were laid was injuriously affected.

The subject building sustained extensive damage to say the least. Although the building was not completely annihilated by the fire and parts or elements of the building remained, the court held that the building was a total loss for all practical purposes because it had “so far lost its identity that, if restored or repaired with reasonable care for its stability and safety, the resulting structure would have been in all reasonable intents a new building.”

So, in Iowa, as with many other states, the so-called “identity test” is used. Here, a total loss does not mean an absolute extinction of the property. Rather, if the property loses its “identity” by fire, although some component parts or elements are left standing, it is still considered a total loss.

1 H.S. Chase & Co. v. Fleming, et al., 143 Iowa 452, 121 N.W. 1055 (1909).