Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of a case filed against the State of New Mexico by the families of two people killed in a December 9, 2004 head-on collision on New Mexico State Road 502 near Los Alamos.
The lawsuit alleges that the State was negligent in maintaining the road by failing to install a concrete barrier between the eastbound and westbound lanes of traffic on the two-mile stretch of SR 502 where the accident occurred. The plaintiffs claim that the State Department of Transportation knew of the unreasonable danger presented by the road, and they request that the State be ordered to pay damages to the families of the victims.
When the case was first heard in district court, the judge ruled that the State of New Mexico was immune from the lawsuit, and the case was dismissed. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the New Mexico Court of Appeals, but that Court agreed with the lower court's dismissal of the case, and the plaintiffs were forced to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The 2013 decision in Martinez vs. New Mexico Department of Transportation, 296 P.3d 468, demonstrated the Court's application of an exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects the government and public employees from liability for negligence under certain circumstances.