New Mexico’s Comparative Negligence Statute Allows More Plaintiffs to Recover for Their Injuries

The requirements of filing a personal injury lawsuit are generally the same throughout the United States, but the outcomes of similar cases can vastly differ, depending on where the case is filed. The reason for this discrepancy is due, among other things, to the various rules surrounding the apportionment of fault and liability, subrogation, and allowable defenses.

PassengerDetermining another party’s fault is the core objective in any New Mexico personal injury lawsuit. Most states use one of four models for establishing fault and recovery. The four systems are: pure contributory negligence, pure comparative fault, modified comparative fault, and slight/gross negligence.

The strictest, and least favorable to plaintiffs, of the models is pure contributory negligence. This model provides that if a plaintiff is at all responsible for their injuries, they are totally barred from recovery.

Under the comparative fault model, there are two subsystems that vary slightly. Broadly, comparative fault apportions liability between negligent parties to determine which parties are entitled to recovery, and how much they are able to recover. Under pure comparative fault, a plaintiff can recover even if they were mainly at fault for the accident and their injuries. New Mexico is one of 12 states that follow pure comparative fault. Modified comparative fault is similar in that negligent plaintiffs can still recover, but that recovery is generally barred if the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault. Finally, the slight/gross negligence standard allows the fact-finder to compare both parties’ fault to determine whether the fault was slight or gross. Only one state follows this model, since it is highly criticized for its less-than-objective standard.

Although New Mexico’s comparative fault standard allows plaintiffs to recover in more circumstances than many other states, it can still be used to limit a plaintiff’s recovery amount. A plaintiff’s level of fault will often be exaggerated by defendants so that a defendant can limit their damages.

Driver’s Negligence is Not Imputed to Owner-Passenger

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case that was filed by an owner-passenger after she was injured in a car accident.

Facts of the Case

A couple went to a local restaurant to pick up a takeout order. The plaintiff’s husband parked the car — that was owned by his wife — perpendicular to a handicapped space. The plaintiff’s husband went inside to pick up the order, while the plaintiff waited in the passenger seat. As she was waiting, another patron got into his car and hit the couple’s car while he was backing out of the spot. The woman filed a negligence lawsuit against the other driver for the injuries she sustained as a result of the accident.

Applicable State Law and Procedural History

The district court cited the state’s contributory negligence statute, finding that the woman was barred from recovery because her husband was negligent in parking in an unsafe location. The appeals court agreed. The woman then appealed, again arguing that her husband’s negligence should not be imputed to her as an innocent owner-passenger.

Appellate Court Ruling

The court found that although a passenger may be found to be contributorily negligent, and thus barred from recovery, that will not always be the case. The court explained that the presumption is no longer that an owner-passenger is automatically considered to be in control of a vehicle that is being operated by a third party. Thus, automatically imputing the permitted driver’s negligence to the owner will not always make sense. Instead, the court held that these cases are to be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine whether imputed liability is appropriate.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident as a Passenger?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a New Mexico car accident as either a passenger or a driver, you should contact a New Mexico personal injury attorney at the Fine Law Firm. The attorneys at the Fine Law Firm have decades of experience handling New Mexico car accident lawsuits. One of our dedicated attorneys can assist you in determining potential theories of liability while at the same time taking steps to ensure that a named defendant does not shift fault for the accident onto you. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you sustained. Contact an attorney at the Fine Law Firm at 505-889-FINE to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Rental Car Company After Renter Is Involved in an Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 24, 2017.

Third-Party Liability for Serving Alcohol to Intoxicated Individuals in New Mexico, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, May 10, 2018.