Court Finds Plaintiff Waived Challenge to Jury’s Verdict By Failing to Object

The New Mexico Supreme Court recently issued an opinion finding that the plaintiffs were unable to appeal a jury’s verdict because they did not object to the verdict prior to the jury’s discharge.

ScaffoldingFacts of the Case

An ironworker fell off a wall while he was in the middle of a construction project in Las Cruces. The worker fell off a 30-foot wall and landed on his head. Sadly, he was pronounced dead within a few minutes of reaching the hospital.

Procedural Posture

The worker’s wife filed a New Mexico wrongful death lawsuit against the construction company, alleging negligence and premises liability. She filed a lawsuit in three different capacities:  on behalf of the couple’s young daughter, as the personal representative of her husband’s estate, and individually. Two of the couple’s adult sons also joined the lawsuit.

During the trial, the plaintiffs presented evidence regarding the worker’s devotion and importance to his family. They also presented evidence regarding his overall good health and future income-earning potential. In contrast, the defendants presented evidence to indicate that the worker was a criminal offender, had a strained marital life, and did not support his family.

The Jury Instruction

The plaintiffs drafted a jury instruction that demanded the jury to include certain factors in their calculation of damages. The court amended the jury instruction to include two conflicting instructions regarding loss of consortium. The plaintiffs asked to remove one of the provisions, but it was denied by the district court.

The Special Verdict

The plaintiffs also included a special verdict form that had five different lines for the jury to find “total damages” suffered by each of the parties individually, and as an estate. The jury was perplexed about how to award damages. The plaintiffs claimed that the estate damages should be calculated by taking into account the worth of the worker’s life. The jury awarded the plaintiffs damages individually but entered “0” for punitive damages to the estate. Two weeks after the ruling, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that zero dollars to the estate was not supported by evidence.

New Mexico Supreme Court Ruling

The district court found that even though the instruction was confusing, the plaintiffs waived the right to object because they were the ones who submitted the instruction. Furthermore, the court explained that when the jury asked for clarification, the plaintiffs did not provide an adequate explanation.

The appeals court reversed the decision, holding that the jury may have been confused, and the estate should have been awarded damages. The defendant appealed the issue to the state’s Supreme Court. The New Mexico Supreme Court ultimately found that the plaintiff contributed to the ambiguity and did not object or seek clarification before their discharge. Thus, the intermediate appellate court’s decision was reversed.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a New Mexico accident due to the negligence of another party, you should seek representation from the dedicated attorneys at the Fine Law Firm. Aside from establishing that the defendant was negligent, proving damages is one of the most important parts of a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit. These cases often hinge on which evidence is determined to be admissible and the instructions provided to the jury regarding the available damages. It is important that you have the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable New Mexico personal injury attorney to seek the monetary compensation you deserve. Contact the Fine Law Firm at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Remands Case in Plaintiff’s Favor in Recent Premises Liability Action, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2017.

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