Appellate Court Remands Personal Injury Case Due to Incorrect Jury Instruction

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to determine if the jury was improperly instructed and, if so, what the remedy should be. The case is relevant to New Mexico car accident victims because it illustrates the importance of jury instructions, and what can be done to preserve an appellate issue in the event a judge provides the jury with an adverse instruction.

The Facts of the Case

In 2012, two motorists were driving in opposite directions on the same road when one of the drivers lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center line, and crashed into the other driver. The exact cause of the accident was disputed; however, it was clear that the defendant’s vehicle experienced some kind of steering malfunction prior to the collision. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, arguing that his negligence resulted in the serious injuries she sustained to her hand in the car accident.

Negligence Per Se

The plaintiff argued that the defendant knowingly operated his vehicle on a roadway while the vehicle was unsafe. She claimed that this constituted negligence per se because his actions were a direct violation of a law that was enacted to protect the public from unsafe and improperly maintained vehicles.

The defendant argued that he did not knowingly operate the car while it was unsafe and that, instead, liability should be imposed on the mechanic who worked on the vehicle’s steering system just a week before the accident.

The Court’s Jury Charge

The defendant asked the court to provide the jury with written instructions stating that in order for a person to be held liable for injuries that occur because of their unsafe vehicle, the owner of the vehicle must have known of its defective condition. The trial judge denied the request, determining that the issue raised by the defendant comes down to reasonable care, which would be assessed by the jury.

The Appeal and Ultimate Ruling

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her over $30 million in damages. The defendant appealed this ruling and asked for a new trial based on the improper jury instruction.

The appellate court found that in this case, the plaintiff made out her prima facie case, and the burden then shifted to the defendant to show that the violation was unintentional and in the exercise of ordinary care. The defendant attempted to meet his burden by showing the defective installation, but he was not permitted to do so. Thus, the court ultimately found that he was entitled to his intended jury instruction, and the case should be remanded for a full consideration of his defense.

Negligence Per Se in New Mexico Personal Injury Lawsuits

Negligence per se is a legal theory that imposes liability on defendants whose conduct is a direct violation of a statute. Negligence per se is generally applicable when the plaintiff’s injury is one that the statute was designed to avert. When individuals are injured in these situations, they should contact a dedicated attorney to discuss their potential recourse.

Have You Been Injured Because of the Negligence of Another Person?

If you or a loved one has been injured due to another person’s negligent actions, you should contact an attorney at the Fine Law Firm. The attorneys at the Fine Law Firm have decades of experience handling all types of New Mexico car accident cases. An attorney at the Fine Law Firm can assist you in pursuing your lawsuit and help you seek the compensation you deserve. You may be entitled to monetary compensation for your medical bills, property damage, and any emotional suffering that you experienced because of your injuries. Contact the Fine Law Firm today 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.