Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

As if being involved in a car accident is not bad enough, sometimes New Mexico car accident victims encounter significant trouble when they try to seek compensation for their injuries. In many cases, these troubles are due to the involvement of insurance companies. While insurance companies are ultimately the source for most car accident victims’ compensation, these companies are operated on a for-profit motive and are financially incentivized to settle claims for as little as possible.

Car AccidentInsurance companies know that the post-accident recovery period is a difficult time for accident victims. In some cases, insurance companies take advantage of this vulnerability by offering to settle a claim for far less than the costs that the accident victim actually incurred. In other cases, insurance companies will deny claims altogether, requiring the victim to file a personal injury lawsuit. This is what happened in a recent case involving a car accident caused by an underinsured motorist.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the passenger in a car being driven by a friend. The two were heading to the grocery store. When they pulled into the parking lot, the plaintiff and her friend began talking in the car. Before they finished their conversation, they heard a loud bang. As the plaintiff looked over, she saw that two vehicles had gotten into an accident. She exited the vehicle and approached to provide assistance.

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Recently, a state supreme court released answers to the certified questions posed by a lower federal court in a car accident case. The question involved the applicability of a comparative negligence defense in a crashworthiness case brought by a man who was injured in a car accident.

Pickup TruckThe case stems from a 2012 accident in which an individual and his friend were driving in a 1987 Chevy pickup truck, owned by the friend. Evidence showed that the driver was under the influence of marijuana when he came to an intersection and failed to stop, ultimately ending up directly in the path of a Ford truck. The truck driver was unable to stop in time and hit the plaintiff’s car, which caused the Chevy to burst into flames. The driver died, and his friend suffered severe injuries.

The passenger in the Chevy filed a crashworthiness lawsuit against the car manufacturer, arguing that the pickup’s design caused the explosion. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that a comparative negligence analysis should be applied, and the plaintiff should be barred from recovery because the driver was impaired when the accident occurred.

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Recently, a state supreme court released an opinion in a lawsuit brought by two officers who were injured while they were in the process of helping an individual who had fallen asleep behind the wheel of a car. According to the court’s opinion, the two officers received a call about a traffic accident and were dispatched to the scene. The officers were speeding to the scene of the accident when the officer operating the police vehicle did not see a disabled pickup truck in the middle of the southbound lane. The police officers crashed into the disabled vehicle, resulting in serious injuries.

FiremenIt was later discovered that the individual in the disabled vehicle had a blood alcohol content of .103. Both officers applied for and received worker’s compensation benefits for the injuries they sustained as a result of the accident. The officers subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against the pickup truck driver, claiming that the driver’s negligence caused them to suffer injuries and damages. The pickup truck driver claimed that the officers were partially at fault in causing the accident. He also argued that the firefighter’s rule barred all of the claims.

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When an individual is injured in a car accident, many people are under the impression that only the culpable driver may be sued, but that is not necessarily the case. Owners of vehicles should be aware that they may be a party to a lawsuit even if they were not the ones driving the car. In these situations, the car owner is vicariously liable for the acts of the individual driving their vehicle. Although the term “owner” seems clear, there are situations in which an owner may be the person who is holding themselves out as an owner because they care for or are in possession of the car. Basically, similar to many things in the law, “owner” is not necessarily a straightforward concept.

Desert HighwayThere are situations in which an owner may be liable when they do not actually cause the accident. Some of these instances include when an employer permits an employee to use a car for work or business purposes, or when an owner knows that the driver to whom they are lending the car is unlicensed, reckless, or incompetent, or finally if the owner knows that the vehicle is malfunctioning or defective but allows someone else to operate it. In the case that the owner lends the car to an unlicensed individual, the plaintiff must be able to establish that the owner knew that the individual was unlicensed, and they gave express permission to use their vehicle. In these cases, the plaintiff will likely be able to bring a lawsuit against the actual car owner.

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The Supreme Court in the State of Rhode Island recently released an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from a two-vehicle crash that injured a school crossing guard. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was standing at her post as a crossing guard when a car that had run a red light slammed into a pickup truck in the intersection. After being hit, the pickup swerved and careened out of control, eventually striking the plaintiff, causing her to be slammed into a wall. The plaintiff ended up suffering serious injuries.

Body DamageAs a result of her injuries, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both of the drivers, claiming that they were negligent. The pickup truck driver moved for summary judgment, arguing that the case against him should be dismissed because there was no evidence to indicate that he’d acted negligently on that day – as opposed to the driver of the other car, who’d run a red light. The lower court agreed with the defendant and found that the plaintiff’s assertion that the pickup truck driver was negligent was not supported by anything in the record. The plaintiff then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

The Supreme Court held that just by getting behind the wheel and driving his car on a public road, the pickup truck driver owed a duty of care to others on the road. Further, because he entered the intersection while the light was green does not necessarily mean that his duty of care was fulfilled. As such, the Court held that summary judgment was inappropriately granted because there were genuine issues of material facts that needed to be resolved by the jury.

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Every state has a law that details the repercussions for drivers who leave the scene of an accident without rendering assistance to others involved in it. Broadly speaking, an accident is characterized as a hit-and-run if a driver is involved in an accident with an object, another driver, or pedestrian and leaves the scene without rendering assistance or providing their identifying information. Interestingly, unlike many other statutes of this nature, there is no requirement of fault, meaning that even if a driver is not at fault for the accident, they can still be in violation of the law if they leave the scene.

Desert HighwayThere is a great range of criminal penalties for those who leave the scene of an accident. These penalties range from fines to incarceration. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the violation may be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. Additionally, the fleeing party may be civilly liable those who were injured by the driver’s decision to flee the scene. In many cases, allegations involve injuries that were worsened by the fact that the injured party did not receive timely medical attention.

Under New Mexico’s law, a driver should not leave the scene of the accident except if it is temporarily to get emergency assistance. It is crucial that anyone involved in an accident provide their identifying information, render a reasonable amount of assistance, and contact emergency personnel. Drivers must exchange information, including their name, address, contact information, driver’s license number, and insurance details. The failure to do this may result in liability.

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Drunk driving has long been a major problem on New Mexico roads. Despite the strict criminal sanctions that drunk drivers face, the fact remains that New Mexico is among the states with the highest death rate due to drunk driving. In hopes of curtailing the drunk-driving epidemic, one New Mexico lawmaker has proposed a bill that would act to completely prevent repeat DUI offenders from purchasing alcohol.

Beer MugAccording to a local news source discussing the recently proposed bill, a second-time DUI offender would be prohibited from purchasing alcohol. Specifically, the bill states that “an offender shall forfeit the privilege to purchase, possess or consume intoxicating liquor in the state for one year.” Those who continued to re-offend may face lifetime alcohol restrictions under the newly proposed bill.

If the bill is passed into law, all second-time and subsequent DUI offenders will be provided driver’s licenses that are visually distinct from regular adult driver’s licenses and resemble licenses for those under the legal drinking age of 21. The impetus for the bill is the lack of DUI enforcement on New Mexico roads. The article claims that New Mexico has one of the lowest arrest rates for drunk drivers, despite having one of the highest rates of drunk driving per capita.

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Hit-and-runs can be some of the most devastating accidents. Often, victims are unable to get the necessary medical care in a timely manner and suffer more serious injuries as a result of this delayed response. Furthermore, even if a victim survives, they may face a series of hurdles when dealing with all of the various entities that are involved in these cases, such as police officers, investigators, and insurance companies.

Car Off RoadHit-and-Run Accidents

A hit-and-run accident is an accident when a driver is involved in a collision with another person or object and leaves the scene of the accident without rendering assistance, calling for assistance, or providing identifying information. Even if the fleeing driver was not responsible for the accident, they may still be held liable for leaving the scene.

In New Mexico, a driver must not leave the scene of the accident until authorities have been notified and information has been exchanged. It is required that the driver provide appropriate help immediately following the collision, and if they do not, they will likely suffer serious repercussions, including criminal charges. Under New Mexico law, a driver involved in an accident must first stop their vehicle and move to a safe location as close to the scene of the accident as possible. They must then provide assistance to any injured motorists, passengers, or bystanders, including transporting them, if necessary. Additionally, drivers must immediately notify emergency personnel. In New Mexico, if there is personal or property damage over $500, the New Mexico police must be notified.

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Late last year, an appellate court in New York issued a written opinion in a bicycle accident case, affirming a lower court’s decision not to apply governmental immunity. In the case, Turturro v. City of New York, the court determined that the alleged negligence was regarding a “proprietary function,” rather than a governmental one, and therefore government immunity was not appropriate.

City IntersectionThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, a 12-year-old boy, was riding his bike on a four-lane New York street at 6:30 in the evening when he was struck by a vehicle traveling at an estimated speed of 54 miles per hour. The speed limit was 30 miles per hour. The driver was cited for reckless driving in a criminal case, and he pleaded guilty.

The plaintiff then filed a civil lawsuit against the driver as well as the City of New York. Evidence was presented that several citizens and lawmakers had written to the Department of Transportation, asking the city to do something about the dangerous road. Specifically, citizens were concerned that drivers were speeding and drag-racing. The city presented evidence that in response to the letters, it had commissioned a study on motorists’ speed and notified the police of the findings. However, the plaintiff pointed out that no traffic-calming measures – such as road bumps, rumble strips, or raised crosswalks – were implemented. After a jury trial, a verdict was issued in favor of the plaintiff. Specifically, the jury determined that the driver was 50% at fault, the city 40% at fault, and the plaintiff 10% at fault.

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One can easily imagine a world in which a defendant fearful of an upcoming lawsuit destroys internal company documents that the defendant knows may be harmful to its case. This fear of the destruction of evidence in anticipation of litigation gave rise to the doctrine of spoliation. Essentially, the doctrine of spoliation allows for a judge to impose sanctions on a party if they destroy or alter relevant evidence in anticipation of an upcoming case.

TireThere are several sanctions available to a court when it finds that a party has engaged in spoliation. Most commonly, the judge will prevent certain evidence from being admitted. Alternatively, the judge may provide the jury with an instruction regarding the missing evidence and how, if preserved, it would likely disfavor the party that was responsible for its destruction. Moreover, in some extreme circumstances, a court can enter judgment against the spoliating party.

Not all pre-trial destruction of evidence, however, will be considered a violation of the spoliation doctrine. As a recent case illustrates, sometimes a party destroys evidence without thinking about an upcoming case.

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