Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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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Earlier this month, an appellate court in West Virginia issued a written opinion in a personal injury case filed against the state’s department of transportation by the son of a woman who was killed in a car accident. In the case, Department of Transportation v. King, the court determined that the Department of Transportation (“the Department”) was entitled to governmental immunity and reversed the lower court’s decision that had allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed against the government agency.

Smashed CarThe Facts Giving Rise to the Case

The plaintiff’s mother was killed in a car accident that was caused by another driver. The at-fault driver possessed a valid license at the time of the accident that was issued by the Department. However, the driver’s license had been suspended several years prior and had only recently been reinstated.

Evidently, when the at-fault driver applied for reinstatement, the Department issued the license without submitting relevant medical forms to the Department’s medical advisory board. There were rules in place governing when a referral was proper, but those rules allowed for the Department to use its discretion in making referrals. The plaintiff’s claim was that the Department’s failure to refer the at-fault driver’s application to the review board was negligent.

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In early November, the Supreme Court of Connecticut heard oral arguments stemming from a governmental immunity matter. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was hit by a vehicle near his school’s driveway. Through his parents, he brought a lawsuit against several defendants, including the superintendent and assistant principals of the school. The plaintiff argued that the named defendants negligently supervised the school’s staff and students, and as a result the plaintiff suffered injuries.

SchoolyardThe defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they enjoyed governmental immunity and could not be held liable. The trial court agreed and found that the defendants’ duty to supervise the students and staff was considered discretionary, and as a result governmental immunity applied. The trial court also found that although the superintendent and principals had a ministerial duty to assign staff to guard the lot, these administrators were also entitled to summary judgment because they fulfilled their duty by creating a schedule of assigned staff to monitor the lot. However, on the day in question, there was no staff member monitoring the lot because the scheduled staff member was out sick.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently released an opinion affirming a lower court’s decision that summary judgment should be granted in favor of a defendant in a product liability lawsuit. The case stems from a tragic traffic accident that occurred when a passenger died when he was traveling as a passenger in the back of a vehicle.

Road SignAccording to the court’s written opinion, the vehicle crashed into another vehicle and began spinning, colliding with many nearby objects. Unfortunately, a yield sign was one of the objects that was hit, and the stationary base of the sign was forced underneath the vehicle and cut through the fuel tank. At that point, the fuel tank began to leak. The driver and front passenger were able to safely exit the vehicle; however, the three passengers in the back were not able to escape because the doors would not open. As the passengers were trying to escape, the car became engulfed in flames.

The family of the three passengers killed brought a product liability lawsuit against the car’s manufacturer. They claimed that the design of the car’s fuel tank was faulty and that the company should have taken reasonable steps to design and manufacture a gas tank that would not be prone to explosions after this type of accident. The plaintiffs attempted to produce expert testimony, but the defendants successfully moved to exclude the testimony. As a result, it was determined that the plaintiffs did not have sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact.

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All fatal traffic accidents are tragic. However, those that involve a drunk driver and a young victim feel particularly devastating. Lawmakers and police do everything they can to enact and enforce laws that deter drunk driving, but there is no substitute for good judgment. In fact, drunk driving is such a problem in New Mexico that between the years of 2002 and 2013, over 1,200 people lost their lives due to alcohol-related accidents. Furthermore, New Mexico’s per capita rate of death in drunk driving accidents is 30% higher than the national average.

CocktailSadly, nothing can be done to bring back someone who lost their life in a drunk driving accident. However, the family of the victim may be able to hold the responsible party accountable through a civil wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death cases in New Mexico are technically brought by the administrator of the deceased’s estate. However, they are brought for the benefit of the surviving family members, usually a spouse, children, or grandchildren. In order to prove a New Mexico wrongful death case, the person bringing the lawsuit must show that the defendant’s negligent act caused the death of their loved one. In the case of a drunk driving accident, this is often proven through evidence of the driver’s intoxication.

23-Year-Old Man Killed in Wrong-Way Drunk-Driving Accident

Earlier this month, a young man was killed in a drunk driving accident on Interstate 25. According to one local news report covering the tragic accident, the collision occurred at around 11:30 in the evening in Santa Fe.

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The Alaska Supreme Court recently rejected a plaintiff’s challenge to a jury’s verdict in a personal injury case that had denied the plaintiff relief and found the defendant was not operating his vehicle negligently when the accident occurred. The state high court ruled that the jury could have reasonably concluded that the accident was not the defendant’s fault and that he should not be held accountable for the injuries allegedly suffered by the plaintiff in the accident. Based on the latest appellate ruling, the plaintiff will most likely not be compensated for the injuries that she suffered in the crash.

Snowy RoadThe Defendant Slides on Ice and Crashes into the Plaintiff’s Vehicle at an Intersection

The plaintiff in the case of Marshall v. Peter was a woman who was struck from behind by the defendant’s vehicle while she was waiting to make a left-hand turn at an intersection. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties agreed that the road conditions were icy at the time of the accident, and the police officers who responded to the crash cited the defendant for causing the accident by making an improper start. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant after the accident, alleging that he negligently failed to account for the road conditions and maintain a safe following distance from the plaintiff, causing the accident and her subsequent injuries.

The Jury Finds that the Defendant Was Not Negligent

After trial on the plaintiff’s claim, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, finding that the defendant had operated his vehicle with due care considering the conditions at the time, and the accident was an unavoidable and minor result of uncontrollable conditions, rather than the defendant’s fault. In response to the verdict, the plaintiff asked the court to enter judgment in her favor notwithstanding the jury’s findings, but the trial court rejected her request. The plaintiff then appealed that ruling to the state supreme court, arguing that the defendant should be liable for the accident as a matter of law and that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable.

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A division of the Court of Appeal of the State of California recently published an opinion reversing a trial court ruling that had prevented an accident victim from pursuing a negligence claim arising from injuries he suffered in a crash allegedly caused by a paramedic who was responding to a medical emergency. The trial court previously rejected the plaintiff’s claim because it was not filed within California’s one-year statute of limitations for negligence claims against a medical professional. The appellate court determined that the plaintiff’s car accident claim should not be restricted by the statute of limitations for professional negligence and remanded the case back to the trial court to proceed toward a trial or settlement.

AmbulanceThe Defendant Ran a Red Light While Responding to an Emergency and Injured the Plaintiff

The plaintiff in the case of Aldana v. Stillwagon is a private citizen who was injured when his vehicle was struck by the defendant as he drove through an intersection. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant was a paramedic and was driving a standard pickup truck en route to a medical emergency when he failed to stop at a red light and crashed into the plaintiff, who had the right of way at the time of the accident. Based on the injuries suffered in the accident, the plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant approximately 17 months after the crash.

The Plaintiff’s Suit Is Dismissed Based on a Special Statute of Limitations

In response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the defendant argued that California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act contained a statute of limitations that barred the plaintiff’s claim. Under California law, a victim of professional negligence by a medical provider must file a claim within one year from the date the injury was discovered. Since the defendant was working as a paramedic and responding to an emergency at the time of the crash, the trial court determined that the plaintiff’s claim was subject to the one-year statute of limitations and dismissed the case, resulting in the plaintiff’s appeal.

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