Articles Posted in Government Liability

Recently, a state appellate court released a written opinion in an auto accident personal injury case discussing the issue of government liability as it pertained to a car accident that was allegedly caused by a police officer while he was responding to an emergency call. The case is important to New Mexico personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates how courts view claims against government entities. That being said, the New Mexico Tort Claims Act provides a more favorable legal landscape for accident victims.

The Case Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured when she was struck by a police car that was responding to the scene an emergency call. The accident occurred when the police officer entered an intersection against a red traffic signal in an attempt to make a left turn. However, as the officer’s vehicle entered the intersection, it struck the plaintiff’s car. It was later determined that the plaintiff was not speeding and could not have seen the officer approaching the intersection given the road’s surroundings.

The plaintiff filed an injury lawsuit against the police officer along with the city where he was employed. The defendants claimed that they were entitled to government immunity because the officer had been responding to an emergency situation at the time, and his decision to enter the intersection against the red signal was a discretionary one, which was entitled to immunity under state law.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a personal injury case discussing an issue that frequently arises in New Mexico personal injury cases that are filed against government agencies or others who allow for the free use of their land. The case presented the court with the issue of whether the defendant city was entitled to immunity in a case filed by a plaintiff who was injured when he struck a pothole while riding his bicycle in a public park.

Ultimately, the court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that the city had knowledge of the pothole, and thus was unable to establish that the city acted “willfully or maliciously.” Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding a bicycle in a park that was maintained by the defendant city. As the plaintiff was riding along a paved path in the park, he struck a pothole and fell of his bike. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the fall, and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city.

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Historically, the state and federal governments were presumed to be immune from liability involving the negligence of government employees. Over time, however, this broad grant of immunity left many injury victims without any way to recover for their injuries, and the injustice of the rule became evident. Thus, the federal and state governments passed a series of laws called “tort claims acts,” under which government entities could be held liable in some situations.

The New Mexico Tort Claims Act allows for those who have been injured due to the negligence of a government employee to recover for their injuries through a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit in many situations. However, a plaintiff must be able to establish that their case fits within an exception to the general grant of immunity.

A recent case discusses the difficulties one plaintiff had when pursuing a case against a police officer she claimed was responsible for causing a car accident.

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When someone is injured on another’s property in a New Mexico slip-and-fall accident, or other type of premises liability accident, the injury victim may be entitled to monetary compensation for their injuries. However, in order to succeed in a New Mexico premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to establish the elements of their claim.

A New Mexico premises liability claim is a type of negligence claim. Thus, a plaintiff must establish the same four elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. In New Mexico, all landowners owe a reasonable duty of care to those who enter their property, with the exception of trespassers. Thus, for all invited guests to whom a duty is owed, landowners must take action to protect guests against both known and foreseeable harms.

When it comes to establishing that a breach occurred, courts look to whether the landowner had knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injury. If the defendant landowner did not know of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries, then the plaintiff’s claim will fail. However, even in situations where a defendant landowner does not have actual knowledge of the hazard, a plaintiff may still be able to succeed by establishing that the landowner had constructive knowledge, or “should have known” of the hazard’s existence.

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In a recent federal appellate opinion, the court dismissed a plaintiff’s case against the U.S. government based on the plaintiff’s failure to timely file her case after her initial claim with the United States Post Office (USPS) was denied. The case presents an important issue for New Mexico car accident victims because it involves the application of the Federal Tort Claims Act filing requirements, which may be implicated in any case against the U.S. government.The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving her car when she was struck by a USPS vehicle. The plaintiff claimed that the driver of the USPS vehicle was responsible for the accident. Two weeks after the accident, the plaintiff filed a claim with the USPS, seeking compensation for her injuries.

The USPS processed the plaintiff’s claim, ultimately denying the claim seven months after the plaintiff sent it in. Eight months later, the plaintiff filed a personal injury case in federal court against the USPS, as well as the USPS driver.

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In 1978, New Mexico lawmakers enacted the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (NMTCA) in an attempt to protect the rights of individuals injured by New Mexico government employees while still preserving the government’s ability to function without the constant risk of lawsuits.

Lawmakers decided that the most efficient and practical way to take into account both of these issues was to grant the government and their employees certain immunities, while enumerating certain exceptions. The NMTCA specified the duties of public employees and which behavior would fall into an exception of governmental immunity.

In order for a plaintiff to file and win a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit against a governmental employee, they must make sure that the entity or employee falls into one of the very specific exceptions. Although New Mexico seems to have a significant number of exceptions, there is still a heavy burden on the plaintiff to ensure that the defendant directly falls under one of these.

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Recently, a court issued an opinion in a recreational use injury case that may be applicable in New Mexico personal injury cases. In that case, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that summary judgment should be granted to a city-owned stadium after a six-year-old girl was injured after falling through the bleachers.

Facts of the Case

In 2012, two parents were attending a youth football game with their six-year-old daughter. The parents purchased two tickets for themselves, but the young girl was able to attend for free because children under the age of six were not required to pay an admission fee.

When the girl was walking to the concession stands, she slipped and fell through the bleachers and sustained serious injuries. The family brought a personal injury lawsuit against the city, but the city moved for summary judgment. The city argued that the state’s recreational use statute protected it from liability because the injured party did not pay a fee to attend. At trial, the family argued that the exception should not be applied because the parents were charged an admission fee. The lower court agreed, denying the city’s motion for summary judgment. The city appealed.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion that presents an important issue for many New Mexico car accident victims. This case discusses in which circumstance the government can be held liable when a government employee is involved in an automobile accident. Specifically, the case required the court to determine if a sheriff deputy could be held liable for an accident occurring during a high-speed chase.

The Facts of the Case

The case stemmed from a lawsuit commenced by two individuals who were injured in a collision that occurred while police were in pursuit of a man fleeing from a routine traffic stop. According to the court’s opinion, a county deputy was monitoring traffic when he noticed a driver with an out-of-state license plate straddling two lanes and attempted to pull the car over.

As the deputy began to pursue the car, the driver increased his speed and began to veer in and out of traffic very quickly. The county deputy continued to pursue the driver and notified an adjacent county police station about the aggressive driver. The sheriff’s department in the other county began pursuit, and the original county officers had to stop due to a tire blow-out.

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One state’s supreme court recently released an opinion regarding the appeal of a verdict in favor of an injured middle school student. It discusses some legal concepts that may be relevant to people filing New Mexico personal injury lawsuits. In 2004, an 11-year-old student was playing floor hockey as part of his physical education class when he was accidentally struck in the eye by another student. The student had to undergo a series of eye surgeries and attend several follow-up appointments.

Several years later, the student, now an adult, filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, and negligence per se. The school district asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the student’s claim should be barred under the assumption of risk doctrine, and the plaintiff’s claim was not supported by the evidence. The school also argued that it did not have a duty to provide safety equipment and that being hit with a hockey stick is an inherent risk associated with this type of game. Additionally, the school district argued that it should be immune from liability under its discretionary function immunity.

The lower court ended up finding in favor of the student and awarded him compensation for past medical bills, future medical expenses, and past pain and suffering. The school district appealed on the basis of the implied assumption of risk doctrine and the discretionary function immunity doctrine, and it argued that the student did not establish negligence.

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Under New Mexico law, landowners have a duty to keep their property safe for the people whom they invite onto the property. In almost all situations, a landowner has at least some duty to protect visitors from harm. The level of the duty owed to the visitor depends largely on the reason why the visitor is on the landowner’s property. For example, trespassers are owed very little care, whereas business invitees are owed a much higher duty of care. A violation of this duty of care may lead to a New Mexico premises liability case.

Another category of visitor is the “recreationalist,” who is on another party’s land to engage in some form of recreation, whether it be hunting, fishing, boating, swimming, or skiing. In these situations, the landowner may be protected under a recreational use statute. Recreational use statutes provide immunity to landowners who allow the public to use their property for recreational uses at no cost. When the statute applies, someone who is injured while on the landowner’s property may be prevented from holding the landowner responsible. A recent case illustrates how courts interpret recreational use statutes.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s son was playing on a lake with some friends. The children were taking turns swinging from a rope swing into the lake. As one child was swinging in the lake, the others would try to slap his feet before he hit the water. When the plaintiff’s son tried to swipe at his friend’s feet, the two children collided, and the plaintiff’s son suffered serious injuries as a result.

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