Articles Posted in New Mexico Laws

New Mexico sees over 100 drunk driving deaths per year. When a motorist is injured in a New Mexico drunk driving accident, they can pursue a claim against the drunk driver through a New Mexico car accident lawsuit. However, under the state’s Dram Shop law, there may be other potentially liable parties that can also be named in the case.

The New Mexico Dram Shop law allows for an accident victim to hold an establishment responsible if the establishment overserved alcohol to the customer past the point of intoxication and the customer then went on to cause the accident victim’s injuries. The classic example is a bar that overserves a patron who is involved in a drunk driving accident after leaving the bar.

New Mexico Statutes section 41-11-1 contains the state’s dram shop law and provides that a person or establishment can be held liable if:

  • The establishment sold or served alcohol to a person who was intoxicated;
  • It was reasonably apparent that the person was intoxicated; and
  • They knew or should have known from the surrounding circumstances that the person was intoxicated.

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The requirements of filing a personal injury lawsuit are generally the same throughout the United States, but the outcomes of similar cases can vastly differ, depending on where the case is filed. The reason for this discrepancy is due, among other things, to the various rules surrounding the apportionment of fault and liability, subrogation, and allowable defenses.

Determining another party’s fault is the core objective in any New Mexico personal injury lawsuit. Most states use one of four models for establishing fault and recovery. The four systems are: pure contributory negligence, pure comparative fault, modified comparative fault, and slight/gross negligence.

The strictest, and least favorable to plaintiffs, of the models is pure contributory negligence. This model provides that if a plaintiff is at all responsible for their injuries, they are totally barred from recovery.

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In a recent opinion, the New Mexico Supreme Court addressed the nuances of the New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act (MMA). The opinion stems from a plaintiff’s lawsuit against an OB/GYN who allegedly failed to diagnose a large malignant mass on the plaintiff’s left ovary.

The Facts of the Case

In 2006, the plaintiff was experiencing pain near her pelvic region and sought treatment from the defendant hospital in New Mexico. The plaintiff consulted with a doctor who was affiliated with the hospital. The doctor reviewed the hospital’s report, and, without scheduling a biopsy, he diagnosed the plaintiff with endometriosis. Neither the doctor nor the plaintiff followed up with the other after this initial meeting.

The plaintiff continued to suffer with the pelvic pain for about two more years when she finally consulted with another doctor in Wyoming. At this time, the plaintiff became aware that the defendant doctor did not inform her of a mass on her ovary. Unfortunately, additional tests showed the presence of ovarian cancer, which required a hysterectomy.

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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.

It 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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Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court released its opinion regarding the applicability of traditional indemnification in the state following a personal injury lawsuit. The case stems from an accident in which a mother was changing her baby’s diaper in a Safeway Grocery store in the state. While the mother was changing her baby, the table fell from the wall due to a defect in the installation. The mother brought a lawsuit against the grocery store, claiming negligence. The mother then went on to amend her complaint to add another defendant – the company that installed the changing station.

After the personal injury claim was brought, the grocery store filed a cross-claim against the other defendant. They sought indemnification, contribution, and other damages. The grocery store cited an agreement the parties both signed that addressed the indemnification of the grocery store if a situation of this nature were to arise. However, the installation company refused to accept the agreement, citing New Mexico’s anti-indemnification statute. The district court found that as a matter of law, they would not have to pay any damages that were a result of the installation company’s negligence. Ultimately, the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Court held that the indemnification contract was void and unenforceable.

New Mexico Supreme Court Decision Regarding Indemnification and Comparative Negligence

The court addressed the confusing relationship between traditional indemnification rules and the state’s comparative negligence statute. The court explained that with indemnity, the recovery stems from a contract and enforces duties on the primary wrongdoer. This wrongdoer must address all damages.

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In personal injury cases, many people think of their attorneys being most useful during examinations of witnesses and closing arguments. However, one very crucial part of a trial is in the crafting of the jury instructions. Jury instructions can drastically change the outcome of a case because jurors are laypeople who do not necessarily understand the law as it is explained to them by the judge. An attorney can make sure that fair and comprehensible jury instructions are given.

Jury instructions are rules that jurors are required to follow when they are deliberating on the outcome of a case. These instructions will determine how the jury decides who is liable and which types of damages should be awarded.

In most circumstances, jurors are the trier of fact, and they must be able to glean a clear picture of the case at hand by contemplating a significant amount of evidence. Almost all states, including New Mexico, have a model set of jury instructions that a judge should to convey to the jury. One common example of a jury instruction in the criminal context would be when a judge explains to the jury that the refusal of a defendant to testify does not indicate guilt. There are instructions specific to certain types of cases, and these instructions are very important when certain evidentiary issues are at stake because these instructions guide jurors to look at the evidence in a specific manner.

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In a decision released in September, the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed a state Court of Appeals decision affirming the dismissal of a plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim against a hospital resulting from the death of a patient. The plaintiff’s lawsuit, filed on behalf of the deceased patient, claims that a radiologist employed by the defendant hospital failed to communicate the results of a radiology report to the patient’s doctor, preventing the patient from being diagnosed with the colon cancer that later took his life.

This appeal focuses on the plaintiff’s claim against the hospital where he was treated. The radiologist who allegedly failed to send the report to the man’s doctor was a contract employee of the defendant hospital, but he wasn’t directly employed by them. The district court made the decision, which was affirmed by the court of appeals, that the plaintiff failed to properly allege that the hospital was vicariously liable for the negligence of the radiologist.

The court ruled that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to put the hospital on notice that it was being sued for the mistakes made by the radiologist, and it was therefore dismissed.
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Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of a case filed against the State of New Mexico by the families of two people killed in a December 9, 2004 head-on collision on New Mexico State Road 502 near Los Alamos.

The lawsuit alleges that the State was negligent in maintaining the road by failing to install a concrete barrier between the eastbound and westbound lanes of traffic on the two-mile stretch of SR 502 where the accident occurred. The plaintiffs claim that the State Department of Transportation knew of the unreasonable danger presented by the road, and they request that the State be ordered to pay damages to the families of the victims.

When the case was first heard in district court, the judge ruled that the State of New Mexico was immune from the lawsuit, and the case was dismissed. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the New Mexico Court of Appeals, but that Court agreed with the lower court’s dismissal of the case, and the plaintiffs were forced to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The 2013 decision in Martinez vs. New Mexico Department of Transportation, 296 P.3d 468, demonstrated the Court’s application of an exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects the government and public employees from liability for negligence under certain circumstances.
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Residents of Bernalillo County may have noticed an increase in the amount and frequency of illegal drag racing that has been occurring in northeast Albuquerque during the summer of 2014, and the Bernalillo County Sherriff’s Office is starting to take action. According to a report by Albuquerque CBS partner KRQE, the Sheriff’s office has began to stake out the popular drag racing spots during the peak times for racing, and arrested 10 people for drag racing last weekend alone.

The Dangers of Illegal Racing on Public Roads
Car racing is an inherently dangerous activity, and people who choose to race usually make a conscious choice to put themselves at risk when they decide to participate in a race. Unfortunately, there are often passengers or bystanders that have no choice but to suffer the tragic consequences of a driver’s choice to race; a resident interviewed for the article knew a person who was recently killed as a result of speeding on Montgomery road, one of the most popular drag racing spots. In last week’s stakeout, sheriff’s officers arrested one racer who had children in the car with him, and he was charged with child abuse. It is clear that the drag-racing trend endangers more than just the drivers who choose to race.

Legal Liability for Injuries Sustained in a Race-Related Accident
If someone is injured or killed in a car accident that is caused or worsened by drag racing, holding the responsible parties accountable can be difficult. There may be multiple parties at fault, and all of the insurance companies involved will be trying to divert liability from themselves and their clients. Because the racing (and the speeding that goes along with it) is illegal, making a case against a driver who is racing and causes an accident resulting in injury or death may not be difficult in every case. If the injury victim was involved or complicit in the decision to race, the case can be more complicated though the drivers may still be held accountable. Because of the various factors affecting potential liability for damages, when someone is injured or killed in an accident related to drag racing it is important for a complete and thorough investigation to be done at the scene of the accident and afterwards. It is best for anyone affected by a race-related accident to consult with legal counsel as soon as possible after any injury occurs.
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The New Mexico State Legislature has passed a law that now prohibits drivers from texting or checking emails on phones or tablets, even if they are stopped in traffic or at a stop light. According to an article by the Daily Times, the ban went into effect on July 1 of this year. Some New Mexico cities and counties had already enacted similar bans, but with this law, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Susana Martinez, the ban is now statewide. Drivers that are caught in the act of texting or surfing the web on their phone while driving will be fined $25 for a first offense, and $50 for each subsequent offense. Drivers are still permitted to use GPS devices while driving, and texting is allowed in emergency situations.

The Dangers of Texting While Driving
Although the distraction caused by looking at and using a phone while behind the wheel seems obvious, many New Mexico drivers do not care to stop the practice. According to the article, it appears that cell phone use while driving has contributed to a noticeable increase in collisions in which vehicles are rear-ended. Texting while driving presents a danger that is comparable to drunk driving. According to a study noted in the article, the police receive “a lot” of complaints from concerned drivers that another driver is drunk, but when they pull over the suspected DUI, it turns out the driver was sober, and “messing with their phone.”

The New Law’s Effect on Accident Lawsuits
This new law will likely make it easier for plaintiffs in New Mexico accident lawsuits to prove that the defendant driver was at fault, if it can be shown that that driver was texting at or before the time of the accident. It is possible to access phone and internet records to determine if a defendant was online at the time the accident occurred. If a defendant driver admits, is witnessed, or can be shown to have been texting at the time of an accident, it is now easier for a plaintiff to make a case that the driver was negligent, and that such negligence was the cause of the accident and any damage or injuries.
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