Articles Posted in Work Place Injury

In a recent opinion, a state appellate court discussed whether a casino could be held liable for injuries sustained by an independent contractor when while crossing a small gap between the casino’s main building and a stationary gaming boat. The case presents an interesting issue that frequently arises in New Mexico personal injury cases involving the negligence of a party that was acting as an independent contractor.

The General Rule Involving Independent Contractors

In general, companies that retain the services of an independent contractor are not liable for the contractor’s actions. However, there are exceptions when a company can be liable either to a contractor or for a contractor’s negligent actions.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was employed as a maintenance worker for a company that was contracted to clean the ducts for the defendant casino. The ducts were accessible from the roof of the casino. However, the casino consisted of a main building as well as a floating casino vessel where patrons could gamble. These two structures were not connected in any way, and they were separated by a gap of two or three feet.

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The New Mexico Supreme Court recently issued an opinion finding that the plaintiffs were unable to appeal a jury’s verdict because they did not object to the verdict prior to the jury’s discharge.

Facts of the Case

An ironworker fell off a wall while he was in the middle of a construction project in Las Cruces. The worker fell off a 30-foot wall and landed on his head. Sadly, he was pronounced dead within a few minutes of reaching the hospital.

Earlier this month, a federal court of appeals issued a written opinion in a workplace injury case involving claims made by an employee that the allegedly negligent party intentionally destroyed or lost evidence necessary to his case. In the case, Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding, the court held that a party claiming an opposing party intentionally lost or destroyed evidence must show that they would have had a “reasonable probability” of success if the evidence had been preserved.

If a party can make this showing, the spoliating party (the party that lost or destroyed the evidence) may face a variety of sanctions, including an adverse inference instruction to the jury that the evidence, had it been presented, should be assumed to disfavor the spoliating party. Sanctions may also include judgment being entered against the spoliating party.

The Facts of the Case

Schaefer worked in the construction industry. As a part of his job, he would assemble scaffolding. One day, a piece of scaffolding manufactured by the defendant came loose and struck him on the head. He sustained serious injuries and filed a product liability lawsuit in addition to a claim for Workers’ Compensation.

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The Maine Supreme Judicial Court released an opinion earlier this month regarding a tragic accident that resulted in the death of an employee who was driving a rental truck on behalf of his employer. The accident occurred in 2011 when the driver slid off an icy road. The victim’s family filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver’s employer and the truck rental company.

The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. They found that the driver was barred from suit due to certain provisions in the Workers’ Compensation Act. Additionally, the truck rental company did not proximately cause the injuries the victim suffered. The plaintiff’s estate then appealed the judgment, but the court agreed with and affirmed the lower court’s judgment. They found that the plaintiff’s evidence did not establish proximate cause by the truck rental company and also that the lawsuit was barred by the Act.

New Mexico Respondeat Superior Law in Personal Injury Lawsuits

When individuals are injured in an accident, often another party is responsible for the accident. In those cases, the victim may wish to pursue a claim against the negligent party, and in some instances, if the party was acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred, they may even bring a lawsuit against the employer.

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Earlier last month in Rio Rancho, a construction site accident claimed the life of one man and seriously injured several others when five-story scaffolding collapsed at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center. According to one local news report, the accident occurred as crews were working on constructing the east wing of the facility, which was slated to open in November. However, due to the accident, the site has temporarily closed down, and the opening will be delayed.

One witness to the accident told reporters that he was inside a hospital room directly in front of the scaffolding. He recalls his wife telling him to “look, look,” and as he turned around he saw the mass of metal careening towards the ground and then several construction workers running towards the pile of debris in the aftermath. In all, one man was killed and seven others injured.

Evidently, the scaffolding was set up by construction workers employed by the general contractor used to facilitate the project. However, the one man who was killed in the accident was not an employee of the general contractor, and he seems to have been employed by a different sub-contractor.
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In a recently released ruling by the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, the Court rejected a defendant’s motion to prevent an expert witness from testifying for the plaintiff in a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit. In Coll v. BNSF Railway Company, the Court agreed with the arguments made by the plaintiff that the testimony of an expert in floor safety would be relevant in the slip-and-fall accident lawsuit that they had filed.

The Accident
On March 18, 2009, an employee of the Defendant Railroad Company slipped and fell down the steps of a locomotive and severely injured his elbow and shoulder. The employee was unable to continue working after the injury. By September of 2009, he had recovered and was able to return to work. When he requested compensation from the company, they offered him only $800 and he refused. The Plaintiff in this case was the appointed trustee of the injured employee, and pursued a personal injury claim against the Railroad Company.

The Lawsuit

As the case made its way toward trial, the Plaintiff proposed to present the testimony of an expert on floor safety. He would testify that the Railroad Company had not constructed or maintained the steps on the locomotive up to the relevant standard of care, and were therefore responsible for the employee’s injuries. The Defendant argued that because the proposed expert testimony was from an expert on floor safety, and not train safety, that his testimony would not be relevant or helpful to the fact finder.
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Recently an Albuquerque city employee was charged with sexual assault against a neighbor. According to the story, the city worker, while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, attempted to rape his neighbor. While this garbage employee is making headlines, this is certainly not the first time an employee has caused a New Mexico personal injury or New Mexico accident.

From a New Mexico personal injury lawyer’s perspective, this sexual assault story raises the issue or respondeat superior or vicarious liability. This is when somebody, such as an employer, can be held accountable for the conduct of someone else, such as an employee. Often times for such New Mexico injury and accident cases, the question comes does to whether the employee was working under the scope and corse of his or her employment, or whether it was forceable such a person such a incident could occur. For example, the new story on this incident suggests that the driver had to submit to regular drug tests. In the event he failed any such tests and nothing was done, then the City of Albuquerque could be responsible for allowing such an individual to remain on the streets.

In addition to helping hold employers responsible for sloppy employee management, hiring, training, and retention, New Mexico personal injury claims against an employer often allow the injury victim to recover substantially more than claims limited to the employee.

We have all heard about the massive crowds that gather for Black Friday. The shoppers that camp out overnight eager to get the best deals. However, things went too far at a Long Island New York Wal-Mart when a temporary employee was trampled by mindless shoppers racing to get good deals on tvs, toasters, toilette paper, or whatever else. The massive crowd barreled down the entryway trapping the employee and costing him is life.Such stories are interesting for a New Mexico personal injury lawyer. Claims by employees who are hurt on the job are generally limited by worker’s compensation. However, under the new Delgado Opinion, which one of our New Mexico work injury lawyers helped author, injured employees, or their family members, may pursue claims against employers when their injuries were forceable and almost certain to occur. Don’t get me wrong, the actual test for what amount to a viable New Mexico work injury case is far more complex, but for now, that essentially sums it up.

According to accounts, Wal-Mart should have known that such a seneraio was likely to occur and is partially responsible for its failure to staff adequate security, place safety barriers, and devise a better plan for its employees. This is not to say that the bargain obsessed shoppers are not also to plain, but under New Mexico work injury law, Wal-Mart may be on the hook as well.

Typically New Mexico work-related injuries can only be pursued under New Mexico workers compensation laws, rather than general civil liability. Essentially, the New Mexico work comp statute traps the claim under work comp law. The distinction is somewhat confusing however, the difference is of great importance.New Mexico work comp law:

Under the provisions above New Mexico’s work comp law, the general requirement for an injured worker to recover money for his or her injury is to simply show that he or she was injured while working. However, rarely can the injured New Mexico worker recover full value for the injuries. Instead, they are only entitled to recover a lesser amount and in some situations are not able to recover for many aspects of their injuries.

New Mexico civil law: