Court Determines Landowner Does Not Have a Legal Duty to Trim Trees Near Intersection in Recent Car Accident Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case involving an accident victim’s claim that the defendant landowner’s failure to trim the trees on their property was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant landowner did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care to trim the trees on her property, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims.

The case is important to New Mexico car accident victims because it illustrates under what circumstances a landowner may be liable to a motorist for a dangerous condition on their property.

The Facts of the Case

The case arose from a two-car accident that occurred at a rural intersection. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiffs owned the property on the southeast corner of the intersection where the accident occurred. Following the crash, law enforcement investigated the scene, concluding that neither of the motorists applied the brakes before the collision and that it would have been impossible for either of the motorists to see the other motorist approaching because the foliage on the southeast corner of the intersection obscured the view on oncoming traffic.

The plaintiff’s estate filed a wrongful death case against the defendant landowner. The plaintiff claimed that the landowner had a duty to trim the trees on his property, and his failure to do so caused the accident. The defendant argued that he owed no duty to the defendant and that the case should be dismissed.

The Court’s Opinion

The court first noted that there was no governing statute imposing a duty on the defendant to trim foliage that may obscure motorists’ view of the road. Thus, the court interpreted the plaintiff’s case against the defendant as a request to impose a new duty.

The court explained that a new duty would only be imposed if the harm to be prevented was a foreseeable consequence of the plaintiff’s action (or inaction). Also, the court noted that a new duty would only be imposed if such a duty was consistent with public policy.

Here, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the court should adopt and impose a new duty on landowners. In so doing, the court avoided the foreseeability question and instead ruled on public policy grounds. The court explained that, because the case arose in a rural jurisdiction where many landowners are farmers who plant tall crops, imposing this type of duty on landowners would have a significant impact on one of the state’s major commercial activities.

The court also noted that lawmakers had determined that the government, rather than individual landowners, were tasked with the removal of encroaching foliage. Thus, the court was unwilling to disturb this delegation of duties.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While the opinion discussed above resulted in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, the court’s analysis was based entirely on the unique jurisdictional concerns that are not necessarily present in New Mexico. The dedicated New Mexico personal injury lawyers at the Fine Law Firm can help you by evaluating your case and discussing what options you have to pursue a claim for compensation. To learn more, call 505-889-FINE to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Slip-and-Fall Case Dismissed Based on Plaintiff’s Failure to Prove that Grocery Store Violated a Duty of Care, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, November 13, 2018.

Court Discusses Applicable Legal Standard in Vacation Rental Premises Liability Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 30, 2018.