In some New Mexico personal injury cases the plaintiffs can seek to hold multiple parties accountable for payment of monetary damages.  A federal trial court recently handed down a ruling denying a release to a railway after the plaintiffs settled with other property owners.

Litigation followed after a car collided with a cow on New Mexico State Highway 6.  The people who were in the car at the time of the accident and sustained damages sued the partnership that owned the cow and two of the partnership’s employees or agents.  The plaintiffs sued in New Mexico state court and the defendants took the position during the litigation that the cow entered the highway by jumping over a gate owned and maintained by a railway.  The plaintiffs filed a separate lawsuit against the railway asserting that the railway’s negligence resulted in the cow gaining access to Highway 6.  The railway demanded by letter that the partnership sued in the first lawsuit hold the railway harmless and indemnify it.  The railway also demanded that any settlement negotiated with the partnership or its insurance carriers include a full and complete release of the railway.  Counsel for the partnership responded with a letter denying the alleged obligations to defend and indemnify the railway.

The plaintiffs and defendants to the first lawsuit participated in a mediation and arrived at a settlement in the amount of $3 million, to be paid upon execution of a release to be prepared by the defendants.  Disputes arose because the parties could not agree on terms of settlement documents that reflected the agreement reached following mediation.  The railway, which was not a named party in the suit that had been settled but rather to a separate lawsuit, took the position that it was released.  This was based on settlement agreement language contemplating the release of “all named or potential parties to the litigation.”  The plaintiffs asserted the railway was not released.

The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico recently granted a motion to dismiss a cause of action that had been asserted by plaintiffs under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

Res ipsa loquitur is recognized in common law jurisdictions including New Mexico as a doctrine that can help establish negligence when an accident is of a kind that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence.  The phrase comes from Latin, in which it means the thing speaks for itself.

The plaintiffs asserting the doctrine had filed a complaint in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Guadalupe County, New Mexico, to recover damages following a tractor trailer accident.  After the case was removed to federal court, the plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint alleging negligence, negligence per se, and res ipsa loquitur.  They alleged that it was the defendant’s responsibility to manage and control the  truck involved in the accident, that the accident was a type of event that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence in control of the truck, and, that as a direct and proximate cause of the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiffs suffered a loss.

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A New Mexico federal court recently ruled that a homeowner’s insurance policy did not cover a dog bite occurring outside of the homeowner’s premises.  A woman was injured after she took two dogs out for a walk on a leash.  She and the leashed dogs were allegedly attacked outside of their home in Albuquerque by two American Pit Bull Terriers who lived with their owners about 2.7 miles away.  The attack resulted in the woman sustaining bodily injuries and her husband experiencing injury in the form of a loss of consortium.

The injured parties sued their neighbors in New Mexico state court, and the neighbors’ insurance company defended the neighbors under a homeowner’s insurance policy.  The insurance company then initiated proceedings in New Mexico federal court, seeking a declaration that it was not required to defend or indemnify its insureds in that suit, a dog bite case.

To resolve the dispute, the federal court reviewed the terms of the insurance policy at issue and the parties’ competing positions on availability of coverage.

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A New Mexico federal district court recently dismissed a personal injury lawsuit against a foreign car maker for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The underlying case arose after an accident allegedly causing catastrophic physical injuries.  A woman was driving a car in New Mexico when she was struck by another vehicle causing the vehicle she was in to roll.

A lawsuit was brought on her behalf and on behalf of her husband against the maker of the car the injured woman was driving in the First Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico, County of Santa Fe.  The plaintiffs sought an award of punitive damages based on causes of action including strict products liability, negligence, breach of an implied warranty, and loss of consortium.  The defendant car maker filed a notice of removal, pursuant to which the case was removed from state court to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.

Initially the defendant sought dismissal based on allegedly improper service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction.  The defendant then withdrew its argument for dismissal based on improper service, resulting in the question of whether there was personal jurisdiction over the defendant being the sole issue for adjudication by the court.
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The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico recently ruled against an insurance company, and in favor of the wife of a man who was killed when the motorcycle he was driving was hit by a car.  The motorcyclist sustained fatal physical injuries while driving down San Mateo Blvd NE in Albuquerque, New Mexico after the driver of an automobile made a left turn resulting in a collision.  The driver who struck the motorcyclist was insured, and his insurance company provided a defense when the wife of the deceased motorcyclist sued the driver in state court on behalf of her husband’s estate and on her own behalf for loss of consortium. The parties’ settlement talks allegedly hit an impasse when they could not agree on the policy limit of the automobile driver’s insurance policy, which resulted in the insurance company bringing a declaratory action in federal court to resolve the issue.

The parties agreed that the insurance policy had a limit of $100,000 per person and $200,000 per accident.  The insurance company argued that even though the wife of the deceased motorcyclist asserted claims on his behalf as well as on her own behalf for loss of consortium, there was a physical injury to one party only and the so the per person limit applied.  The wife of the deceased motorcyclist asserted in response that there were two bodily injuries, hers and her husband’s, so the higher per accident insurance policy limit of $200,000 applied.

To resolve the dispute over the extent of coverage under the insurance policy the district court applied New Mexico law, which resolves disputes over insurance policies by interpreting their provisions in accordance with the same principles that govern the interpretation of contracts.  The court explained that, under the controlling law, when policy language is clear and unambiguous, courts must give the contractual language effect and enforce the insurance policy as written.

A person whose truck was stolen sought compensation in New Mexico state court from his automobile insurer on the basis that the theft constituted property damage under the uninsured motorist provisions of the parties’ contract.  The insurance company removed the lawsuit to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted.  In arriving at its conclusion that the insured’s case should be dismissed, the court accepted the insurance company’s construction of the uninsured motorist provisions of the contract between the insurance company and its insured.

The federal court deciding the motion to dismiss determined that it was tasked with predicting how New Mexico’s Supreme Court would decide the dispute under New Mexico’s Uninsured Motorist Act.  As a decision had not yet been made on the issues at that level, the federal court looked to legislative intent and rulings by other courts.  It concluded that the legislative intent was to protect the public from culpable underinsured motorists and that the phrases “injury to or destruction of property” and “property damage” do not ordinarily include theft.

The court observed that the insured plaintiff was correct that the New Mexico Supreme Court had liberally construed New Mexico law in favor of insureds.  The court rejected the insured’s position he was covered based on concerns the court expressed, including that accepting the position would in effect add a requirement that the New Mexico legislature could have but purportedly had not enacted – that every automobile liability insurance policy in New Mexico provide coverage for auto theft.
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A federal district court recently granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the defendant in a New Mexico wrongful death case.  The court concluded that New Mexico law does not impose a duty to refrain from selling gasoline to an allegedly intoxicated driver, and it dismissed a negligent entrustment claim.  The court gave the plaintiff 14 days to address the court’s skepticism with respect to the plaintiff’s negligent hiring, training, and supervision claim, which the court understood to be predicated on the same legal duty as the negligent entrustment claim.

Underlying the ruling was a fatal accident that occurred after a person working at a store sold gasoline to a person who was allegedly visibly intoxicated.  The representative of the person who was killed in the accident caused by the allegedly intoxicated driver sued the store whose worker sold the gasoline for negligent entrustment based on the sale of gasoline, and for negligent hiring, training, and supervision of the employee who sold the gasoline.

The personal representative filed a case in the District Court of the Navajo Nation in Crownpoint, New Mexico.  The case was met with a successful summary judgment motion premised on a time bar under the Navajo Nation’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims.  The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court and, while the appeal was pending, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in New Mexico state district court, which the defendant removed to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

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The Court of Appeals of New Mexico recently reversed the dismissal of a personal injury case brought by the parents of a child who had been injured in a school-sponsored sports program.  The parents alleged that, when their son was 12 years old and a student at a New Mexico middle school, he joined the wrestling team sponsored by the school.  He had allegedly never before participated in a school-sponsored sports program before joining the wrestling team.  The parents further alleged that on the day of the accident, which was the first day of practice, the boys who were participating were allowed to engage in a game called “king of the mat.”  The game’s object was to score take down points and the minor was allegedly taken down on his neck forcefully enough to injure his cervical area by an older, stronger boy with at least one year of wrestling experience.

Following the trial, a jury found in favor of the defendants, a group which included the school district, the principal and athletic director, and the two coaches who were onsite on the day of the accident.  On appeal the plaintiffs asserted that the district court had erred in refusing to admit into evidence certain exhibits including excerpts from the school district’s policies and personnel manual and an excerpt from the school district’s athletic handbook.

The Court of Appeals applied an abuse of discretion standard in reviewing the exclusion of evidence.  The court explained that an abuse of discretion occurs when a ruling is clearly contrary to the logical conclusions demanded by the facts and circumstances of a case.  The court explained further that the party challenging on appeal the exclusion of evidence must show that the erroneous exclusion was prejudicial.  The appellate court then reviewed what had occurred at the trial court level with respect to the exhibits at issue.
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ruling handed down earlier this year shows that New Mexico personal injury lawsuits can be difficult for an individual to prosecute without having the benefit of experienced counsel.  As the ruling explains, a litigant needs to pay court filing fees or achieve leave to proceed without paying fees, the litigant’s complaint needs to state a claim under applicable law including a basis for the court’s exercise of jurisdiction, and the complaint needs to be served on defendants.

The court’s ruling followed the filing of a complaint by a plaintiff acting pro se, a term referring to an individual acting on his or her own behalf.  The plaintiff sued a supermarket chain, alleging that he fell and injured himself because the defendant had failed to remedy a foreseeable hazard.  The plaintiff further alleged that but for the negligence of the supermarket chain in failing to keep its premises safe, the plaintiff would not have fallen and exacerbated his pre-existing conditions.  The plaintiff also alleged that the inactions of the defendant’s management were the proximate and direct causes of the injuries he had sustained.

The plaintiff filed an application seeking to proceed without paying fees or costs, referred to as an application to proceed in forma pauperis.  The court granted the motion based on the plaintiff’s alleged inability to pay, which the plaintiff documented in an affidavit.  The court also took the opportunity to explain what needed to happen before the plaintiff could proceed with his lawsuit.
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Personal injury lawsuits brought in New Mexico typically proceed on the basis that they will be heard by a jury.  Recently a New Mexico federal court granted a motion to compel arbitration brought by a defendant and stayed the plaintiffs’ personal injury lawsuit pending the completion of arbitration.

Allegedly, the plaintiff had been employed as a maintenance engineer in an Albuquerque store of a national retail chain.  While he was at work he was electrocuted and, as a result, fell off of a ladder, causing him to sustain injuries.  The injured employee and his wife sued the store and two managerial employees in the Second Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico, County of Bernalillo.  Their complaint asserted causes of action for negligence and negligence per se, loss of consortium and conspiracy and sought to hold the defendants jointly and severally liable.  The complaint sought both compensatory and punitive damages.

After being served with the complaint the national retail chain that had employed the plaintiff at the time of the accident removed the lawsuit from state court to federal court.  It then moved the court to compel the plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims against it. Continue reading