TruckingTechnology-300x194New Mexico residents share the roads with commercial vehicles, including trucks.  Among concerns are accidents caused by truck driver fatigue.  There are resources available to educate truck drivers, who are often under pressure to drive longer hours by their employers.

Technology in the shipping and trucking industries is rapidly advancing. Tesla debuted in November 2017 an electric semi-truck, expected to be manufactured two years from its introduction, which includes autonomous driving capabilities.  An article by Fortune discusses features including Enhanced Autopilot, which is designed to allow a vehicle to stay within a driving lane, match the speed of the vehicle to traffic conditions, and even change lanes without the help of the driver.

Tesla’s new electric semi-truck could dramatically change the shipping and truck driving industries by bringing down costs. It is environmentally friendly and promoted on bases including that a single charge could power a truck for 500 miles while carrying a load of 80,000 pounds.  The Tesla technology could also be used as part of a system described as “platooning,” in which a series of trucks follow a lead truck and synchronize speeds and routes via the use of sensors and RADAR technology.  The platooning system is thought to have advantages including reducing wind resistance and cutting down on emissions from trucks.

alcoholic beveragesDrinking while intoxicated by alcohol reduces the ability of a driver to control a moving vehicle and judge distances, speeds, and movements of other vehicles on the road.

Under New Mexico’s DWI laws, it is illegal for drivers who are 21 years old and older to drive with a breath or blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The limit is 0.02 for drivers under 21 years of age and 0.04 for drivers of commercial vehicles.  Drivers whose breath or blood tests show they are driving with alcohol levels in their bodies above the legal limit, or drivers who refuse to take a breath or blood test, can lose their licenses to drive, in most cases for a period of over one year.  In New Mexico, a person can also be convicted of DWI in instances in which breath or blood tests show alcohol levels below the legal limit, but the ability to drive is impaired by drugs or alcohol.  People driving while intoxicated also risk heavy fines, increased insurance rates, and jail sentences.  Still, unfortunately, people drink and drive, causing many New Mexico drunk driving accidents.

A program at the Department of Transportation has resulted in a new free smartphone app called Zero Proof to offer children tips on how to avoid underage drinking and handle drunk people whom they encounter.

bike riderBicycling is popular in New Mexico.  Under state law, drivers are expected to share the roads with bicyclists and to be on the lookout.  Sometimes drivers of cars and other large vehicles are not respectful of bicyclists.  Whether or not a bicyclist has taken safety precautions, New Mexico bike crashes and other accidents caused by a reckless driver can result in serious injuries or a fatality for the bicyclist.

New Mexico has taken steps to improve safety.  The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, for example, posts answers to frequently asked questions about the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Code and includes some provisions relating to bicyclist safety online.  Among the provisions of New Mexico’s traffic laws are that, subject to certain exceptions, every person riding a bicycle on a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties that are applicable to the driver of a vehicle.  This measure reflects the expectation that bicycles on the road be given the same respect as larger vehicles.

There are also provisions encouraging bicyclists to not endanger themselves.  For example, New Mexico law states that no person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, sled, or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself to any vehicle upon a roadway.  Even when bicyclists are not engaging in such behavior, and when bikes have lights, bells, brakes, and other safety equipment, terrible accidents can happen.  New Mexico has recently undertaken an initiative to try to reduce the number of accidents and create a more pleasant environment for people who travel by bicycle.

school busRecoveries of monetary damages can be had in New Mexico by way of financial compensation for injuries sustained in accidents in moving vehicles.  Injuries can be worse when people are not wearing seat belts.  Currently, New Mexico law does not require school buses to be equipped with seat belts.

A New Mexico school bus accident north of Española that took place in 2013 brought public attention to school bus safety issues. According to reports, at around 7:30 in the morning, a school bus left the road and went down a 30-foot embankment.  The driver had about 30 years of experience and was killed in the accident.  According to a spokesman for the police, nine students between the ages of six and 16 were on board when the accident occurred.  Eight of the children were taken to a local hospital.  Most of the children suffered bumps, bruises, and scrapes – relatively minor injuries, considering the gravity of the accident.  Among the most severe of the immediate injuries sustained by the children who were aboard the bus at the time of the accident were a broken back suffered by an eight-year-old boy and a broken jaw suffered by a 16-year-old girl.

New Mexico seat belt laws require drivers and all passengers in cars to wear a seat belt.  Additionally, child safety seats and booster seats are required for young children. Specifically, New Mexico law requires that all children who weigh less than 60 pounds, as well as all children up to their seventh birthday regardless of their weight, must ride in a child safety seat.  The law also requires that children ages seven to 12 years old ride in a booster seat until adult seat belts fit them properly.  Booster seats need to be used with not only a shoulder belt but also a lap belt.  If a child or any other passengers are not wearing seat belts when stopped, the officer stopping the car can issue child restraint or seat belt violations, depending on the situation, to enforce New Mexico’s seat belt laws.

Accident victims who successfully prove liability, or legal fault, in a New Mexico truck accident case may be awarded several types of damages. Compensatory damages are a common type of damages, which includes lost wages, costs of medical care, and emotional pain and suffering.  Compensatory damages serve the purpose of placing the accident victim in the position they would be had the accident not occurred.

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Another type of damages available to some truck accident victims is punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the defendant(s) for their conduct and to deter others from engaging in similar practices.  While punitive damages awards are often large in size, it can be challenging for accident victims to obtain them in a personal injury case.

In a recent case before a California appellate court, the court analyzed what is required to justify an award of punitive damages against the employer of a negligent truck driver. This case is relevant to New Mexico lawsuits because, like California, New Mexico law requires that to award punitive damages, the defendant’s conduct be egregious. Among other things, this means that the conduct must be willful, wanton, malicious, reckless, or negligent and in bad faith.  Courts apply different factors to determine whether punitive damages are appropriate.  In most cases, the analysis will focus on the type of harm suffered and the level of recklessness the defendant exhibited to assess whether punitive damages should be awarded.

People hurt in a New Mexico car accident have the right to pursue legal remedies against all at-fault parties for causing their harm. Often, car accident legal claims are filed under a negligence theory of law.  Negligence is a failure to act reasonably, under the circumstances.  Careless drivers who speed or drive distractedly may be deemed negligent by a judge or jury if the plaintiff proves all of the necessary legal elements of a negligence allegation.  These elements include duty, breach, causation, and damages.

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In a recent appellate case, the important concept of causation was at issue, when that court assessed whether a defendant’s hand gesture in waving the plaintiff forward in his vehicle proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  After reviewing the facts of the case, the court determined that the plaintiff was unable to show the defendant’s conduct caused his injuries. This case is significant because New Mexico negligence law also requires a showing of causation, since the defendant’s conduct must be the but-for cause of the accident. In other words, but for the defendant’s conduct, the accident would not have occurred.

The plaintiff in the appellate case was an on-duty officer driving in his patrol car.  He approached an intersection and was attempting to make a left hand turn across two lanes of traffic, in order to return his car to the barracks.  The plaintiff encountered a line of cars in the close eastbound lane and made eye contact with the defendant, who was operating a vehicle in the close eastbound lane of traffic.  The defendant checked his mirrors and motioned for the plaintiff to drive forward.  As the plaintiff slowly proceeded in front of the defendant’s car and entered the far eastbound lane of traffic, he was struck by another motorist.

The New Mexico statute prohibiting texting while driving makes clear that while driving a motor vehicle, no person shall read or view text messages or manually type on their mobile device.  Drivers who are stopped temporarily, at a stoplight, at a stop-sign, or in traffic, are required to abide by this ban.  New Mexico fines drivers $25 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.

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According to the statute, “driving” means that an individual is in actual physical control of their car.  If a driver has pulled to the side of the road, or has stopped and remains stationary, they are not considered to be driving.  This is important, and a New Mexico car accident lawyer will recognize that the law provides a way for drivers to communicate via mobile phones while in the driver’s seat of their car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made clear that millions of drivers across the nation are using cell phones.  Restricting the use of cell phones while behind the wheel should help to reduce collisions. In other words, the importance of this texting and driving law is that it targets a major cause of motor vehicle collisions throughout the state.  Drivers who remove their eyes from the road, especially while traveling at a high rate of speed, can travel long distances and cause serious harm to others due to their neglect.

In a recent appeal in a New Mexico personal injury case, the New Mexico Court of Appeals addressed whether a charter high school was entitled to the protections set forth in the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (TCA) and whether the negligence claim asserted against the school fell within a waiver of the TCA.

The facts of this case indicate that a student was assaulted and battered in the parking lot by another student who had been upset by an earlier interaction.  The victim suffered serious injuries that required surgery and painful rehabilitation.  Teachers investigated immediately after the incident and removed the aggressor from the general population at school.

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The plaintiffs (including the guardian of the victim) brought a lawsuit against the high school and others.  The allegations against the school stated that the school owed the victim a duty to keep the premises safe and that they had failed to do so by failing to provide adequate security.  Additionally, the complaint alleged that the high school is a privately operated charter school, so it is not within the scope of the TCA.  The immunity afforded by the TCA, according to the complaint, was waived for the school’s negligence.

Accidents that take place in restaurants and other places of business may entitle victims to recover damages from the owner or property manager, according to New Mexico law.  Slip-and-fall cases are lawsuits that arise when individuals allege they have sustained injuries due to the negligence of the property owner in maintaining their premises.  As the defendant in this type of legal claim, a person who controls or possesses property owes a duty to exercise reasonable care in protecting all those invited onto their land.  A skilled New Mexico personal injury attorney can help set forth the elements of a premises liability claim, which provides a method for the victim to secure damages for their injuries and suffering.

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There are exceptions to the rule that a property owner is legally responsible for injuries caused by a failure to provide reasonable care, including when a hazard is “open and obvious.”  Plaintiff victims in premises liability lawsuits may face an affirmative defense if the defendant alleges that their fall was due to an “open and obvious” hazard.  This defense would protect a landowner if the danger that caused the slip-and-fall injuries should have been detected by the plaintiff.

In a recent case before a state supreme court, a plaintiff overcome this defense of the open and obvious doctrine.  There, the lower court had granted summary judgment to the defendant, a fast food restaurant, after a patron filed a lawsuit alleging their negligence caused him to slip and fall.  The plaintiff had claimed that he fell near the counter and also, moments before, near the restroom.  After leaving the restaurant, the plaintiff alleged he suffered severe back pain.

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Drunk driving, or driving while intoxicated, remains a major problem throughout New Mexico. The epidemic of drunk driving continues to cause serious car accidents and catastrophic, even fatal harm.  New Mexico car accident attorney Matthew Vance is familiar with the devastating consequences of collisions resulting from drivers who choose to operate their vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A recently proposed bill in the New Mexico legislature seeks to address drivers who continue to drive under the influence of alcohol.

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While HB 271 did not reach the New Mexico House floor during the regularly scheduled session, it is a bill that will likely be considered again in the expected special legislative session this year.  HB 271 bars the sale of alcohol to repeat DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders throughout the state.  Representative Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert (R-NM) intends to ban second-time DWI offenders from purchasing alcohol for a year, and third or subsequent offenders will be prevented from buying alcohol for life.

The intentions of HB 271 are to address New Mexico’s growing alcohol abuse problem.  The New Mexico Department of Health indicates that the state has the highest alcohol-related death rate in the United States. In fact, statistics indicate that New Mexico’s alcohol-related death rate is increasing, while it is decreasing nationally.

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