COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

By bringing a motion in limine a party to litigation can request, outside of the presence of the jury, that certain evidence be included or excluded at trial.  In a recent personal injury case, the plaintiffs won a motion in limine filed with the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.

In this recent case, the plaintiffs were seeking the exclusion of evidence concerning alleged consumption of nine to twelve light beers by the plaintiff who was driving the car that got into the accident at issue in the litigation.  One person was killed in that accident and others were injured.  The plaintiffs’ theory of the case was that the accident was caused by the blow-out of a left rear tire, and that it was not relevant that the plaintiff who had been driving the F-350 at the time of the accident.

Continue reading

As part of a recent New Mexico personal injury case, insured property owners sought from their insurance company a defense under a landlord protection policy.  The property owners’ need for a defense arose after an alleged carbon monoxide leak in a property that they had rented out to a husband and wife seriously injured the husband and killed the wife.

Following those tragic events, the husband and the estate of his wife filed a state court complaint against the insurance company and other defendants, asserting claims of negligence, gross negligence, wrongful death and loss of consortium in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The insurance company then sought a declaratory judgment from a federal court, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, providing that the insurance company was not obligated to defend the insured property owners in the state court case or indemnify them.

The insurance company’s position was that carbon monoxide poisoning fell within under the insurance policy’s pollutants and contaminants exclusion and the insurance policy’s expected or intended act or omission exclusion.

Continue reading

In a recent ruling by the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, the court denied a tire maker’s summary judgment motion.  The tire maker had challenged via its summary judgment motion the ability of the plaintiff to collect damages for lost earnings or lost earning capacities.  The tire maker’s position was based on the fact that the decedent, who was killed in a car accident, was apparently an undocumented immigrant.

The defendant tire maker’s position in support of summary judgment was that the plaintiff should not be allowed to recover damages for the decedent’s future lost earning capacity because it would be illegal for him to work in the United States under federal law.  In support of its position, the defendant directed the court’s attention to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), which is the federal statutory scheme prohibiting the employment in the United States of undocumented foreign workers.  The federal court adjudicating the dispute understood the defendant to be making the policy argument that the federal court should not reward conduct that is unlawful under federal law.

The court disagreed with the defendant’s approach to the issue.  The court explained that it saw no reason for applying federal policy that was of questionable relevance in the lawsuit over clear New Mexico policy favoring compensation of injured people.  Further, the court was of the view that the New Mexico Supreme Court would hold that federal policy would not require a court to deny compensatory damages for lost earnings under New Mexico tort law.

The pre-trial discovery process can enable parties to lawsuits in New Mexico to obtain information they would not otherwise be able to access.  A ruling by a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico shows that, while discovery in personal injury cases can be broad, federal law also sets limits on what is potentially discoverable.

The plaintiff in the discovery dispute at issue brought a lawsuit seeking to recover damages for injuries she allegedly suffered following implantation of a surgical mesh product intended for treatment of medical conditions of the female pelvis.  Among the defendants she sued were manufacturers and sellers of the surgical mesh and the doctor who allegedly recommended and implanted the mesh.

The underlying lawsuit has a somewhat complex procedural history because complications following surgical mesh implantations have occurred in multiple jurisdictions, and there are multiple courts hearing related disputes.  In this case, one of the corporate defendants removed the plaintiff’s lawsuit from New Mexico state court to federal court based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction.  Then some aspects of the plaintiff’s lawsuit were swept into multi-district federal litigation in West Virginia.  The case was ultimately remanded to the District of New Mexico, after some of the defendants were dismissed, for resolution of the claims the plaintiff asserted against the doctor who allegedly recommended and implanted the mesh.  The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint alleging that the doctor who treated her had committed medical negligence by implanting the mesh in her body.

Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which hears appeals from jurisdictions including the District of New Mexico, upheld a ruling dismissing a personal injury suit based on a contractual one-year suit limitation provision.

The underlying personal injury suit was filed more than one year but less than two years after a house fire, which took the life of a woman who was living in the house.  Representatives of the woman’s heir and of the woman’s estate sued the home security company that had purportedly provided home protection services.  For $37.99 a month, the company had promised round the clock monitoring services.  Its advertising was attention-getting and included promises of 24/7 professional monitoring centers that would address alarms immediately to make sure help was on the way.  Yet, after receiving an alert late at night, the company made some calls from an unidentified number to try to investigate, but did not send help to the house or call the police or fire departments for help.

The contract pursuant to which the company provided its services did not include the promises made in the company’s advertising campaigns.  The contract purported to limit liability to the lesser of $300 or 6 times the monthly service fee, and included a one-year suit limitation provision.

Recently, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico handed down a ruling denying an insurance company’s motion to intervene.  The insurance company allegedly had paid the plaintiff workers’ compensation benefits under California law, and asserted that it should be allowed to intervene to assert a subrogation right to recover sums it paid out from any recovery the plaintiff achieved against the trucking company allegedly responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The accident underlying the plaintiff’s personal injury suit occurred on westbound Interstate 40 in McKinley County, New Mexico.  According to the plaintiff’s complaint, traffic was backed up at the time of the accident because the road was under construction.  The complaint further alleges that a truck driver was driving on cruise control at a speed of 66 miles per hour.  As the driver approached a mile marker, he was allegedly looking down.  When the truck he was driving was a second away from a pickup truck, the driver of the pickup truck looked up.  Tragically, it was too late to stop the collision, which allegedly resulted in a fire and chain reaction of accidents on the interstate.

Among those sustaining serious personal injuries was the plaintiff, who was en route to California at the time, according to the complaint he filed in New Mexico’s 11th Judicial District Court against the truck driver, the trucking company that employed the driver and corporate affiliates of the trucking company.  The trucking company removed the complaint from the state court in which it had been filed to federal court.

Sometimes plaintiffs in New Mexico civil cases win their cases after proceeding to trial.  A recent ruling shows that a win can also be had by default when the defendant is non-responsive to service of process.

The plaintiffs in the case were migrant workers, who filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.  Service of process was attempted on the defendant on behalf of the plaintiffs, but it was unsuccessful.  The plaintiffs successfully moved the court thereafter to allow for alternative service of process.  The summons was returned executed and the complaint was left with the defendant’s father at a residence owned by the defendant.

According to the court’s ruling, the defendant against whom default judgment was sought did not file an answer to the complaint by the due date, appear before the court or file any pleadings with the court.  A recovery could not be had from a co-defendant, who the court explained had received a discharge in a bankruptcy case, making it essential for the plaintiffs to recover from the defaulting defendant if the law allowed for a default judgment.

Continue reading

In a recent ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico denied summary judgment to the sole defendant, an out of state tire manufacturer.  The case before the court arose after a tire blow out that allegedly was caused by manufacturing and design defects.  Allegedly after the tire blew out, a tragic single-vehicle accident occurred in which a pickup truck rolled over resulting in several people being injured and one person dying.

As part of its defense, the tire manufacturer unsuccessfully moved the court to enter a partial summary judgment in its favor holding that the plaintiffs could not recover compensatory damages for aggravating circumstances under New Mexico law.

Under New Mexico law, the personal representative of a wrongful death estate can recover compensatory damages on behalf of the estate.  When determining whether it is appropriate to award compensatory damages, a New Mexico jury can consider mitigating or aggravating circumstance attending the allegedly wrongful act, neglect, or default.  While compensatory damages generally are made available so that injured parties are made whole, compensatory damages under New Mexico’s wrongful death statute also further the interest of deterrence.  Compensatory damages in aid of the public policy interest in deterrence can be awarded even in instances where punitive damages cannot be awarded.
Continue reading

A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico reflects some of the challenges plaintiffs can encounter when naming a city and its mayor as defendants in a federal complaint seeking recourse for allegedly injurious conditions.

Last November a person filed a federal complaint against the City of Albuquerque and its Mayor, asserting claims for unlawful taking under the U.S. and New Mexico Constitutions and related claims for trespass and nuisance.  The plaintiff’s lawsuit arose from the city’s alleged catch and release of feral cats and kittens as part of a trap, neuter and release (“TNR”) program.  Under the TNR program, the plaintiff alleged, cats and kittens are trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and released.  The plaintiff alleged that, as a result, she and her neighbors and children are exposed to an extreme nuisance, disease, property damage and a reduction in property values, and that the problem is continuing because the TNR program is continuing.  The complaint attracted the attention of local news outlet KRQE, which ran a story reporting that, as of September 2019, 2,100 cats had been picked up of which 1,700 had been re-released.

The defendants responded to the complaint by filing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).  Under this rule a federal court is to review a complaint to assess whether its factual allegations state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.

Continue reading

Courts applying New Mexico’s laws recognize the principle of res ipsa loquitor.  In Latin res ipsa loquitor means the thing speaks for itself.  Under this principle, the very occurrence of an accident implies negligence.

In a recent case, one of the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all claims asserted against it.  Among the arguments made by the defendant was that the plaintiff had not presented necessary expert testimony.  The court denied the defendant’s summary judgment.  After holding a hearing, the court was satisfied that the plaintiff had demonstrated, under the res ipsa loquitor principle, a triable issue of fact concerning whether the retailer had breached the duty of care it owed to the plaintiff.

Allegedly a person was injured by automatic doors when he went shopping at a store operated by one of America’s largest retailers.  The person was using a crutch for balance when he went to the store.  The crutch was hit by the door, ostensibly because an interior sensor on the door malfunctioned.  The defendant retailer did not accept responsibility for the accident and the injured person sued.  The defendant retailer moved for summary judgment.  Having come forward with its own expert the retailer faulted the plaintiff for not coming forward with an expert.