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.

truck accident
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.

traffic signal
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.

distracted driving
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.

wet floor

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.

liquor store

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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A recent case before the New Mexico Supreme Court addressed whether the children of a fatally wounded parent could bring a lawsuit under state law, even though the parent’s estate had not brought a lawsuit for wrongful death.  The court determined that the children had the right to bring the lawsuit, since they were suing for personal injury or bodily injury damages, and the children were in a “sufficiently close relationship” to their father that it supported their claim.

tombstone

After Albuquerque police officers responded to information regarding a suspected stolen vehicle, they found the decedent at the scene of the crime, inside a parked vehicle next to the suspected stolen vehicle.  After surrounding his vehicle, the officers approached the decedent’s car on foot, and he drove away.  An officer began shooting at the car and eventually shot and killed the decedent.

The decedent’s minor children brought a lawsuit against the defendants (the Albuquerque Police Department) for loss of consortium damages. They alleged that since the defendants caused the wrongful death of their father, they would grow without the support and love of their father.  The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the court granted the motion, finding that the law enforcement officers were entitled to immunity for the claim.  The court of appeals reversed the judgment.

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Hit and run collisions cause serious bodily harm, and the act of leaving the scene of an accident after causing a collision is considered a crime.  Drivers who hit an object, another driver, or a pedestrian but leave the scene without giving them assistance or providing information may be found in violation of the law.  Injured individuals can pursue a civil claim against the driver, if they are later located, and seek compensation for their injuries, emotional suffering, and property damage resulting from the accident.

collision damage

Recently, New Mexico legislators are seeking to address what some have called an increase of car accidents and reckless drivers. Addressing dangerous drivers is one purpose of a proposed law that makes hit and run offenses a more severe crime, leading to a potentially longer jail term.  According to the law today, those who knowingly leave the scene of an accident when someone is injured or dies may be charged with a third-degree felony.

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Personal injury lawsuits and negligence claims are a method to determine who is at fault for causing an accident and secure damages from all at-fault parties. By filing a legal claim against an at-fault party, accident victims can potentially recover money damages for their accident-related costs. According to New Mexico law, when one person or a group of people owe a duty of care to others and breach that duty, they may be liable for the resulting harm.  This is the essence of a negligence claim, which forms the legal basis for many personal injury cases following motor vehicle accidents.

accident

The plaintiff in a lawsuit is the injured party and bears the burden of proving fault, or legal liability.  In some situations, multiple parties may be at fault.  Additionally, the plaintiff may have contributed to their own injuries. Comparative fault rules vary by state and include comparative fault, modified comparative fault, and contributory negligence doctrines.

New Mexico follows the doctrine of “pure” comparative negligence.  According to state statutes, a plaintiff may recover damages from a defendant who was at fault, minus the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. In a car accident, for example, if the plaintiff’s damages are $100,000, and the plaintiff is found to be 30% at fault, they will recover $70,000 of the damages.  The plaintiff would be responsible for $30,000.

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