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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently denied a dismissal motion filed on behalf of  defendants including the Santa Fe Public Schools. The plaintiffs had brought a lawsuit in state court based on alleged sexual abuse by their fourth grade teacher. The motion had sought dismissal of a complaint on the basis that the plaintiffs’ claims under federal and state law were time barred.

By the time the court adjudicated the motion to dismiss their claims the plaintiffs were over 24 years old.  The teacher and the school who has been sued removed the case to federal court, and sought dismissal of the claims based on alleged untimeliness.

The court first analyzed whether the applicable statute of limitations warranted dismissal of the plaintiffs’ federal claims.  The court explained that, with respect to the causes of action based on federal law, federal courts apply the statute of limitations and tolling laws of the relevant state.  In this case, New Mexico law provided a three year statute of limitations, and it was clear from the complaint that it was brought after the expiration of the three year period.  Accordingly, the court analyzed whether there was a basis to toll the statute of limitations with respect to the federal claims.  The court concluded that the plaintiffs’ alleged incapacity provided a basis for tolling the statute of limitations.  The plaintiffs had alleged that they had suffered from problems including post-traumatic stress, dissociation and drug addiction.  The court accepted that these allegations plausibly established incapacitation, for purposes of assessing the merits of the motion to dismiss.  The court also explained that whether the plaintiffs’ condition, in fact, incapacitated them was an issue that should be deferred until the parties brought summary judgment motions or tried the case.

Recently the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico was presented with a dispute concerning whether an insurance coverage case presented to it for adjudication should be sent back to the state court in which the plaintiff had first filed the case.  The federal court trial court presented with this dispute ruled in favor of allowing the case to proceed in the plaintiff’s forum of choice.  The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and sent the case back to state court.

Underlying the dispute was a hit and run accident.  Allegedly a person was injured when the vehicle he was driving was struck by a pick up truck that did not stop at a stop sign.  The driver of the pick up truck drove off after the accident.  The injured person whose vehicle had been struck in the hit and run accident sought to recover money from the insurance company that insured his vehicle, based on uninsured motorist coverage.  The insurance company refused to pay out after being presented with a police report, medical records and bills.  The injured person, through counsel, filed a case against the insurance company in Bernalillo County.

The insurance company, via its counsel, removed the case the plaintiff had filed in state court to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.  The removal papers included an affidavit from counsel observing that, in his experience, the type of action at issue involves more than $75,000.  The plaintiff responded with a motion to remand the case to state court on the basis that the amount in controversy was less than $75,000.

A recent opinion addresses whether a company that leases a store is liable for damages in a New Mexico personal injury suit, after a customer is attacked in a parking lot used by the store’s customers.

Allegedly two people were trying to purchase a video game console from an electronic gaming store in Santa Fe, and were asked to leave because they were attempting to make the purchase with a fraudulent credit card.  The man standing behind them succeeded in purchasing a video game console, left the store and went to the parking lot. He sued the company that owned the store after being attacked in the parking lot by the people who had been ahead of him in line at the store, who had been unsuccessful in buying a video game console.

The plaintiff did not name as a defendant to the lawsuit the landlord of the store.  The lease between the owner of the store, a company that the defendant had named in his lawsuit, and the landlord who leased the store its space, a company that the defendant had not named in the lawsuit, provided that the parking lot was a common area to be used by tenants as a common area.  The lease also reserved control of the parking lot to the landlord.

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Sometimes a person is not liable for the payment of damages resulting from an accident.  Even though the person’s conduct was among the causes of the accident, the conduct at issue is considered by a court to not have been the accident’s proximate cause.  A recent ruling by a federal district court granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss New Mexico wrongful death claims on the basis that the defendant’s conduct was not the proximate cause of the death.

Allegedly, a woman who had dogs in her home also had a home alarm system professionally installed.  She asked one of her neighbors to be a back-up contact person with the company that had installed the alarm.  Her neighbor agreed.  Also, she frequently asked her neighbor to check in on the dogs when she was not home.  The neighbor would go check on the dogs when asked.  This was their arrangement.

One day, the home alarm went off, and the company that had installed it contacted the neighbor.  The woman whose house was secured by the home alarm also contacted her, asking that she enter the home and check on the dogs.  She did as she was asked and went to check on the neighbor’s home and dogs.  When law enforcement officers came to the house to investigate, she spoke with a detective.  He asked her some questions.  She walked with him toward the back of a truck when she was walking back to her own home.  A deputy was sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck at the time.  The deputy received a call dispatching him to another location.  While he was driving his vehicle in reverse to head to the destination to which he had been dispatched, he struck the neighbor, who was still on the property of the home with the alarm that had gone off.  She died.

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Sometimes multiple parties can be held liable for the payment of damages in a single New Mexico truck accident case.  A recent case concerns the ability of a plaintiff to name a new party as a defendant in an amended complaint filed years after the initial complaint was filed, and following the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Allegedly, in 2015, a back seat passenger in a truck sustained injuries after the truck was struck by another vehicle.  In 2017, the injured passenger brought a lawsuit in New Mexico state court against the driver of the vehicle that collided with the truck.  He also sued the company that insured the vehicle that collided with the truck.  The insurance company removed the lawsuit to federal court.  The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint in 2019, naming as a defendant the employer of the driver of the vehicle that had collided with the truck in which the plaintiff had been traveling at the time of the accident.

The employer responded by filing a motion to dismiss, asserting that the court should dismiss the employer from the lawsuit because the claims against the employer were barred under New Mexico’s applicable three-year statute of limitations.  The plaintiff argued in response to the motion to dismiss that his addition of the employer as a defendant was timely under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 because the claims related back to the claims in the original complaint.

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