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In a recent ruling, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico decided to defer to the plaintiffs’ choice of forum.  Two plaintiffs, a husband and a wife, sued a trucking company that the wife had worked for as a commercial truck driver.  The couple also sued in the same complaint a trainer who had worked for the trucking company.  The company filed a motion, opposed by the plaintiffs, to transfer the lawsuit to the Western District of Kentucky, where the company allegedly maintained its principal place of business.  The trainer did not take a position on the relief requested in the motion to change venue as of the time that the U.S. District Court acted on the motion.

Among the orders that a federal trial court presiding over a lawsuit can make is an order transferring venue.  Venue can be transferred to any other district court in which the action could have been brought, pursuant to section 1404(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code.  A party seeking the relief of venue transfer must show that the existing forum is an inconvenient forum.  While a plaintiff’s choice of forum is afforded some deference, there are multiple factors that courts consider when deciding a motion to transfer venue.

Among the factors that the court identified as informing the analysis in this case were witness accessibility, the cost of proving the case, the ability to enforce a judgment if one is obtained in the case, the difficulties arising from the congestion of courts’ dockets, the advantages of having local courts decide questions of local law, and practical considerations that would facilitate expeditious and economical trial of the case.

In a recent opinion the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico denied an insurance company’s motion to bifurcate claims and stay discovery.  Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b), federal courts have the authority to take actions including ordering separate trials over multiple claims.  The courts enjoy broad discretion with respect to granting or denying this relief and, also, with respect to related requests to stay discovery.

The plaintiff’s car had allegedly been rear-ended.  Her complaint alleged that she had been stopped in traffic when a vehicle struck her vehicle from behind, and that she sustained serious personal injuries as a result.  She sought to recoup damages for medical bills, enduring pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of household services.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff could not recover from the owner of the car that had rear-ended her car.  This was because it was not the owner who was driving the car at the time of the accident.  The owner’s mother was driving, and she allegedly had her license revoked prior to the accident for driving under the influence of alcohol and did not have liability insurance.  The plaintiff therefore decided to pursue a recovery from her own automobile insurer, under the uninsured motorist coverage provisions of the insurance policy.

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An accident in New Mexico recently resulted in litigation concerning coverage under an automobile insurance policy.  The facts, as alleged by the parties, are simple and tragic.  Allegedly a woman went to her neighbor’s house to respond to an alarm that had gone off at the house.  Sandoval County Sheriff’s Deputies went to the neighbor’s house as well.  One of the Deputies accidentally ran over the woman with his car when he was leaving, and she died.

In the next year, the personal representative for the woman’s estate sent a demand letter to the deceased’s automobile insurer, seeking a recovery under the underinsured motorist coverage provisions.

The insurance company refused to pay out.  It took the position that the personal representative of the estate of the woman who had been run over by the Deputy could not achieve a recovery under the insurance policy because the estate would be able to recover $400,000, the maximum allowed under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, from the Sheriff’s Office.  The insurance company’s position was that such a recovery would reduce to less than zero the amount recoverable under the underinsured motorist provision of the automobile insurance policy, which limited recovery to $250,000 less any amount paid by the individual or organization responsible for the accident.

A recent personal injury case discusses how to determine the citizenship of limited liability companies (sometimes referred to as LLCs) when they are parties to litigation in New Mexico federal court.  After a car accident, plaintiffs who were allegedly residents of New Mexico, filed a personal injury case in state court.  The plaintiffs brought the case in the First Judicial District, County of Santa Fe, on behalf of themselves and also on behalf of their minor children.  The defendants were a resident of Texas and a foreign limited liability company that had as its sole member a man who was allegedly a resident of Utah.  The foreign limited liability company filed a notice of removal seeking to proceed in federal court, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

The plaintiffs responded by seeking remand of their personal injury case to state court, where they had initially filed it.  In support of their position they argued that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because there was not diversity of citizenship among the parties to the case.  This argument was based on the foreign limited liability company having hired a registered agent for service of process in New Mexico.  The plaintiffs also sought remand to state court on the basis of judicial economy.  They asserted that another lawsuit brought by different plaintiffs was proceeding in state court against the same corporate defendant based on the same incident. Continue reading

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.

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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.

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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.