Articles Posted in Car Crash

funeralRecently, the Court of Appeals of the State of New Mexico upheld a jury’s verdict and the denial of a defense motion for a new trial or a remittitur of the damages awarded by the jury.  The appellate court declined to use mathematic ratios as the basis for reversing a jury award, and also affirmed the award to the plaintiffs of prejudgment interest.

The trial underlying the appellate ruling occurred following a tragic accident on the interstate highway between Las Cruces and Deming, New Mexico.  A FedEx combination tractor-trailer vehicle driven at a speed of 65 miles an hour struck a small pickup truck that was stopped or barely moving.  There were multiple fatalities.  The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed. The driver of the pickup truck was also killed together with her four year old daughter; that driver’s nineteen month old son was seriously injured.

The husband of the woman driving the pickup truck that was struck sued individually, and as personal representative for his daughter and next friend for his son.  He also asserted claims for personal injury and wrongful death.  The father of the woman driving the pickup truck sued, as her personal representative, for wrongful death.  Together with his wife he also asserted claims via intervention for loss of consortium resulting from the death of their daughter.  FedEx stipulated prior to trial that it would pay for damages attributable to FedEx and the other named defendants.  Following the trial, the jury awarded compensatory damages in excess of $165 million in favor of the plaintiffs.  The jury awarded no punitive damages.

Legal News GavelA plaintiff injured in a New Mexico car accident who sues to recover damages for personal injuries often can assert causes of action based on multiple theories of recovery.  Under some circumstances, a defendant can successfully move to bifurcate the causes of action.  The consequences will depend on what stage the litigation is in when bifurcation is sought and can result, for example, in the litigation being split up so that discovery proceeds with respect to one or more causes of action while being stayed with respect to other causes of action.

In a recent case, the plaintiff asserted causes of action against an insurance company, which included breach of the underinsured motorist coverage provisions of the contract he had entered into with the insurance company that provided him car insurance, plus alleging bad faith.  The insurance company filed a successful motion to bifurcate the cause of action for denial of underinsured motorist coverage under the insurance contract from extra-contractual causes of action, and to stay discovery with respect to all extra-contractual causes of action.

The plaintiff had filed a lawsuit in the Twelfth Judicial District for Lincoln County, New Mexico.  He alleged that a teenager had driven her parents’ car into his truck while talking on her cell phone after rolling through a stop sign, and that this resulted in his truck spinning on two wheels and sustaining severe damage.  The plaintiff also alleged that he suffered grave injuries, which necessitated evaluation and treatment of his chest, hip, back and neck at the Lincoln County Medical Center.  Continue reading

A terrible New Mexico car accident occurred when a tire tread peeled off the right rear tire of a 1993 Ford E-350 Super Club Wagon traveling on U.S. Highway 54 in Guadalupe County, New Mexico.  The vehicle, which was en route from Mexico to Colorado, left the road and rolled over three times. Two of the occupants of the vehicle were ejected and died, another occupant was rendered quadriplegic and died from the injuries he sustained in the accident, and several other people who were in the car at the time of the accident also sustained injuries.Legal News Gavel

A lawsuit was filed against the car manufacturer, the tire manufacturer, and the person who installed the tire on the vehicle in the names of some of the individuals involved in the accident, and through representatives with respect to the other people involved in the accident.  The plaintiffs were all Mexican nationals.  The defendants, also not residents of New Mexico, each moved to dismiss, asserting that there was not personal jurisdiction over the defendants.  The District Court of Santa Fe County, New Mexico conducted a hearing, following which it denied dismissal of the lawsuit.  The defendants then filed applications for interlocutory appeal, which were granted by the Court of Appeals of New Mexico.

On appeal, the Court analyzed whether the defendants had minimum contacts with New Mexico that supported the exercise of specific jurisdiction.  The Court applied the standards of a precedent in which the Court had held that New Mexico courts could properly exercise jurisdiction over a Chinese corporate defendant that manufactured bicycle parts after it placed the allegedly defective parts on the market with the intention that they be distributed and sold in the United States, including in New Mexico.

legalnewsProposed federal legislation could prevent states including New Mexico from regulating the safety of autonomous vehicles.  These vehicles are sometimes referred to as “driverless.”  If the proposed federal laws are enacted, they could limit the role of states to registration and licensing of driverless vehicles and oversight over safety inspections, traffic laws and crash investigations.

The proposed legislation is controversial for several reasons.  On the one hand, building driverless vehicles in the United States could be good for domestic auto manufacturing.  The technology could potentially also reduce collisions caused by errors of tired, distracted or drunk drivers.  Some argue that a patchwork of state regulations could cause delays and complications.  On the other hand, public safety and consumer protection are issues because there is potential for accidents.  To address these important issues, the federal government would need to set enforceable standards and rules for these innovative forms of transportation, including for example, rules with respect to manufacturing.  How long it would take to develop an effective federal regulatory system for driverless vehicles and how a system would work remains to be determined.

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Legal News GavelNew Mexico’s Department of Transportation recently held a summit on autonomous vehicles.  The theme was that New Mexico needs to be ready. Semi-autonomous vehicles are operated with a driver behind the wheel.   Some semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the roads.  Fully autonomous vehicles are anticipated to hit roads in the coming years – cars and trucks that are fully automated and driverless. This raises concerns about what happens after a New Mexico car accident involving an autonomous vehicle.

The summit on autonomous vehicles followed a fatal car accident in Tempe, Arizona.  Tragically, a woman was struck and killed in Tempe while she was crossing the street.  She was hit by another woman who was behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber.  Tempe police had stated that the car did not slow down before striking the pedestrian, which has since been confirmed by review of video footage of the accident.  The Uber accident in Tempe is alarming because either the pedestrian who was struck was not recognized by the car’s autonomous system as a pedestrian, or, if she was, something went wrong applying the brakes.  The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Safety Administration investigated the accident to try to figure out what happened.

Among the technological innovations discussed at the summit on autonomous vehicles organized by the Department of Transportation were the five levels of automation.  Level 1 vehicles have automatic braking and cruise control.  Level 2 vehicles assist with steering and acceleration.  At Level 3, conditional automation, a driver is still needed and is expected to jump in and take over under certain circumstances.  At Level 4, a vehicle can drive itself under some conditions, without input from a driver.  At Level 5, a vehicle can drive itself under all conditions and may not include the option to let a driver take over.

Legal News GavelThe United States District Court for the District of New Mexico recently denied a motion to dismiss brought on behalf of an insurance company that sought the dismissal of a class action complaint.  The class action complaint sought recovery of damages against an insurance company based on several theories of liability, including the sale of allegedly illusory underinsured motorist coverage, breach of contract, and assorted violations of New Mexico’s Unfair Insurance Practices Act.

The lead plaintiff, who had been denied coverage by her insurer following a car accident caused by an underinsured driver, filed suit in state court in Bernalillo County.  Her insurer removed the complaint to federal district court and unsuccessfully moved the federal district judge to dismiss the class action lawsuit.

The lead plaintiff alleged that she was driving eastbound on I-40 in Albuquerque when another driver failed to stop for traffic in front of that driver’s vehicle and struck the lead plaintiff’s vehicle, causing serious bodily injuries and other damages.  The lead plaintiff further alleged that the driver whose vehicle struck hers was an underinsured motorist at the time of the accident and that the underinsured driver’s insurance company paid the lead plaintiff $25,000 following the accident.

Legal News GavelThe Court of Appeals of New Mexico recently entered a ruling concerning the obligation of insurance companies to pay punitive damages.  In its ruling, the Court of Appeals reversed a judgment entered by the trial court in favor of an insured car owner that provided the insurance company had to pay him $20,000 in punitive damages, in addition to the $10,000 the insurance company had previously paid the insured by way of compensatory damages.

The insurance coverage dispute arose following a New Mexico car accident that occurred early in the morning, when the owner of a 2001 Chevrolet Suburban was sleeping.  An uninsured motorist, then fleeing from police officers, struck the insured’s car when, fortunately, no one was in the car.  No one sustained any injuries to their bodies when the accident occurred.  But the Chevrolet Suburban sustained disabling damage.

According to the Court of Appeals opinion, the insured incurred $3,566.24 in property damage to his vehicle, and he sought a recovery under the uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) property damage provision of his policy.  Under his insurance policy, there were coverage limits of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident for bodily injury.  The insurance policy also had a provision providing a recovery with coverage limits of $10,000 for property damage.

Legal News GavelThe Albuquerque City Council recently passed Council Bill Number F/S O-17-51 to improve safety in the city and reduce the occurrence of Albuquerque pedestrian accidents and related issues.  Under the ordinance, pedestrians are prohibited from occupying certain locations absent an emergency, including those near highway entrance and exit ramps and medians.  The new ordinance also prohibits pedestrians, in the absence of an emergency, from engaging in physical interactions or exchanges with drivers and other occupants of vehicles.  Similarly, occupants of motor vehicles within travel lanes or intersections are prohibited from engaging in physical interactions or exchanges with pedestrians unless an emergency situation makes the interactions or exchanges necessary.  Signs are anticipated to go up soon to advise people of the new city ordinance.

According to a KOB 4 article, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico has expressed concerns that the ordinance violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because of its impact on panhandling.  The ordinance does not discuss panhandling; it does discuss alarming statistics concerning pedestrian fatality rates in New Mexico in general and in Albuquerque in particular.

Among the statistics cited in the new Albuquerque city ordinance is the fact that New Mexico, as compared to other states, had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2014 and the seventh-highest rate in the year 2015.  The city of Albuquerque is said to have had the second-highest rate of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents among U.S. cities with a population of over 500,000 in 2014.  As Albuquerque-specific statistics go, the city ordinance explains that among all of the pedestrian and bicyclist accidents involving crashes in New Mexico, more than 40% of the crashes occurred in the city of Albuquerque, and over 80% occurred around intersections.  Hopefully, the new measures will reduce accidents and improve safety.

Legal News GavelDrinking 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.

Legal News GavelRecoveries 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.