Articles Posted in Car Crash

SpeedNew 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.

Car AccidentThe 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.

car accidentThe 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.

pedestrian crossingThe 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.

alcoholic beveragesDrinking 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.

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.

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.

Continue reading