Articles Posted in Personal Injury

Personal injury lawsuits brought in New Mexico typically proceed on the basis that they will be heard by a jury.  Recently a New Mexico federal court granted a motion to compel arbitration brought by a defendant and stayed the plaintiffs’ personal injury lawsuit pending the completion of arbitration.

Allegedly, the plaintiff had been employed as a maintenance engineer in an Albuquerque store of a national retail chain.  While he was at work he was electrocuted and, as a result, fell off of a ladder, causing him to sustain injuries.  The injured employee and his wife sued the store and two managerial employees in the Second Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico, County of Bernalillo.  Their complaint asserted causes of action for negligence and negligence per se, loss of consortium and conspiracy and sought to hold the defendants jointly and severally liable.  The complaint sought both compensatory and punitive damages.

After being served with the complaint the national retail chain that had employed the plaintiff at the time of the accident removed the lawsuit from state court to federal court.  It then moved the court to compel the plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims against it. Continue reading

Typically it is the defendants in a New Mexico personal injury case that move for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  In a recent case, a New Mexico federal trial court ruled on a summary judgment motion brought by a plaintiff injured in Albuquerque. The court denied the plaintiff’s opposed motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, concluding that there were factual issues that should be decided by a jury.

The plaintiff alleged that he was severely injured by a May 1, 2014 shooting and carjacking in the parking lot of a national drug store chain.  The evidence before the court showed that, prior to the plaintiff being severely injured, in the period between April 17, 2011 and May 1, 2014, the Albuquerque Police Department had responded to 298 police calls at the defendants’ Albuquerque location in which the plaintiff was injured.  Police reports reflected break-ins into and theft of automobiles on the defendants’ premises in which the plaintiff had been injured, as well as aggravated assaults and robberies on the premises. Continue reading

An important part of a personal injury case can be determining the physical condition of the plaintiff. A New Mexico federal trial court recently decided an insurance company defendant’s motion seeking an independent medical examination of the plaintiff.  The court tried to balance the parties’ rights because there were several points of disagreement including duration and scope and, ultimately, granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

Allegedly the plaintiff, who was a passenger in the bed of a pick-up truck on the day of the accident, suffered serious and permanent injuries after the truck she was in rolled off a washed-out dirt road.  She sought to recover damages from an insurance company on the basis of failure to pay underinsured motorist insurance benefits that she alleged were due to her.  Her lawsuit included claims for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty and violation of the New Mexico Unfair Insurance Practices Act and the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act.  The insurance company defendant responded by, among other things, seeking a court order requiring the plaintiff to undergo an independent medical examination with no restrictions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35.

Under Rule 35, a federal court may order “a party whose mental or physical condition . . . is in controversy to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 35(a)(1). The Rule tries to balance the rights of parties as its provisions reflect.  For example, court orders under the Rule “may be made only on motion for good cause and . . . must specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination, as well as the person or persons who will perform it.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 35(a)(2). Under cases construing the Rule discussed by the court, the party requesting the examination must show that the physical or mental condition of the party to be examined is in controversy and that good cause exists for the examination.  Additionally, the court explained that the showing of good cause is to be a greater showing than that under other discovery rules because a mere relevance standard would render the good cause requirement meaningless.  The court also explained that, while Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should be construed liberally to allow discovery, how it is to be applied in a particular case is within the “sound discretion” of the court.

It can be very important for litigants asserting personal injury and wrongful death claims to have their day in court.  Arbitration agreements can cut off the right of access.  In a ruling in favor of a New Mexico skilled nursing facility, a federal district court recently upheld an arbitration agreement following the filing of a state court lawsuit for wrongful death against the facility.

The litigation commenced after a woman who was a resident at an Albuquerque, New Mexico facility from March 4 to March 8, 2016 died from complications of untreated diabetes.  Allegedly, the woman had designated another woman as her attorney in fact on May 24, 2014 and on March 5, 2016 the woman who had been designated signed a resident admission agreement on behalf of the woman resident in the facility that included an arbitration agreement.  After the resident died, a personal representative of her estate and her brother filed a New Mexico state court complaint seeking damages for her wrongful death.  The facility where the deceased had been resident filed a separate lawsuit in New Mexico federal court to compel arbitration of all matters related to the care and treatment that the resident had received at the facility.

The court’s analysis was very friendly to the facility, citing for example U.S. Supreme Court language from another case that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) articulates a strong national policy in favor of arbitration and establishes that any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration.  The court explained that, under the FAA, arbitration agreements are on equal footing with other contracts, and that the court was to determine whether the parties agreed to arbitrate the dispute at issue.

Though parties to personal injury litigation in American federal courts have broad discovery rights, certain materials are protected in the discovery process including those that are subject to the attorney-client and work product privileges.  In a recent case, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico granted in part a motion for a protective order brought by an insurance company defendant.

The case arose after an insurance company denial of coverage.  A woman was involved in a New Mexico motor vehicle accident with an unknown driver, following which she made a claim with her insurance company for uninsured motorist (UM) coverage.  The insurance company denied coverage, taking the position that its insured was 100% at fault for the accident.  The insured driver then sued for UM benefits and punitive damages and a jury found the UM driver 100% at fault and awarded the insured driver damages.

Thereafter the plaintiff sued her insurance company for breach of contract, bad faith, negligence, and unfair practices for the insurance company’s failure to pay the claim, including paying the jury verdict, and for its handling of the claim through the underlying lawsuit.  The insurance company paid the jury verdict and sought a protective order with respect to discovery sought by the plaintiff.

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The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently ruled against a plaintiff in a New Mexico wrongful death suit that was based on a successive entrustment theory of liability.  The ruling came in the context of resolving a motion for summary judgment brought by one of the defendants, a company that had an independent contractor agreement with one of the individual defendants pursuant to which she was operating a truck to transport cargo.  Allegedly in violation of the agreement, the driver picked up her father as a passenger, who went on to drive the truck and cause an accident resulting in the death of her employee who was asleep in the truck’s bunk bed when her father lost control of the truck.

The mother of the deceased employee, as personal representative of his estate, sued her son’s employer, the employer’s father, and the company that had leased her son’s employer the truck.  She sued in New Mexico state court and then the lessor of the truck removed the case to federal court.  The lessor brought a summary judgment motion.  Resolution was to be based on New Mexico law because the underlying truck accident occurred in New Mexico.

The lessor defendant argued to the federal district court that the driver of the truck at the time of the accident was not its employee under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; that it was not negligent in its own right for its training of its independent contractor who had entrusted the truck to her father, and that it should not be held liable for the successive entrustment of the truck by its independent contractor to her father.  The court accepted these arguments reasoning that the driver at the time of the accident was not an employee and there was no evidence that the alleged lack of training by the lessor of the authorized driver of the vehicle contributed to the entrustment of the vehicle. Reviewing New Mexico state law, the court also concluded that New Mexico does not recognize a cause of action for negligent entrustment based on multiple, successive entrustments.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico handed down a decision on January 3, 2019 in favor of a plaintiff who was seeking a recovery from her insurance company following a New Mexico car accident resulting in the plaintiff allegedly suffering personal injuries.  The insurance company had argued that the plaintiff needed to prove entitlement to underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) benefits before she could proceed with her other claims against the insurance company.  The court denied the defendant insurance company’s motion for bifurcation, thereby allowing the plaintiff’s claims to proceed forward together.

The plaintiff alleged that she had suffered injuries after her vehicle was rear-ended by another vehicle.  She settled with the insurance company of the driver who had allegedly caused the accident for the limits of that driver’s insurance policy, and then made a demand on her own insurance company for UIM and the insurance company refused to pay.  She then sued her insurance company, asserting two different sets of claims.  She claimed a breach of contract based on her insurer’s non-payment of UIM benefits and breach of the duties of good faith and fair dealing.  These were contract based claims under her insurance policy with the defendant insurance company.

In separate counts, the plaintiff’s complaint alleged extra-contractual claims for insurance bad faith, violations of New Mexico’s Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA), and violations of New Mexico’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA).   The defendant insurance company moved to bifurcate the trials of Plaintiff’s UIM contract based claims from her bad faith, UIPA, and UTPA claims and stay discovery on those extra-contractual claims “until such time as a jury has found that the Plaintiff is legally entitled to recover benefits on the underlying UIM breach of contract claim.”  The plaintiff opposed.

Defendants sued in state court in New Mexico personal injury cases will often prefer to litigate in federal court.  Under some circumstances, defendants can successfully remove cases filed by plaintiffs in state court, thereby changing the plaintiffs’ chosen forum.  But this is not always the case because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.  In a recent ruling, a New Mexico federal district court remanded a case that defendants removed to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico back to the state court in which the plaintiff had filed it, the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe County, New Mexico.

The case followed a fatal car accident.  According to the district court’s ruling, a man had allegedly sold his house in Arizona and was driving in New Mexico on his way to his father’s home in Wisconsin at the time of the accident.  His intention was to relocate his family to live with his father, and so the family came with its belongings.  He was driving a pickup truck and pulling another.  His wife and children followed in a U-haul truck rented for the move.  A tire failed on the truck he was towing, causing him to lose control of the truck he was driving, which crossed the median and rolled over.

After the person died from the injuries he suffered in the accident, a personal representative of his estate sued two companies on the basis that they had sold the decedent defective tires.  The lawsuit alleged causes of action for violations of New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act, and for strict products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.  The plaintiff sought a recovery of damages, including punitive damages in a complaint filed in New Mexico state court.  The defendants removed the case to federal court.  Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), removable cases include civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

Hedonic damages are a measure of damages recognized by New Mexico personal injury law.  They are meant to provide compensation for the pleasure of being alive.  Following a deadly collision between the driver of a motorcycle and the driver of a car, a New Mexico federal magistrate judge decided to admit qualitative expert testimony on hedonic damages and exclude expert testimony quantifying hedonic damages.

The case arose after a person riding his motorcycle collided with a person driving a car, who turned in front of the motorcycle.  The collision, which took place in Grants, New Mexico, resulted in the death of the driver of the motorcycle and the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit.  The plaintiffs were the personal representative of the wrongful death estate of the deceased motorcyclist and relatives of the deceased.  The defendants were the personal representative of the estate of the driver of the car that collided with the motorcyclist and an automobile insurance company.

The plaintiffs wished to introduce at trial testimony from an economist concerning the value of economic losses resulting from the death of the motorcyclist, including lost earning capacity and loss of household services.  The plaintiffs also sought to introduce at trial the economist’s testimony as to hedonic damages.  The defendants sought to exclude any expert testimony regarding hedonic damages.

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A New Mexico federal Magistrate Judge recently recommended denial of a construction company’s motion to dismiss or stay a suit by the construction company’s insurer.  The insurance company had sued in New Mexico federal court seeking a declaration that it was not obligated to cover a lawsuit against the construction company in New Mexico state court for personal injuries and property damage.

The state court lawsuit was based on the construction company using the services of an insulation and fireproofing contractor to install Icynene SPF in a custom built home.  After the Icynene SPF was installed and homeowners moved in, the homeowners complained that the product was causing noxious and harmful fumes, gases and odors to fill the house.  The homeowners submitted a demand letter to the construction company, and its insurance company retained counsel to represent the construction company.  The homeowners then sued the Icynene SPF manufacturer, the insulation and fireproofing contractor that had installed it and the construction company in the Thirteenth Judicial District of New Mexico.

A few months later the construction company’s insurer filed a complaint in federal court pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act.  The insurance company sought a declaration that the allegations in the complaint brought in state court by the homeowners against the construction company were not covered by the construction company’s insurance policy.  The homeowners answered the complaint and the construction company moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay proceedings.