Personal injury plaintiffs can seek to recover compensatory and punitive damages when litigating in New Mexico courts. Recently, a truck driver and the company whose truck he was driving at the time of an accident on I-40 moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the punitive damages asserted against them. The federal trial court adjudicating the underlying personal injury case granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion.
The United States Magistrate Judge adjudicating the summary judgment motion began the court’s analysis by observing that the plaintiffs had not responded to the defendants’ summary judgment motion and that, under the standards set by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the court could not grant the defendants’ motion merely because it was unopposed. Rather, the court needed to determine whether summary judgment could be granted due to the absence of genuine issues of material fact and the defendants’ entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.
Based on evidence on file with the court, including deposition transcripts, the court reconstructed the circumstances of the accident that was the subject of the plaintiffs’ complaint and the defendants’ summary judgment motion. According to the court, the defendant who was driving the truck at the time of the accident was driving a commercial semi-tractor trailer truck near Grants, New Mexico. He had been, according to his deposition testimony, working as a truck driver for nearly 40 years. On the afternoon of the accident, he was allegedly driving between 5 and 20 miles per hour because he was driving in a construction zone. The plaintiff, driving a pickup truck, was allegedly driving at a speed of approximately 65 miles per hour, which was ten miles over the posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour in the construction zone. The right side of the pickup truck allegedly came into contact with the left side of the semi-tractor trailer, and the two trucks veered off causing the pickup truck to be pinned against the left guard rail of I-40. According to the court, there was no evidence that the driver of the semi-tractor trailer was driving erratically or that he intentionally or recklessly caused the accident; he was not cited for a traffic violation. The court also explained that no evidence had been presented showing the driver’s employer had been malicious, wanton, or reckless in hiring or supervising the driver.