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Court Denies Summary Judgment in New Mexico Premises Liability Case

Courts applying New Mexico’s laws recognize the principle of res ipsa loquitor.  In Latin res ipsa loquitor means the thing speaks for itself.  Under this principle, the very occurrence of an accident implies negligence.

In a recent case, one of the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all claims asserted against it.  Among the arguments made by the defendant was that the plaintiff had not presented necessary expert testimony.  The court denied the defendant’s summary judgment.  After holding a hearing, the court was satisfied that the plaintiff had demonstrated, under the res ipsa loquitor principle, a triable issue of fact concerning whether the retailer had breached the duty of care it owed to the plaintiff.

Allegedly a person was injured by automatic doors when he went shopping at a store operated by one of America’s largest retailers.  The person was using a crutch for balance when he went to the store.  The crutch was hit by the door, ostensibly because an interior sensor on the door malfunctioned.  The defendant retailer did not accept responsibility for the accident and the injured person sued.  The defendant retailer moved for summary judgment.  Having come forward with its own expert the retailer faulted the plaintiff for not coming forward with an expert.

The court’s analysis opened with identifying the case as a premises liability case, and explaining that the law imposed on the retailer defendant a duty of care because the plaintiff was an invitee.  The retailer’s duty included, according to the court, keeping automatic doors safe for use by the plaintiff and other invitees.  The court rejected the argument that an expert was necessary at the summary judgment stage of the lawsuit.  The court reasoned that the technicalities of how the automatic door functioned were not at issue.  Rather, the issue was whether the defendant had negligently failed to keep the doors safe, which could be based on common knowledge.

The court looked to cases in other jurisdictions concerning malfunction of automatic doors, and cited them for the conclusion that “because automatic doors generally do not malfunction in the absence of negligence, and because this fact is within the layperson’s common knowledge, an automatic door malfunction gives rise to an inference of negligence under res ipsa loquitor.”  The court also considered evidence presented by the defendant that the automatic doors’ interior sensor was adjusted 4 days after the plaintiff was injured.  The court noted that, while it would not normally admit evidence of repairs to prove negligence, the defendant had not objected to consideration of the repairs.  The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff should be faulted for not pleading res ipsa loquitor in his complaint or raising related arguments before the hearing.  The reasoning was that res ipsa loquitor is not a cause of action separate and apart from a cause of action for negligence.  It is better understood as one of the ways one can go about proving negligence.  Based on the court’s review of the facts and the law, the defendant’s summary judgment motion was denied, allowing the plaintiff to move forward with prosecuting his case.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, there may be grounds for a financial recovery.  Sometimes multiple parties can be responsible for payment of damages resulting from an accident.  A damages award can assist people who are injured and their families with the medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident.   To understand more about a premises liability case and how it can be pursued in a manner that maximizes your recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.