New Mexico Court Dismisses Personal Injury Claims Against Neighbor for Lack of Proximate Causation

Sometimes a person is not liable for the payment of damages resulting from an accident.  Even though the person’s conduct was among the causes of the accident, the conduct at issue is considered by a court to not have been the accident’s proximate cause.  A recent ruling by a federal district court granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss New Mexico wrongful death claims on the basis that the defendant’s conduct was not the proximate cause of the death.

Allegedly, a woman who had dogs in her home also had a home alarm system professionally installed.  She asked one of her neighbors to be a back-up contact person with the company that had installed the alarm.  Her neighbor agreed.  Also, she frequently asked her neighbor to check in on the dogs when she was not home.  The neighbor would go check on the dogs when asked.  This was their arrangement.

One day, the home alarm went off, and the company that had installed it contacted the neighbor.  The woman whose house was secured by the home alarm also contacted her, asking that she enter the home and check on the dogs.  She did as she was asked and went to check on the neighbor’s home and dogs.  When law enforcement officers came to the house to investigate, she spoke with a detective.  He asked her some questions.  She walked with him toward the back of a truck when she was walking back to her own home.  A deputy was sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck at the time.  The deputy received a call dispatching him to another location.  While he was driving his vehicle in reverse to head to the destination to which he had been dispatched, he struck the neighbor, who was still on the property of the home with the alarm that had gone off.  She died.

A lawsuit was brought on behalf of the estate of the deceased person and the representative of the estate, seeking damages for the wrongful death based on liability for negligence and premises liability.  The lawsuit was brought in state court and removed by the defendants to federal court.  The woman who had asked her neighbor to go check on the house after the alarm went off was among the defendants, and she moved to dismiss the claims asserted against her.  The court rejected her argument that her homeowner’s duty of care ought to be limited in this case for policy reasons.  The court agreed with her, however, that there was a failure to allege facts sufficient to demonstrate that her acts or omissions were the proximate cause of the accident.  The court reasoned that it was the deputy’s inattentive driving that resulted in the deceased person being struck and killed.  The court further reasoned that assuming that the defendant had a duty to keep the premises safe, which had been breached by the request to check in on the dogs, the plaintiffs still had not alleged and could not allege facts showing that the breach was reasonably connected as a significant link to the injury.  The court therefore granted the motion to dismiss with respect to the claims against the homeowner.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, there may be grounds for a financial recovery.   Sometimes multiple parties are liable for payment of damages resulting from an accident.  An award of monetary damages 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.