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New Mexico Federal Trial Court Denies Summary Judgment on the Issue of Aggravating Circumstances in a Wrongful Death Case

In a recent ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico denied summary judgment to the sole defendant, an out of state tire manufacturer.  The case before the court arose after a tire blow out that allegedly was caused by manufacturing and design defects.  Allegedly after the tire blew out, a tragic single-vehicle accident occurred in which a pickup truck rolled over resulting in several people being injured and one person dying.

As part of its defense, the tire manufacturer unsuccessfully moved the court to enter a partial summary judgment in its favor holding that the plaintiffs could not recover compensatory damages for aggravating circumstances under New Mexico law.

Under New Mexico law, the personal representative of a wrongful death estate can recover compensatory damages on behalf of the estate.  When determining whether it is appropriate to award compensatory damages, a New Mexico jury can consider mitigating or aggravating circumstance attending the allegedly wrongful act, neglect, or default.  While compensatory damages generally are made available so that injured parties are made whole, compensatory damages under New Mexico’s wrongful death statute also further the interest of deterrence.  Compensatory damages in aid of the public policy interest in deterrence can be awarded even in instances where punitive damages cannot be awarded.

In this case the defendant took the position that the record before the court on summary judgment showed that there was no evidence in existence that could support an award of compensatory damages for aggravating circumstances.  The plaintiffs countered that a reasonable jury could find in their favor on this issue and, therefore, partial summary judgment should be denied.  In support of their position the plaintiffs directed the court’s attention to evidence in the record supporting their assertion that contamination in the tire manufacturing process contributed to the injurious tire blow out.

The court reasoned that a reasonable jury could find aggravating circumstances based on the facts presented by the plaintiffs, much as the facts were disputed by the defendant.  This is not to say that a jury would find for the plaintiffs.  The court explained that the defense motion may have been premature insofar as the court was being asked to rule on the existence of aggravating circumstances without having the benefit of considering all of the evidence presented to a jury.  Accordingly, the court denied the tire manufacturer defendant partial summary judgment while not precluding the defendant from renewing its motion at the close of evidence at trial.  By not precluding an award of compensatory damages for aggravating circumstances, the court enabled the plaintiffs to make the best case they could in support of a substantial financial recovery.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident, there may be grounds for a recovery of monetary damages.  Collecting damages can help people who have been injured and their families cover out-of-pocket costs including medical bills and lost wages.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial 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 (Phone) or (505) 317-3118 (Skype).  Alternatively, we can also be reached by email at the following email addresses:

mattvance@mattvancelaw.com
jennifer@mattvancelaw.com
amanda@mattvancelaw.com