New Mexico Federal Trial Court Rules on Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Premises Liability Arising Out of a Shooting and Carjacking

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.

The plaintiff alerted the court to the defendants’ policies and practices, which included not requiring employees to report intentional acts of third party violence in the exterior premises to other employees, and not having security guards or warning signs posted in the parking lot.  The plaintiff also explained to the court that on the night of the incident that injured him, the defendants’ exterior surveillance camera did not capture the parking lot where the incident occurred and that the defendants had not, for several years preceding the incident, kept any reports, logs or data compilations of criminal activity or suspected criminal activity.

Based on the proof presented with his summary judgment motion, the plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability, recognizing that only a jury could compare the liability of the defendants to that of the shooter.  The defendants opposed summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff had not established his claim of negligence in a manner that warranted entry of summary judgment on liability in the plaintiff’s favor.

The court looked to the generally accepted standard in New Mexico and other jurisdictions for establishing negligence.  The standard entails a showing of (1) a duty owed by a defendant to a plaintiff; (2) breach of that duty, which is typically based on a standard of reasonable care; (3) causation between the breached duty and a plaintiff’s damages, and (4) damages.  The court observed that, although the breach of duty and causation elements are normally for a jury to decide, a court may still decide whether a defendant did or did not breach the duty of care as a matter of law or that the alleged breach of duty did not legally cause the damages sought in the case.  The court added that, in such situations, the court must conclude that no reasonable jury could decide the breach or causation issues except one way.

The court determined that it could not determine as a matter of law that no reasonable jury could decide the breach of duty only one way.  Although the court concluded that no reasonable jury could find the defendants did not foresee that the parking lot, especially at night, constituted a zone of risk posing a general threat of harm to others, including the plaintiff, the court reasoned that a jury would then have to decide exactly what risk of danger the defendants could foresee to determine the care or “additional” precautions the defendants should have provided.  The court also concluded that the plaintiff had not met his burden on summary judgment of arguing proximate causation.  While the court ruled against the plaintiff under standards based on the court’s interpretation of the law that are very difficult, if not indeed impossible to satisfy for purposes of achieving summary judgment, the court’s ruling does not preclude the plaintiff from preparing his premises liability case for presentation to a jury.

The results of negligence can be terrifying, and lead to severe personal injuries or loss of life.  If you or your loved one was injured due to the negligence of a third party, there may be grounds for an award of monetary damages.  An award of damages can help people who are injured and their families with losses, including medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To understand more about your case, call New Mexico premises liability 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.