New Mexico Personal Injury Suit to Proceed in Federal Court Following Denial of the Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand

New Mexico personal injury lawsuits often proceed in New Mexico’s state courts.  A personal injury lawsuit can be removed from state court to federal court if it meets criteria set forth by federal law for removal.  It is also possible, in some instances, to remand a case that was filed in state court and removed to federal court back to state court.

A recent ruling by the Chief District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico denied the plaintiff’s motion to remand a case that had been filed in state court and removed to this federal trial court.  Allegedly the plaintiff was injured after he slipped on a puddle of oil in the defendant’s drive-in restaurant and fell.  Before bringing a lawsuit the plaintiff tried to resolve the case on an out-of-court basis.  Through counsel, he sent a demand letter to the defendant.  The demand letter detailed the plaintiff’s alleged injuries and damages; they included medical expenses, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.  According to the court, the plaintiff’s demand letter estimated the plaintiff’s damages to be $37,659 on the low end and $157,659 on the high end.  The plaintiff also sought exemplary (i.e. punitive) damages.

According to the court, the plaintiff offered to settle his claims for $75,000 and the defendant countered with a settlement offer of $5,000.  The parties were unable to bridge the gap between their settlement offers and the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in state court. The defendant reacted by removing the lawsuit to federal court.  The plaintiff then filed a motion seeking to remand the case to state court, on the basis that the amount in controversy was $20,000.

Under section 1446(c)(2) of title 28 of the U.S. Code, which concerns removal of lawsuits to federal court based on diversity of citizenship, the burden of proof is on the party seeking to remove an action from state court to federal court to show that there is federal jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship.  The defendant in this case needed to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, a complete diversity of citizenship between the plaintiff and defendant.  This was not an issue because the plaintiff was a California citizen and the defendant was a citizen of New Mexico.

The defendant also needed to show that the amount in controversy was in excess of $75,000.  The court concluded that the defendant had established that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.  Basically the court held the plaintiff to the estimated damages he had presented to the defendant to try to settle the case before bringing a lawsuit.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that only compensatory damages should be considered, and that exemplary damages should not be considered.  The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to remand, concluding that the plaintiff was trying to avoid federal court jurisdiction by taking the position the amount in controversy was $20,000, which was less than the $37,659 estimate of the low end of damages presented in the demand that the plaintiff made before filing his lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has sustained personal injuries, there may be grounds for a recovery of monetary damages from parties who are responsible.  In some situations, punitive damages can be collected in addition to compensatory damages.  Collecting damages can help people who have suffered personal injuries and their loved ones pay out-of-pocket costs including medical expenses, and compensate people monetarily for lost wages and pain and suffering.  To understand more about your 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.