A ruling handed down earlier this year shows that New Mexico personal injury lawsuits can be difficult for an individual to prosecute without having the benefit of experienced counsel. As the ruling explains, a litigant needs to pay court filing fees or achieve leave to proceed without paying fees, the litigant’s complaint needs to state a claim under applicable law including a basis for the court’s exercise of jurisdiction, and the complaint needs to be served on defendants.
The court’s ruling followed the filing of a complaint by a plaintiff acting pro se, a term referring to an individual acting on his or her own behalf. The plaintiff sued a supermarket chain, alleging that he fell and injured himself because the defendant had failed to remedy a foreseeable hazard. The plaintiff further alleged that but for the negligence of the supermarket chain in failing to keep its premises safe, the plaintiff would not have fallen and exacerbated his pre-existing conditions. The plaintiff also alleged that the inactions of the defendant’s management were the proximate and direct causes of the injuries he had sustained.
The plaintiff filed an application seeking to proceed without paying fees or costs, referred to as an application to proceed in forma pauperis. The court granted the motion based on the plaintiff’s alleged inability to pay, which the plaintiff documented in an affidavit. The court also took the opportunity to explain what needed to happen before the plaintiff could proceed with his lawsuit.
The plaintiff would need to show that there was a basis for federal court jurisdiction to proceed with litigation in federal court. Under Section 1332 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code, a federal court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship where a matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000 and is between citizens of different states. The plaintiff had alleged that he is a citizen of New Mexico and the defendant has an address in Ohio. The court observed that the plaintiff had not alleged the amount in controversy. Next, the court opined that the plaintiff had not stated a claim for negligence, which requires pleading duty, breach of the duty, proximate cause and damages. The court looked to the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendant had failed to remedy a foreseeable hazard, concluding they were insufficient to state a claim for negligence because there were no factual allegations describing the hazard, how the hazard caused the plaintiff to fall or that the hazard was foreseeable. The court gave the plaintiff 21 days to file an amended complaint that would allege a sufficient basis for the exercise of jurisdiction and state a claim on which relief may be granted. The court further ruled that failure to file such an amended complaint could result in dismissal of the case without prejudice.
The court then explained that the pro se plaintiff’s complaint would be subject to the legal requirements applicable in counseled cases, and that failure to comply could subject the plaintiff to sanctions, including monetary penalties and non-monetary directives. Finally, the court explained that it would not order service of the plaintiff’s Summons and Complaint on the defendant (based on how things stood at the time of its ruling) and that the court would order service if the plaintiff timely filed an amended complaint alleging facts supporting jurisdiction and stating a claim on which relief may be granted, that also included the address of the defendants named in the amended complaint. While the court ruled in a manner that allowed the plaintiff to remedy the alleged defects with his complaint, the ruling is indicative of legal requirements that an individual proceeding on his or her own behalf may have difficulty satisfying. An experienced personal injury lawyer can be very helpful in these situations.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, there may be grounds for a financial recovery. An award of 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 your case and how it can be framed and prosecuted to maximize your recoveries, 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.