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Summary Judgment Granted to Defendant in New Mexico Personal Injury Suit Following Parking Lot Attack

A recent opinion addresses whether a company that leases a store is liable for damages in a New Mexico personal injury suit, after a customer is attacked in a parking lot used by the store’s customers.

Allegedly two people were trying to purchase a video game console from an electronic gaming store in Santa Fe, and were asked to leave because they were attempting to make the purchase with a fraudulent credit card.  The man standing behind them succeeded in purchasing a video game console, left the store and went to the parking lot. He sued the company that owned the store after being attacked in the parking lot by the people who had been ahead of him in line at the store, who had been unsuccessful in buying a video game console.

The plaintiff did not name as a defendant to the lawsuit the landlord of the store.  The lease between the owner of the store, a company that the defendant had named in his lawsuit, and the landlord who leased the store its space, a company that the defendant had not named in the lawsuit, provided that the parking lot was a common area to be used by tenants as a common area.  The lease also reserved control of the parking lot to the landlord.

The injured plaintiff sued the defendant store owner in state court.  The defendant store owner removed the case to federal court and sought summary judgment dismissing all claims asserted against it.  The U.S. District Court to which the case was removed first assessed whether its exercise of jurisdiction over the dispute would be appropriate.  The court was satisfied that the exercise of jurisdiction was appropriate because the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000, satisfying the threshold for the exercise of federal jurisdiction in cases based on diversity of citizenship.

The court then moved on to the merits.  The court explained that New Mexico law imposes on property owners a duty to keep premises safe for use by a visitor.  That duty extends to protecting a visitor from harm by third parties that poses a foreseeable risk.  The court went on to explain that it is shopping mall owners, and not the shop keepers, who have responsibility for the conditions in the common areas.  This was consistent with the lease between the defendant shop keeper in this case, and the shop keeper’s landlord.  That lease provided that the parking lot was part of a common area open to use by all tenants, and was subject to the landlord’s management and control.

While the plaintiff asserted that he did not know if the defendant had maintained the parking lot, notwithstanding the terms of the lease, the court did not find this adequate for defeating the grant of summary judgment.  The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant had prior notice of a dangerous condition.  That argument was contradicted by an affidavit presented on behalf of the defendant, which made representations under penalty of perjury including that the defendant’s store was not located in a high crime area, and that the defendant had not been notified in the past of dangerous conditions or crimes in the parking lot.  The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, there may be grounds for a financial recovery.   Sometimes multiple parties can be responsible 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.   To understand more about how your premises liability case 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.