According to the New Mexico Department of Health, injuries continue to be the leading factor in mortality among people aged between 1 and 44 in the Land of Enchantment, with over 187,000 deaths occurring throughout the country on an annual basis. In 2019 alone, New Mexico recorded an average of 78.2 unintentional injury-related deaths per 100,000 people. These are caused by a variety of unforeseen incidents, such as motor vehicle accidents, slips and falls, and poisoning from both legal and illegal drugs.
To prevent the rise of unintentional injuries, the New Mexico DOH and other local government agencies work together to advance initiatives to preserve the safety of state residents. They routinely monitor data related to injuries and prevention efforts, launch safety policies backed by relevant evidence, and adjust the measures of future projects based on the effectiveness of previous ones.
Should any New Mexican suffer an injury due to an accident, a defective product, or any other instance caused by the negligence of other people, there are various laws and guidelines in place to help them assess their legal options. This article will discuss a number of these statutes, which address different topics such as the amount of compensation a victim can recover, the amount of time allotted for filing a claim, and the legal requirements involved in specific cases.
Car Accident Laws in New Mexico
Because New Mexico adheres to at-fault rules for motor vehicle accidents, those who are injured in a crash or collision can pursue compensation for their losses from offending drivers. As such, the state requires all motorists to have liability coverage, which an at-fault driver can use to pay for the damages an accident victim has suffered. The minimum requirements for such a policy are as follows:
$25,000 for the injuries or death of one person.
$50,000 for the injuries or deaths of multiple people.
$10,000 for any property damage.
People can also use uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in an accident if they have it. Though these policies are not required by the state, motorists are encouraged to obtain them to address their losses in a crash in case the offending driver lacks any type of insurance or if their liability coverage is not enough to pay for the resulting damages.
Because liability coverage does not pay for any of the insurance holder’s own losses in a crash, other policies such as collision and MedPay coverage can be used, since they are applicable regardless of who caused the accident. Collision coverage is used to address any repairs or replacements concerning the insurance owner’s vehicle, while MedPay coverage is used for expenditures related to medical treatments.
Medical Malpractice Guidelines in New Mexico
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or healthcare provider commits an error in treatment that results in the injury or death of a patient. These errors can include mistakes in surgery and medication, misdiagnosed illnesses or complications, and the failure of a doctor to inform their patient about the risks involved in a certain treatment.
New Mexico law dictates that before a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can file a suit against an independent healthcare provider, their claim must first be submitted to the state’s Medical Review Commission. A designated panel will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the plaintiff’s claim and whether there is “reasonable medical probability” that the victim in the case suffered harm through the defendant’s malpractice. However, the plaintiff and the provider may also agree to forego such a step. Under state law, the provider is defined as either a doctor or practitioner who is not employed by a hospital or outpatient healthcare facility or a business identity that is not classified as a hospital or facility.
If the panel determines that the plaintiff’s claim is warranted, it will assist them in locating a qualified medical expert who will testify on their behalf. The panel’s findings, however, will not be considered admissible evidence should the case progress into a lawsuit.
New Mexico Product Liability Law
Companies in New Mexico must ensure that their products are designed, manufactured, and marketed correctly so that they are safe to use. As such, if a consumer suffers any form of harm due to a defect in a particular product, the company that made and sold it can be held accountable for any subsequent damages. In the area of personal injury, this is known as product liability.
In such cases, three theories establish a company’s liability. These are as follows:
Design defect - wherein a product’s design is inherently flawed and thus can cause harm regardless of how it was made;
Manufacturing defect - wherein a product’s design falls under proper quality and safety standards but errors during its manufacturing process make it dangerous.
Marketing defect - wherein a properly designed and manufactured product ends up being misused and causing harm because there are mistakes in its instructions or warning labels, or there is not enough information to guide consumers regarding its proper use.
Under New Mexico’s laws, multiple parties can be held jointly and severally liable if a product ends up harming a person. Potential defendants can include the company that made the product, the wholesaler that oversaw its distribution, and the retailer that sold the product to consumers.
New Mexico’s Pure Comparative Negligence Rule
In personal injury cases, New Mexico courts follow the principle of pure comparative negligence. This means that if a plaintiff is partially at fault for an incident that caused their injury, their total awarded damages will be deducted. The amount reduced from their damage award will be determined by the percentage of their fault assigned in court.
As a specific example, a car accident victim who failed to yield the right-of-way and ended up causing a vehicle to crash into them will be held partially liable for the accident. If the court awards them $150,000 in damages but also determines that their fault percentage in the case is 30%, they will only receive $120,000 in damages after 30% has been deducted.
Under pure comparative negligence rules, an injured individual can still recover any amount of damages even if they are 99% liable for the underlying incident that resulted in their harm. This differs from modified comparative negligence in some states, where a person will be prohibited from recovering any sort of loss if their fault in the case reaches or exceeds a given percentage.
Joint and Several Liability in New Mexico
If there are multiple defendants in a personal injury case in New Mexico, each defendant will often be liable only for their respective share of the victim’s damages under the rule of several liability. However, the joint and several liability rule will apply if any of the following factors are present:
If any or all of the defendants acted with the intent to inflict injury;
If the defendants have a relationship with one another, that would make one of them vicariously liable for another’s conduct, up to the portion of liability attributed to them;
If the defendants are held strictly liable for the manufacture and sale of a defective product, up to the portion of liability attributed to them;
If there is any other situation where there is a strong basis in public policy to apply the rule of joint and several liability.
New Mexico Business Liability Insurance Requirements
It is not mandatory for establishments and companies in New Mexico to have business liability insurance, though the state encourages business owners to purchase and maintain such a policy to protect themselves. Business liability insurance is used to pay for any resulting damages if a person suffers an injury at an establishment or through an employee’s negligent conduct. It covers bodily injuries caused by accidents, injuries to a person’s character through libel or slander, and damaged property.
The amount of business liability insurance an owner should get depends on the type of business they operate, the number of employees they have, and the frequency of their interactions with the public. Generally, coverage worth $500,000 to $1 million is sufficient for small businesses, with higher amounts being optimal for high-risk companies and establishments that interact regularly with consumers.
New Mexico, however, requires workers’ compensation insurance for businesses with three or more employees, those with one local employee and two others outside of the state, and construction companies regardless of how many laborers they have. Workers’ compensation insurance is used to cover any expenses related to an employee’s medical treatment and lost income if they suffer any harm at their workplace.
How Much Can Someone Sue For an Injury in New Mexico?
In general, New Mexico does not have any limitations on the amount of compensatory damages a person can recover in most personal injury cases, such as car accidents. As such, a plaintiff can pursue and recover the maximum amount of compensation they can get from a defendant in terms of their medical and repair costs, as well as lost wages and losses stemming from pain and suffering.
Additionally, the state does not impose a cap on any punitive damages that may be awarded in a personal injury case. These types of damages are only awarded if there is sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant in a case intentionally caused harm to the victim or showed reckless conduct. In general, they are meant to punish the defendant for their actions instead of compensating the victim for their losses.
The only exception to New Mexico’s lack of damage caps applies to medical malpractice cases. Under state law, a plaintiff can only recover up to the following amounts in damages:
$600,000 if the defendant is a person and the case occurred before January 1, 2020.
$2 million if the defendant is a person and the case occurred on or after January 1, 2020.
$25 million if the defendant is a hospital, business entity, or outpatient healthcare facility and the case occurred on or after January 1, 2020.
It should be noted, however, that this cap does not apply to any recoverable losses related to medical care and similar benefits, as well as punitive damages. In addition, the personal liability of the healthcare provider involved in the case in terms of monetary damages, medical treatments, and relevant benefits is limited to $200,000. Any amount that exceeds this limitation will be covered by the New Mexico Patient Compensation Fund.
The Statute of Limitations in New Mexico
New Mexico’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases is three years, starting from the date of the incident that caused the victim’s injury. Plaintiffs must file their claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party within this given time or risk having their case dismissed by the court. This three-year deadline applies to cases concerning bodily injuries, medical malpractice, and injuries to a person’s reputation through slander or libel. If the case involves only property damage, the statute lasts for up to four years. Wrongful death cases also follow the same limit of three years, though the statute begins at the date of the victim’s passing.
If an incident that caused a person’s injury involves the government's negligence through an agency or employee, a plaintiff will have a maximum of two years to file a suit. However, they must also submit a tort claim notice within 90 days from the date of the incident in question before they can pursue their case.
Tolling New Mexico’s Statute of Limitations
There are times when the statute of limitations in New Mexico is “tolled,” where it either begins at a later date or gives plaintiffs more time to take legal action. One specific example of this involves cases where the person who is entitled to file a claim or lawsuit is a minor or legally incapacitated. In these scenarios, the individual will be given up to one year after they reach the age of 18 or recover from their incapacity to pursue their case.
Another change occurs in medical malpractice cases where the victim involved is a child who is six years old or younger. Under New Mexico law, their parent or guardian will have until the child’s ninth birthday to take legal action. If the child is over the age of six, however, the standard statute of three years in a usual malpractice case will be followed.
Lastly, in cases where a child aged seven or below suffers harm due to the negligence of a government worker or agency, the statute of limitations will last until the child’s ninth birthday, similar to the deadline in most medical malpractice cases.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in New Mexico
The State Bar of New Mexico offers assistance to residents who have legal concerns through its website’s public services and resources. Those who are looking for a specific lawyer can use website’s online bar directory, where they can narrow down their search based on a lawyer’s name, location, and practice area. People can also check the Civil Legal Service Providers & Other Resources section for the contact information and website links of various organizations and legal clinics within the state. Additionally, the organization has a Modest Means Helpline service where low-income individuals can be directed to pro bono attorneys for limited or full representation in matters related to civil law.
Free Legal Answers provides New Mexicans with opportunities to have their legal questions addressed by licensed pro bono attorneys throughout the state. People can register on the clinic’s website and submit queries related to civil law issues, after which they will be notified through e-mail whether they have received a response. However, the clinic does not address questions related to criminal law or connect individuals to lawyers for possible legal representation.
The New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance helps state residents who seek specific insurance policies by providing them with informative guidelines on how to find potential insurers and what each policy can cover. People can also complete and submit the Consumer Complaint Form on the website in case they have grievances against a specific agent of the company. Additionally, the website can redirect a complainant to the Office of Legal Counsel or the Investigations Bureau if their concern involves possible violations of the Insurance Code. Lastly, the office has a glossary of terms that individuals can refer to in case they wish to learn about definitions and terminologies that are present in the insurance business.
InjuryLawRights is a nonprofit organization that assists New Mexicans in finding pro bono representation in car accident cases. The organization’s staff can work with car accident victims to connect them with an attorney who fits their case and is within their specific city or county. Each lawyer can provide people with free case reviews and consultations weekly, and they also cover cases related to bicycle, truck, motorcycle, and pedestrian accidents. Potential plaintiffs can dial 855-633-0888 if they have additional questions or clarifications regarding the organization and its services.
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