Every New Mexico personal injury claim, small or large, is decided in the shadow of the law.
Mostly, this means New Mexico state law, not federal or local law.
Most of the law that determines personal injury cases is judge-made law.
Some important aspects of New Mexico personal injury claims, however, depend on state statutes.
What Is a Statute?
A statute is a written law passed by a legislative body, such as the New Mexico state legislature. New Mexico compiles all of its statutes into a catalog of statutory law called the New Mexico Statutes. Statutes state their purposes directly: “No person under the age of 16 shall…”
Statutes differ from regulations because regulations are passed by administrative bodies, such as the DMV – instead of the state legislature. Judge-made law, by contrast, is determined by abstracting rules from cases with similar facts.
Lawyers differ in their understanding of exactly what the law says when it comes to judge-made law. The same is true to a lesser extent for statutory law.
How a Statute Can Impact Your Personal Injury Claim
The best way to illustrate how a New Mexico statute might affect your personal injury claim is to provide a list of examples, as below.
The Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations tells you how long you have before you must file a lawsuit on your claim. If you miss the applicable deadline, you will never be able to file a lawsuit on it; the opposing party can simply ask the judge to dismiss your lawsuit based on the expiration of the statute of limitations deadline.
Once you lose the right to file a lawsuit, you lose all bargaining power. After all, why should the opposing party continue negotiating with you?
In New Mexico, you must generally file a lawsuit within three years of your injury. For property damage you have four years. If you want to file a wrongful death claim, you have until three years after the victim’s date of death. Limited exceptions to these deadlines apply.
New Mexico’s pure comparative fault statute apportions compensation when more than one party is at fault for the accident. A court will assign each party a percentage of fault, and they will deduct that exact percentage from each party’s compensation. If you were 20% at fault, for example, you would lose 20% of your damages.
Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages
The New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act limits non-economic damages compensation in medical malpractice cases to $600,000 per person, excluding medical expenses. The cap applies to non-economic damages plus lost wages and diminished earning capacity.
No individual defendant can be required to pay more than $200,000. Furthermore, you cannot receive compensation for anticipated future medical expenses except as reimbursement after they occur.
Insurance Bad Faith
New Mexico recognizes a claim known as ‘insurance bad faith,’ under which you can sue an insurance company for bad faith in handling a claim that you assert against them.
New Mexico law is involved because it lists a number of practices by insurance companies that constitute “bad faith” and, therefore, lead to liability in an insurance bad faith claim.
Mandatory Auto Accident Liability Insurance
New Mexico requires every driver with an automobile registered in New Mexico to purchase the following mandatory minimum amount of auto insurance:
- $25,000 per person for bodily injury or death liability;
- $50,000 per accident for bodily injury or death liability; and
- $10,000 per accident for property damage.
If an accident injures more than one person, $50,000 must be split among all claimants, even if that leaves each claimant with less than $25,000.
Sovereign immunity is the government’s power to prevent anyone from suing it for monetary damages. This power makes sense when you think about it. After all, where does the government get its money? From John Q. Taxpayer. By suing the government for damages, you are suing every taxpayer (including yourself if you pay taxes in the jurisdiction).
Nevertheless, the New Mexico government, like other governments, has decided that it makes sense to allow people to sue it for most personal injury claims. As such, it passed the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.
To sue the government, you must cut through some additional red tape, and you must comply with a stricter set of rules. New Mexico’s three-year statute of limitations is only two years for government lawsuits, for example. Since New Mexico cities and towns are subdivisions of the state government, the New Mexico Tort Claims Act applies to lawsuits against them as well.
New Mexico workers’ compensation statutes apply in most cases where someone suffers an on-the-job injury and wishes to sue their employer. The advantage of worker’s compensation is that you can win compensation without proving fault–and in most cases, even if you were at fault.
The disadvantage is that you cannot win much in damages that way. In most cases, you can only win economic damages, and the workers’ compensation system limits even these.
You can escape the New Mexico workers’ compensation trap if you can find a third party, such as a general contractor or a property owner, who is responsible for your injuries. If you can do so, you can seek full personal injury damages, including non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. You will probably have to prove the third party was at fault to win.
New Mexico has passed its own Wrongful Death Act, creating the claim of wrongful death to handle situations in which a personal injury victim dies from their injuries. Under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act, only the personal representative (executor) of the deceased victim’s estate may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The compensation that is available in a wrongful death lawsuit is different from the damages that are available in a personal injury lawsuit. Moreover, compensation awards tend to be large. Any compensation goes to surviving relatives in a manner specified by statute.
For example, if there is a surviving spouse but no surviving children, the spouse gets everything. A different distribution applies if there are surviving children or if there is no surviving spouse.
Notable Omissions in New Mexico Law
Unlike many states, New Mexico statutory law notably lacks any unified statute pertaining to dog bites or product liability.
The Sooner You Act and Hire a New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer, the Better Your Chances
Personal injury claims weaken over time – witness memories become foggy, evidence deteriorates, and the statute of limitations clock keeps on ticking. The sooner you start working on your claim, the better your long-term chances of victory. Contact a New Mexico personal injury lawyer from Curiel & Runion Personal Injury Lawyers at (505) 785-7770 right now.