Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
Lewis v. Albuquerque Public Schools
Following the death of Patricia Lewis (Worker), her widower Michael Lewis (Petitioner) was awarded death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) based the award on the finding that Worker, while employed with Albuquerque Public Schools (Employer), contracted allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) which proximately resulted in Worker’s death. Employer appealed the award to the Court of Appeals. Pertinent here, the appellate court concluded: (1) the WCJ correctly rejected Employer’s argument that Petitioner’s claim for death benefits was time-barred; and (2) he WCJ erred in excluding from evidence certain medical testimony and records which Employer contended related to Worker’s cause of death. The Court of Appeals therefore remanded the case for retrial on whether Worker’s ABPA “‘proximately result[ed]’” in her death. On the first issue, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that Petitioner’s claim for death benefits was not time-barred, and affirmed. On the second issue concerning the WCJ’s exclusion of medical testimony and evidence on Worker’s cause of death, the Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of Section 52-1-51(C), but agreed based on the Supreme Court's own interpretation of Section 52-1-51(C) that the case had to be remanded for further proceedings. In all other respects, the opinion of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. View "Lewis v. Albuquerque Public Schools" on Justia Law
Saenz v. Ranack Constructors, Inc.
In a wrongful death action, the jury returned a special verdict that awarded damages to the individual loss-of-consortium claimants but not to the decedent’s estate. The decedent’s surviving spouse and children (collectively Plaintiffs) filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the award of zero damages to the estate was not supported by substantial evidence. The issue before the New Mexico Supreme Court was whether Plaintiffs waived the right to challenge the jury verdict on appeal by failing to object to the verdict prior to the jury’s discharge. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that they did: “A party is deemed to have waived a challenge to an ambiguous, inconsistent, or incomplete jury verdict if the party had an opportunity to raise the objection before the jury was discharged but failed to do so.” In this case, Plaintiffs created ambiguity in the verdict by modifying the uniform jury instruction on wrongful death damages and drafting the special verdict form in a way that failed to advise jurors how to allocate damages between the individual loss-of-consortium claimants and the decedent’s estate. During its deliberations, the jury submitted a question to the district court which confirmed that the jury was confused about how to allocate damages on the special verdict form. As a result of this confusion, it was unclear whether the jury deliberately intended to award zero wrongful death damages to the estate or whether the jury mistakenly included wrongful death damages in its award to the individual claimants. View "Saenz v. Ranack Constructors, Inc." on Justia Law
Progressive Cas. Co. v. Vigil
This case arose out of a dispute between insureds, Nancy Vigil and her stepson Martin Vigil, and their insurance company, Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, as to whether the Vigils’ policy was in effect at the time of a November 4, 2002, car accident. The parties’ dispute has been the subject of two jury trials and two appeals to the Court of Appeals. The New Mexico Supreme Court limited its review to the propriety of two evidentiary rulings that the district court made prior to the second trial. The Court of Appeals held that the district court erred by excluding evidence at the second trial of: (1) a previous judge’s summary judgment ruling that the Vigils lacked coverage on the date of the accident, a ruling that had been reversed in “Progressive I;” and (2) Progressive’s payment of $200,000 under the Vigils’ policy to settle third-party claims while this litigation was pending. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held the district court acted within its discretion to exclude the evidence under Rule 11-403 19 NMRA, which permitted the district court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals to address the remaining issues that Progressive raised on appeal. View "Progressive Cas. Co. v. Vigil" on Justia Law
Thompson v. City of Albuquerque
The New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that the minor children of a parent whom they allege was wrongfully shot and killed by a law enforcement officer could: (1) sue for loss of consortium damages under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (TCA); and (2) bring their lawsuit even if the parent’s estate did not sue for wrongful death damages. The Court held Section 41-4-12 of the TCA waived a law enforcement officer’s sovereign immunity from liability for personal injury and bodily injury damages resulting from battery, and loss of consortium damages may be characterized as either personal or bodily injury damages. Second, loss of consortium damages result from the wrongful injury or death of someone who was in a sufficiently close relationship to the loss of consortium claimant, and such damages belong to the loss of consortium claimant and not to the injured person or the decedent’s estate. View "Thompson v. City of Albuquerque" on Justia Law
Vasquez v. American Cas. Co. of Reading
The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico certified a question of New Mexico law to the state Supreme Court. The question centered on whether a worker injured in the course of employment by a co-worker operating an employer owned motor vehicle was a person “legally entitled to recover damages” under his employer’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Andrew Vasquez was killed at the workplace after being struck by a steel beam that fell off of a forklift during the course of his employment at Coronado Wrecking and Salvage. A coworker operating the forklift had jumped off to check whether the steel beam being lifted was secure, leaving the forklift unattended as the steel beam slid off of the forks, striking and killing Vasquez. Plaintiff, Vasquez’s estate, subsequently collected workers’ compensation benefits from Coronado’s workers’ compensation carrier. Related to the forklift accident, Plaintiff also collected uninsured motorist benefits under Vasquez’s own automobile insurance policy.The certified question from the district court arose from an alleged discontinuity among the plain language of New Mexico’s Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the Uninsured Motorist statute, and the New Mexico Court’s case law. Because the WCA provided the exclusive remedy for an employee injured in a workplace accident by an employer or its representative, the employee was not legally entitled to recover damages from the uninsured employer tortfeasor under the Uninsured Motorist statute. The Court therefore answered the certified question in the negative. View "Vasquez v. American Cas. Co. of Reading" on Justia Law
Noice v. BNSF Ry. Co.
Lenard E. Noice worked as a conductor for Petitioner BNSF Railway Company (BNSF). He fell from a BNSF train that was moving at speed and perished. Respondent, Lenard Noice II, acting as personal representative for Noice (the Estate), filed a wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employee’s Liability Act (FELA), asserting, among other claims, that BNSF negligently permitted the train from which Noice fell to operate at an excessive speed. The undisputed facts established that the train from which Noice fell never exceeded the speed limit for the class of track upon which it was operating. BNSF moved for summary judgment arguing that the Estate’s FELA excessive-speed claim was precluded by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The district court accepted this argument and dismissed the Estate’s FELA claim. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that FRSA did not preclude a FELA excessive-speed claim. Because FRSA contained no provision expressly precluding the Estate’s FELA excessive-speed claim and because permitting the Estate’s FELA claim to proceed furthered the purposes of both statutes, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Noice v. BNSF Ry. Co." on Justia Law
Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy
These consolidated appeals presented an issue to the New Mexico Supreme Court on whether farm and ranch laborers' exclusion from coverage under the state Workers' Compensation Act violated the rights of those workers under the Equal Protection Clause of Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution in light of the fact that other agricultural workers are not singled out for exclusion. After review of these cases, the Supreme Court concluded that there was nothing to distinguish farm and ranch laborers from other agricultural employees and that purported government interests such as cost savings, administrative convenience, and other justifications related to unique features of agribusiness bore no rational relationship to the Act’s distinction between these groups. "This is nothing more than arbitrary discrimination and, as such, it is forbidden by our Constitution." Accordingly, the Court held that the farm and ranch laborer exclusion contained in Section 52-1-6(A) of the Act was unconstitutional, and these cases were remanded for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy" on Justia Law
Estate of Brice v. Toyota Motor Corp.
In a certified appeal, the issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's consideration was whether the doctrine of fraudulent concealment applied to actions under the Wrongful Death Act (WDA), an issue of first impression in New Mexico. Alice Brice (Decedent) died in an automobile accident in 2006, when her 2002 Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated into a highway intersection, collided with a tractor-trailer, and burst into flames. The Estate of Alice C. Brice (Plaintiff) filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2010, asserting products liability and various other claims against the car manufacturer, the dealer, and others (Defendants). Because this wrongful death action was filed three years and eleven months from the date of Decedent’s death, Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants prevented Plaintiff from obtaining knowledge about the cause of action, that Defendants were aware of the sudden acceleration problem in its vehicles for most of the decade preceding 2010 and well before Decedent’s 2006 accident, and that Defendants fraudulently concealed these problems until February 2010 when the sudden acceleration problems drew public attention and led to congressional hearings. Plaintiff contended that it had no way to discover its wrongful death cause of action before February 2010. Plaintiff asserted therefore that after discovering its cause of action, it promptly filed its wrongful death suit on August 31, 2010. The district court granted Defendants' motion. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that the doctrine of fraudulent concealment could apply to toll the statutory limitations period for a wrongful death claim if a defendant has fraudulently concealed a cause of action, thereby preventing that defendant from claiming the statute of limitations as a defense until the plaintiff learned or, through reasonable diligence, could have learned of the cause of action. Accordingly the Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Estate of Brice v. Toyota Motor Corp." on Justia Law
Spurlock v. Townes
Plaintiffs Heather Spurlock, Sophia Carrasco, and Nina Carrera were former inmates of the Camino Nuevo Correctional Center, a prison housing female offenders, directed by Third-Party Defendant Warden Barbara Wagner and privately operated by Third-Party Defendant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). While incarcerated, Plaintiffs were sexually assaulted by Defendant Anthony Townes, a corrections officer employed by CCA. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of New Mexico law to the New Mexico Supreme Court centering on the question of the civil liability under New Mexico law of a private prison when a non-duty corrections officer sexually assaults inmates in the facility. The New Mexico Court held that the private prison was vicariously liable for damages caused by the intentional torts of its employee when those torts were facilitated by the authority provided to the employee by the prison. The liability of the prison may not be reduced by any fault attributed to the victims of the sexual assaults. View "Spurlock v. Townes" on Justia Law
Acosta v. Shell W. Expl. & Prod., Inc.
Environmental contamination from Shell Western Exploration and Production, Inc. and Shell Oil Company's operations was discovered in Hobbs. Residents near the area brought a toxic tort action against Shell for personal injury damages, alleging the contaminants cause their autoimmune disorders. Plaintiffs challenged the district court's exclusion of the scientific evidence and expert testimony they offered in support of their theory, and they challenged the grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Shell. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court applied an incorrect standard of admissibility in its evidentiary rulings, and that plaintiffs' causation evidence should have been admitted. Because summary judgment to Shell's culpability for autoimmune disorders was granted because of this improper exclusion, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Acosta v. Shell W. Expl. & Prod., Inc." on Justia Law