Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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This appeal arises out of a cross-claim for contractual and traditional indemnification. Plaintiffs Briana and Jason Fierro alleged they suffered injuries when a baby changing table collapsed in a Safeway store, and that the collapse was the result of negligence on the part of Safeway, Inc. (Safeway) and Rooter 2000 Plumbing and Drain SSS (Rooter). The central issue presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the right to traditional indemnification was available notwithstanding New Mexico’s adoption of comparative fault where the jury compared and apportioned fault among concurrent tortfeasors. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that traditional indemnity did not apply when the jury finds a tortfeasor actively at fault and apportions liability using comparative fault principles. Another issue on appeal was whether the duty to insure and defend provision of the Standard Service Provider Terms and Conditions Agreement between Rooter and Safeway was void and unenforceable under NMSA 1978, Section 56-7-1 (1971, amended 2005). The Court held that it was, reversed the Court of Appeals, and affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. View "Safeway, Inc. v. Rooter 2000 Plumbing & Drain SSS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Mary Ann Madrid appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Brinker Restaurant Corporation and its employee Randi Russell on the issue of causation. This case arose out of a tragic motorcycle accident that occurred in Belen in 2006. Plaintiff was a passenger on a motorcycle driven by Quin Sanchez that was heading north on a major thoroughfare, when the driver of a van heading west on a cross street failed to observe a stop sign and entered the path of the motorcycle. The motorcycle collided with the driver’s side of the van, instantly killing Sanchez and severely injuring Plaintiff. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendants alleging, among other things, that Defendants were liable for her injuries because they served Sanchez alcohol to the point of intoxication prior to the accident. She alleged that Defendants’ negligent conduct was a proximate cause of the accident and her resultant injuries. The district court granted summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff failed to raise an issue of material fact to rebut Defendants’ assertion that the sole cause of the underlying accident was the negligence of a third party, rather than Defendants. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found that the evidence presented was sufficient to establish an issue of material fact, and therefore summary judgment was improper. View "Madrid v. Brinker Rest. Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Thomas P. Whelan, Jr.'s decedent father, Thomas P. Whelan, Sr., was in Plaintiff's parked truck when it was hit by a moving vehicle. The collision allegedly resulted in severe injuries and medical costs in excess of $100,000 and ultimately in the decedent's death a few years later. At the time of the accident, occupants of Plaintiff's truck were insureds under the terms of a $50,000 liability policy issued by State Farm, facially providing no UM/UIM coverage. In the Supreme Court's decision in "Jordan v. Allstate Ins. Co.," the effective rejection of an insured's statutory rights to UM/UIM coverage equal to liability limits had to be made in writing and as part of the insurance policy delivered to the insured. Because the result in "Jordan" was foreshadowed by other precedents, the Supreme Court declined to make Jordan applicable only to cases arising in the future, and held that policies that failed to comply with Jordan's rejection requirements would be judicially reformed to provide full statutory coverage. In 2011, following the 2010 issuance of Jordan, Plaintiff made a demand on his insurer State Farm for reformation of his policy that was in effect at the time of the accident. Relying on a clause in the policy that purported to bar UM/UIM claims made more than six years after the date of the underlying accident, State Farm rejected the claim. Plaintiff then instituted a declaratory judgment action against State Farm for reformation of the policy. Upon review of this matter, the Supreme Court held that a limitations clause based solely on the date of the accident without consideration of the actual accrual of the right to make a UM/UIM claim was unreasonable and unenforceable as a matter of law. But addressing the merits of Plaintiff's action, the Court also held that judicial reformation under Jordan did not extend to historical insurance contracts formed before another precedential opinion was issued in 2004. Because the policy in this case was issued before that date, it was not subject to retroactive reformation of its facial lack of UM/UIM coverage. View "Whelan v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co." on Justia Law