Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
While working for Vista Care (Employer), appellant Sherrie Fowler suffered a back injury. Appellant began receiving TTD and subsequently underwent back surgery. Several years later, a physician determined that appellant reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). This case began when appellant filed a complaint with the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) in 2010, for reinstatement of her TTD benefits and for an increase in her PPD rating. The Court of Appeals held that the Act limited appellant's eligibility for TTD benefits to 700 weeks of benefits and reversed a contrary decision of the Workers’ Compensation Administration judge. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act imposed no such limitation; TTD benefits are payable during any period of total disability for the remainder of a worker’s life. View "Fowler v. Vista Care" on Justia Law

by
In consolidated cases, a truck crashed through the front glass of the Concentra Medical Clinic in the Del Sol Shopping Center, killing three people and seriously injuring several others. Both groups of Plaintiffs sued Del Sol’s owners and operators, alleging that Del Sol negligently contributed to the accident by, among other things, failing to adequately post signage; failing to install speed bumps; failing to erect barriers that would have protected buildings, employees, and visitors from errant vehicles; or failing to use other traffic control methods in the parking lot. Both district courts granted summary judgment and found that this accident “was not foreseeable” as a matter of law, and therefore found that no duty existed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals consolidated the two cases and affirmed the district courts’ common ruling on summary judgment that Defendants “had no duty to protect Plaintiffs inside the building from criminally reckless drivers.” The Court of Appeals rejected the foreseeability-driven duty analysis relied upon by the district courts, stating that it was affirming both cases based on a “policy-driven duty analysis advanced by the Restatement (Third) of Torts . . . and recently embraced by our New Mexico Supreme Court." By this opinion, the Supreme Court took the opportunity of this opinion to explain why foreseeability should not be considered when determining duty, both generally and when considering the analysis of the Court of Appeals in these cases. The Court overruled prior cases insofar as they conflicted with this opinion’s clarification of the appropriate duty analysis in New Mexico. And because the Court concluded that the Court of Appeals analysis was a no-breach-of-duty analysis more than a policy-driven duty analysis, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. "We reaffirm our adoption of Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm Section 7 comment j (2010), and require courts to articulate specific policy reasons, unrelated to foreseeability considerations, if deciding that a defendant does not have a duty or that an existing duty should be limited. . . . We do not hold that courts may never consider foreseeability; however, when a court does so, it is to analyze no-breach-of-duty or no-legal-cause as a matter of law, not whether a duty exists." View "Rodriguez v. Del Sol" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Joe Encinias and his parents hired defendants Russell Whitener ad the Whitener Law Firm to represent plaintiff in a possible suit against the Robertson High School and the Las Vegas School District after he was badly beaten by a classmate at the school two years earlier. Plaintiff called the firm out of concern on the applicable statute of limitations on his case. In fact, the statute had run by that time. A Whitener attorney testified that he and his colleagues had been aware of the statute of limitations, but allowed it to run because they were concerned about the strength of plaintiff's case. In 2007, Whitener realized the case was barred; in early 2008, the firm decided not to pursue the suit. Whitener waited until the spring of 2008 to tell plaintiff and his family that it had missed the statute of limitations. Later that fall, plaintiff sued the firm for malpractice. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the firm. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in its grant of summary judgment, finding genuine issues of fact remained with regard to plaintiff's case. View "Encinias v. Whitener Law Firm" on Justia Law

by
Jesus Gonzalez is an undocumented immigrant, coming to this country from Mexico for the first time in 2003 and again in 2005. In early February of 2006, he was hired by Performance Painting, Inc. as a painter's helper. By all accounts, Gonzalez was a good employee and worked without incident until August 31, 2006. On that day, he fell off a ladder, injuring his shoulder. As a result of the injury, Gonzalez was temporarily totally disabled and unable to work. The injury required multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy. While all workers are encouraged to return to work when medically feasible, federal law may preclude some employers from extending rehire offers to undocumented workers once they learn of their status. Because an offer to rehire must be a legitimate offer, the Supreme Court held that employers who cannot demonstrate such good faith compliance with federal law in the hiring process cannot use their workers' undocumented status as a defense to continue payment of modifier benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act. View "Gonzalez v. Performance Painting, Inc." on Justia Law

by
A fire destroyed a hydroponic tomato facility belonging to a new business, Sunnyland Farms, Inc. The day before the fire, Sunnyland's electricity had been shut off by its local utility, the Central New Mexico Electrical Cooperative (CNMEC), for nonpayment. Sunnyland's water pumps were powered by electricity, and without power, Sunnyland's facility had no water. Sunnyland sued CNMEC, alleging both that CNMEC had wrongfully suspended service, and if its electrical service had been in place, firefighters and Sunnyland employees would have been able to stop the fire from consuming the facility. After a bench trial, the court found CNMEC liable for negligence and breach of contract. The trial court awarded damages, including lost profits, of over $21 million in contract and tort, but reduced the tort damages by 80% for Sunnyland's comparative fault. It also awarded $100,000 in punitive damages. The parties cross-appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the contract judgment, vacated the punitive damages, held that the lost profit damages were not supported by sufficient evidence, affirmed the trial court's offset of damages based on CNMEC's purchase of a subrogation lien, and affirmed the trial court's rulings on pre- and post-judgment interest. Sunnyland appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals regarding the contract judgment, punitive damages, and interest, and reversed on the lost profit damages and the offset. The Court also took the opportunity of this case to re-examine the standard for consequential contract damages in New Mexico. View "Sunnyland Farms, Inc. v. Central N.M. Electric Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2002, Pojoaque Tribal Police Officer Kevin Schultz drowned while rescuing a twelve-year-old boy from the Rio Grande near Pilar. On the day of the accident, he had taken the day off from work to chaperone a group of children from his church on a recreational outing. This case arose when Schultz's widow, Cheryl, filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits resulting from her husband's death, but only after the statute of limitations had expired. Notwithstanding the late filing, Mrs. Schultz contended that the conduct of the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department caused her to file after the deadline, and thus, the Supreme Court should consider her complaint timely filed. Both the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) and the Court of Appeals decided that Mrs. Schultz's complaint was not timely filed. However, upon review, the Supreme Court found that based on the fact of this case, the statute was tolled. Therefore the Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Schultz v. Pojoaque Tribal Police Department" on Justia Law