Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion in a wrongful death case in which a man was killed after rear-ending a slow-moving tractor trailer. The tragedy was heightened by the fact that the victim’s sons witnessed his body burning, and his family suffered severe emotional distress as a result of learning of his death. The case acts as a good example of how New Mexico wrongful death cases are handled by courts.
The Facts of the Case
In 2012, a man was driving his tractor trailer on the highway when he realized that his truck was malfunctioning. He pulled over, turned on his flashers, and exited his car to inspect the malfunctioning light; he was ultimately able to resolve the issue. The driver proceeded to reenter the highway and was driving approximately 15 miles an hour when the victim came around a curve and crashed into the slow-moving tractor trailer.
Tragically, the crash caused the victim’s vehicle to immediately catch on fire, and he was killed instantly. The victim’s son was also driving on the highway in a company truck. The son saw his father in the cab of the vehicle and tried to pull him out and extinguish the fire, but he ended up sustaining severe burns and could not rescue his father. He witnessed his father’s body burning.
The son ended up contacting his brother, who drove 80 miles and also saw his father’s body burning. They both then drove home to tell their mother and sister. Understandably, every member of the family suffered some emotional trauma from the events. The victim’s wife had to be taken to a hospital and was eventually diagnosed with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The victim’s daughter attempted suicide at her father’s grave site. The victim’s sons were both retraumatized every time they drove past the site of the accident.
The Case’s Procedural History
The company that owned the tractor-trailer commenced proceedings against the victim’s estate and the trucking company for which he worked. The trucking company and the victim’s son counter claimed, based on damages to the trailer and emotional distress to the family, under the state’s Wrongful Death Act. Furthermore, the son also brought a claim against the tractor-trailer company and the driver under the rescue doctrine to recover for his injuries.
Some claims were settled before trial, and certain claims were dismissed with prejudice. Then, the court granted a motion to realign the parties, and the son was then appointed as the plaintiff, and the tractor-trailer company and driver were the defendants. After a lengthy trial, the jury attributed 55% fault to the tractor-trailer company and the driver and 45% to the victim. As a result, the sum was reduced by 45%, so the estate was granted $2,750,000, and the son was individually granted $625,000 on his rescue doctrine claim. The defendants then appealed, arguing that there was an incorrect jury instruction, that they should have been instructed regarding the rules of mitigating damages, and that the son’s award should have also been apportioned.
The Court’s Holding
The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the jury instruction was appropriate. The court found that the instruction did not mislead the jury or was a misstatement of the law. Furthermore, the victim’s son’s award should not be reduced by 45% because contributory negligence does not apply to the rescue doctrine.
New Mexico Good Samaritan Law and Comparative Negligence
Although the state in this case is a comparative negligence state that applies the rescue doctrine, the issues presented above are ones that can happen in any jurisdiction. New Mexico is also a comparative negligence state. This means that if a person is injured and is ultimately found to be partially responsible for their injuries, their recovery will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a New Mexico truck accident, you should contact the attorneys at the Fine Law Firm. These sorts of cases often involve multiple parties and complicated legal theories. The attorneys at the Fine Law Firm can help you navigate this area of the law and seek the compensation you deserve. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for medical bills, burial costs, and also any pain and suffering you have endured as a result of the accident. Contact the Fine Law Firm today at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.
More Blog Posts:
How Witness Credibility Comes into Play in New Mexico Personal Injury Cases, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, February 20, 2018.
Court Parses Out Liability in Multi-Defendant Truck Accident Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, February 5, 2018.