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Federal Court Rules in Favor of Trucking Companies Based on Theory of “Intervening Cause”

Posted in Firm News

The United States District Court for Nebraska recently released an opinion regarding a tragic multi-vehicle accident that occurred earlier this past summer. According to the court’s opinion, a tractor-trailer driver was proceeding on a Nebraska highway when he hit an object on the highway. The tractor-trailer lost air-brake pressure, so the driver pulled over into the right-hand lane. Later, experts determined that it was possible that he could have pulled completely onto the shoulder, but the driver did put on his hazard lights and reflectors.

About 15 minutes later, another semi-truck crashed into the tractor-trailer. That driver did not slow down and unfortunately was killed at the scene of the accident. A fire ensued, and all of the lanes were blocked. A family that was driving on the highway in two separate cars stopped safely when they noticed the traffic jam. However, another tractor-trailer was driving about 75 mph and did not slow down. That driver ended up slamming into one of the family’s cars. That car ended up slamming into the other family car. The entire family died as a result of the accident.

The representative of the family in the cars brought a suit against the tractor-trailer driver and his employer as well as the semi-truck driver and his employer. Those parties filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the case. The Circuit Court affirmed the granting of summary judgment, finding that the tractor-trailer driver was an “intervening cause,” and therefore the two other drivers were not responsible.

Independent Intervening Cause Theory Under New Mexico Law

The independent intervening cause is a theory that reduces or negates liability against one person because the tortious act only occurred because of another cause. Basically, this means that an actor may start a chain of events that resulted in the final injury, but an independent intervening event actually caused the injuries. This event will be considered an independent intervening cause when the original actor could not have reasonably predicted that their action would have resulted in the final tortious act.

The above case focuses on the intervening cause law in another state, but New Mexico also follows the theory of independent causes when apportioning liability in personal injury cases. The above truck accident is a prime example of when the theory of an independent intervening cause would be utilized. By contrast, a situation when this theory would not be implemented is a situation when a person causes an accident and receives negligent medical treatment as a result of the accident. The courts have found that medical negligence is a possible result after an accident, and therefore the original tortious actor may be liable.

Prior to 2014, most cases in New Mexico did not address this theory. However, in 2014, a New Mexico appellate court reversed a decision after a jury was not instructed on this theory. They found that the jury should have been instructed that an “independent intervening cause interrupts and turns aside a course of events and produces that which was not foreseeable as a result of an earlier act or omission.”

Have You Been Injured in an Accident in Which There Were Multiple Parties?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an accident in which multiple parties were involved, it is very important that you contact an attorney at the Fine Law Firm to discuss your case. As you can see, the case law in New Mexico involving independent intervening causes is evolving. This, in combination with other theories of comparative negligence, makes these sorts of cases extremely complex. Having a dedicated attorney to assist you can make these cases easier to navigate. If you are successful, you may be entitled to significant monetary compensation, depending on the circumstances of your case. Contact the attorneys at the Fine Law Firm today at 505-889-FINE to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Truck Driver Killed in Accident Caused by Road Debris and Slowing Traffic, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 14, 2015.

Foggy Conditions Blamed for Massive Truck and Bus Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 7, 2015.