A recent New Mexico Supreme Court case firmly established that foreseeability should not be considered when determining whether or not a duty exists. The appellate decision arose out of a tragic, large-scale accident in Santa Fe where a truck crashed into a shopping center, killing three people and injuring several others. The estates of the deceased filed suit against the shopping center, claiming the shopping center was also negligent and contributed to the accident. The deceased’s estate claimed the shopping center failed to do several things, including posting signs, installing speed bumps, erecting barriers, or using traffic control devices.
In New Mexico personal injury law, an at-fault party can be held liable to an injured person only if the at-fault party owed a duty under state or federal law to the injured. Drivers have an obligation to drive safely and follow the rules of the road, and businesses must provide safe premises to their patrons. When the failure to uphold the duty causes an accident, the person or entity causing the injury can be held responsible in a civil court for the negligence. Often in personal injury case law, the term “foreseeable” is used. To determine liability, one or both parties presents the question to a jury of whether or not an accident or injury should have been reasonably expected, or foreseeable, by the owner or operator of the business or vehicle. In Rodriguez, et al v. Del Sol Shopping Center, et al., the Supreme Court strongly established that foreseeability should not be considered in a policy argument because it can change greatly with the slight changes of facts in individual scenarios. In this case, the Supreme Court points out that foreseeability is appropriate to analyze whether there was a breach of duty as a matter of law, but it should not be used to determine the duty’s existence.
If danger or risk can be expected by a business owner or particular party, the responsibility to guard against the danger or risk increases along with the amount of inherent risk. The Supreme Court discussed case law precedent that maintains the risk or danger does not have to be specific but can be general. The Supreme Court wrote in the decision that the shopping center owed the deceased patrons an ordinary duty of care under the circumstances, including the duty to prevent harm from a third party. Limitations and exemptions to the duty of ordinary care form part of policy considerations, but it is up to the owner or operator to establish those limitations and exemptions. Ultimately, the Supreme Court determined it was appropriate for the Court of Appeals to leave the question of foreseeability to the jury and focused much of the decision on the legal clarification of foreseeability, duty, and when duty should be limited. Continue reading →