In the summer months, you may come across construction on state highways and county roads that typically require you to avoid items on the road, drive at reduced speeds, and increase awareness on the road. Even with safety precautions in place, these New Mexico road construction sites can be conducive to an auto accident. Like other automobile accidents, another driver may be responsible for your injuries, but the state of New Mexico may be liable as well, depending on what caused the accident.
In a recent decision, the New Mexico Court of Appeals allowed the estate of a woman killed in a fatal car accident to proceed with their law suit against the Dept. of Transportation (DOT). In Lujan v. New Mexico Dept. of Transportation, the driver was killed after her car flipped several time due to semi-truck tire debris left on an exit ramp. Her estate alleged that the DOT failed to clean off the debris in a timely manner, which led to the driver’s death. In the original suit, the trial court dismissed the claim against the DOT at the summary judgment stage, after it was established the DOT had no constructive knowledge of the tire debris. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court’s determination, and held that fact-finders could conclude that the DOT failed to uphold its duty to regularly inspect and maintain safe highways.
In personal injury cases, it is necessary to show that the at-fault party owed a duty to the party that was injured. In Lujan, the general duty of the DOT to provide safe roads to the public was not questioned; instead, they inquired about whether knowledge of the debris was necessary for the duty to remain in place. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that much of New Mexico case law surrounding the DOT’s duty to the public centered on fact-specific inquiries to determine whether a duty was owed to the injured or deceased party. The Court pointed to the state Supreme Court’s recent definitive turn away from fact-specific inquiries to answer whether a duty was or was not present in Rodriguez v. Del Sol Shopping Ctr. Assocs. Continue reading →