The New Mexico Wrongful Death Act allows monetary recovery for a death that occurs as a result of someone’s negligence. The statute provides that parties seeking recovery can pursue an action if legal recourse would have been available for personal injury. Only certain family members can recover damages as beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit, such as a spouse, minor child, or parent. Filing suit is generally handled by a personal representative, often a relative, and any counsel they employ.
The recent state court of appeals case in New Mexico, Spoon v. Mata, addresses a denied petition for a woman (Petitioner) seeking to be a co-personal representative in a wrongful death action. The gentleman who died had a wife and a child. The wife filed a wrongful death action and did not name the child as an heir, awaiting paternity to be established. Once paternity was established, the petitioner moved to intervene in the action and assert claims on behalf of the child for a loss of consortium claim and the wrongful death action. Petitioner claimed that there were conflicting interests, making a separate co-representative necessary. Petitioner’s request was denied by the district court, which reasoned that there wasn’t any evidence the child’s interests were not adequately represented.
By the briefing of the appellate case, the mother and her counsel appeared to have conceded that Petitioner should be able to intervene in the loss of consortium claim. The Court of Appeals agreed and included that change in its Order to Remand. The Court of Appeals, however, did not agree that Petitioner needed to be a co-representative in the wrongful death action. The court stated that a statutory beneficiary, like the child, is owed a duty by the personal representative and the personal representative’s attorney to act with reasonable care regarding his or her interests. After assessing the evidence and arguments submitted, the appellate court reasoned that there was nothing present to warrant the removal of the mother as personal representative, any conflict was merely potential and not actual, and there were other legal avenues to ensure a good result for the child, like the appointment of a guardian ad litem. The Court determined that the Wrongful Death Act was structured to avoid each individual beneficiary pursuing his or her own claim. The opinion ended with the appellate court stressing the importance of the child’s claims being thoroughly considered by the personal representative and the personal representative’s attorney.