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Government Immunity in New Mexico Car Accident Cases

Posted in Auto Accidents

Historically, the state and federal governments were presumed to be immune from liability involving the negligence of government employees. Over time, however, this broad grant of immunity left many injury victims without any way to recover for their injuries, and the injustice of the rule became evident. Thus, the federal and state governments passed a series of laws called “tort claims acts,” under which government entities could be held liable in some situations.

The New Mexico Tort Claims Act allows for those who have been injured due to the negligence of a government employee to recover for their injuries through a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit in many situations. However, a plaintiff must be able to establish that their case fits within an exception to the general grant of immunity.

A recent case discusses the difficulties one plaintiff had when pursuing a case against a police officer she claimed was responsible for causing a car accident.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant police officer was responding to a call involving an unconscious person who was believed to be intoxicated. On his way to the scene, the officer cut through a parking lot. As the officer was exiting the parking lot, he pulled out further than normal due to objects in the parking lot obstructing his view of oncoming traffic. However, as the officer pulled out into the intersection, his vehicle struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the individual officer as well as the city that employed the officer. Both defendants claimed that they were entitled to governmental immunity. The police officer argued that he could not be named in his individual capacity because he was acting within the scope of his employment as a government employee.

The city also claimed that it was immune from liability based on police-protection immunity and discretionary-act immunity. The court agreed, explaining that the city was entitled to immunity unless the officer’s actions were reckless. Here, the court held, by pulling out too far into the intersection, the officer may have been negligent, but was not reckless. Additionally, the decision to hire this particular officer was an exercise of discretion, which was also entitled to immunity unless it was shown to be an abuse of that discretion. The court held that the plaintiff failed to establish the city abused this discretion. Thus, both the city and the individual officer were held to be immune from liability and the plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

New Mexico Government Immunity

Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, certain conduct is specifically excluded from the general grant of immunity. For example, under New Mexico Statutes section 41-4-5, immunity does not attach when the case involves “the negligence of public employees while acting within the scope of their duties in the operation or maintenance of any motor vehicle, aircraft or watercraft.” However, there are additional procedural requirements and certain limitations to the amount of damages that can be recovered in claims brought under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act so it is important anyone injured in an accident involving a government employee reach out to a dedicated New Mexico personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Accident with a Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico car accident involving a police officer or other government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated New Mexico personal injury lawyers at the Fine Law Firm have extensive experience representing injury victims and their family members in a wide range of New Mexico car accident claims, including those naming government employees as defendants. To learn more, call 505-889-FINE to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Actual and Constructive Notice in New Mexico Premises Liability Cases, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, August 20, 2018.

New Mexico Failure-to-Warn Product Liability Claims, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 6, 2018.