The doctrine of circuity is a legal doctrine that some state and federal courts across the country have adopted to conserve valuable judicial resources. At its heart, the doctrine serves to prevent a plaintiff from seeking damages from a defendant with whom that plaintiff does not have a valid course of action. The recent case of Loper v. JMAR illustrates the principle well:
Loper, a dairy farmer, hired JMAR to build a new dairy. In turn, JMAR sub-contracted out all of the electrical work to Snyder. After the dairy was built and Loper began operations, he noticed that milk production was much lower than it should have been. Loper looked into several potential causes of the low milk production with no luck, until he hired a different electrician to examine the fences. According to Loper’s expert, the way in which the dairy farm was wired resulted in stray electricity that adversely affected the herd’s milk production. Loper filed a lawsuit against both JMAR and Snyder claiming negligent construction of the dairy.
As the lawsuit commenced, JMAR sent a letter to Snyder demanding indemnification from the lawsuit. Essentially this letter demanded that Snyder admit that the error was on his part, and that JMAR had nothing to do with the improper wiring of the fence. Soon thereafter, Loper settled out of court with Snyder, who was then dismissed from the suit.
JMAR’s Argument to the Court
JMAR argues that there can be no claim the company because the “agreement to indemnify Snider Electric created a circular chain of indemnification because of Snider’s obligations to indemnify JMAR for its negligence and that Plaintiff’s claims were therefore barred under the doctrine of circuity.”
In other words, JMAR claims that the case against them should be immediately dismissed because Loper settled with Snyder, and JMAR is indemnified from the suit by Snyder. Therefore, under JMAR’s theory, there is no claim left against them.
The trial court agreed with JMAR’s position and dismissed the case. Loper appealed the New Mexico Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals Opinion
The court of appeals reversed, holding that, while the doctrine of circuity “may have applicability in some circumstances under New Mexico law,” here that is not the case because Loper has an independent claim against JMAR, namely whether JMAR was negligent in hiring and supervising the Snyder. If the jury found this to be the case, then JMAP may be assigned some portion of the fault.
How the Case Affect New Mexico Personal Injury Plaintiffs
This case is fairly limited to its facts, and will not likely have a very broad reach. However, if the court later chooses to adopt the doctrine of circuity, that may have a detrimental affect on New Mexico personal injury plaintiffs because it acts to limit the avenues of recovery available to plaintiffs.
Are You Involved in a New Mexico Personal Injury Case?
If you believe that you may have a cause of action against another, based on their negligence, you should contact an experienced New Mexico personal injury attorney to discuss the facts of your case. It may be that you are entitled monetary damages. To find out more, contact the Fine Law Firm at 505-889-FINE or click here to contact the firm online.
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New Mexico Mom Injured After Jumping in Front of Drunk Driver to Save Her Son, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, February 10, 2014.