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New Mexico Supreme Court Finds That Lack of Foreseeability Does Not Prevent a Premises Liability Claim from Going to Trial

Posted in Firm News

The New Mexico Supreme Court recently handed down a decision that may significantly impact the ability of plaintiffs who are injured on another’s property to have their claims heard by a jury. In the case of Rodriguez vs. Del Sol Shopping Center Associates LLC, NM 2014(Docket Nos. 33,896 , 33,949) the Court reversed a lower court’s judgment that threw out the plaintiffs’ suit and instead sent the case back down to go to trial.

The Facts
In March of 2006, a woman who had previously been diagnosed with epilepsy had a seizure while driving her car in the parking lot of the defendant’s shopping center. The woman lost control of her vehicle and crashed through the window of a medical clinic, killing three people and seriously injuring several others. The injured parties and families of the deceased filed a New Mexico premises liability lawsuit against the shopping center, alleging that they failed to properly protect the patrons from the danger of a vehicle driving through the windows and that the failure resulted in the injuries and deaths.

A New Mexico Premises Liability Lawsuit
To be successful in a New Mexico premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant owed them a duty. Second, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached that duty, and third, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach of that duty was the cause of an injury or damages. Generally, business owners owe their customers, or “invitees,” what is called a duty of ordinary care under the circumstances. The breadth of this duty varies with the facts of each case.

The Lower Court’s Decision
After the plaintiffs filed suit, the defendant filed a motion for the district court to rule in their favor, claiming that they did not owe the plaintiffs a duty in this situation. The defendant argued that the type of accident that occurred could not have been predicted and was in no way the responsibility of the shopping center. The district court agreed with the defendants and ruled that the shopping center did not have a duty to protect against criminally reckless drivers, so the accident “was not foreseeable as a matter of law,” and therefore no duty existed. This judgment was confirmed by the New Mexico Court of Appeals
On Appeal to the State Supreme Court
The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court. They claimed that business owners always owe a duty of ordinary care under the circumstances to their customers, and that the foreseeability of any harm should not affect the existence of that duty. According to the plaintiffs’ argument, the foreseeability of the harm should be relevant only to the question of whether the defendants breached that duty. Because this question is a factual one, the plaintiffs argued that the issue should be decided by a jury and not dismissed “as a matter of law” by the court. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the prior courts’ rulings were misguided and that “foreseeability is not a question for courts to consider when determining the existence of a duty, or whether to limit or eliminate an existing duty in a particular class of cases.” The Court reasoned that the question of whether the defendant was to be held financially responsible for the injuries was one to be answered by the jury, and the case would go to trial.

Have You Been Injured While on the Property of Another?

If you or someone you love has been injured or killed while on another’s property, this ruling helps ensure that a jury will be able to hear your side of the story. Even unexpected injuries can be prevented, and business owners almost always have some duty to protect their customers. Now, more than ever, it is important for accident victims to find competent legal counsel in premises liability cases. Although this ruling does not guarantee that any injury suffered on another’s property will be compensated, a skilled New Mexico accident attorney can help make the case for damages to a jury. If you have been injured, the attorneys at The Fine Law Firm are interested in your case. We try all kinds of New Mexico personal injury cases, including premises liability, and we have the skill that is needed to make the strongest arguments before the court and jury to pursue what you deserve. Call us today at (505)889-3463 or contact us through the website to schedule a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Personal Injury Plaintiff has Suit Dismissed for Failure to Meet Witness Deadline, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2014.

New Mexico Federal Court Rejects Defendant’s Attempt to Disqualify Plaintiff’s Witness in Slip-and-Fall Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 5, 2014.