The majority of car accidents are completely preventable. Research tends to suggest that upwards of 90 percent of all car crashes are at least in some part due to human error.
A 2016 report by National Public Radio (NPR) explains that preventable accidents are increasing each year, presenting even greater risks to the public. When someone causes a wreck due to carelessness, inattention, distracted driving, or intoxication, the crash involved negligence. This means someone is at fault.
What is Fault in a Car Accident?
In the auto insurance world, fault is the word used to describe who is ultimately responsible for causing the incident and who, in turn, is responsible for paying for the damages. It’s not a crime to cause a car accident – at least in most circumstances.
A distracted driver who runs a red light while looking at a cellphone is not trying to hurt anyone, even if an injury does occur. New Mexico law calls this type of careless behavior negligence. The driver who acted carelessly is “at fault” and is required to pay for the damages that he or she causes.
New Mexico Fault Laws
A lot of people ask, “Is New Mexico a no-fault state?” The answer is no. Each state treats fault differently.
A lot of states have moved toward a “no-fault” system. That means that in those states each driver is responsible for carrying insurance on himself or herself. If you are injured in a no-fault state, your own auto insurance picks up the costs of your property damage and for a certain amount of your personal injuries up to the no-fault limits.
Most states have exceptions for serious injuries and fatalities. If your injuries are so severe that they exceed your insurance coverage, then you can then go after the other person for the remainder of your losses.
New Mexico maintains the more traditional “fault-based” tort system. This means that each driver is responsible for his or her own mistakes.
If someone causes a crash, that person (and his or her insurance company) may be held responsible for paying for the damages, including physical injuries.
How is Fault Determined in an Accident in New Mexico?
Fault is proven the same way as any other type of negligence. There are 5 basic elements that must be proven in order to recover for your injuries:
- Other drivers owe you a legal duty
As soon as you get behind the wheel, the law says you owe others on the road a duty to use reasonable caution to avoid an accident and safeguard the welfare of others. The duty a driver owes extends to other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and anyone else who is using the road.
- The other driver breached his or her legal duty
If a driver does something that violates or fails to meet the duty owed, then there is a breach of the duty. That breach triggers a presumption of fault. But proving that the other driver made a mistake is not enough.
- That breach directly caused the accident
You must also prove that the specific breach actually caused the accident. Consider that a driver may have been texting and driving drunk, both of which are clearly breaches. But if you are the one who rear-ends that driver at a stop light, his breach had nothing to do with causing the wreck.
- Your injuries were directly due to the accident
Once you prove that the other driver had a legal duty to you, failed to meet that duty, and that directly caused the crash, then you must prove that you suffered an injury directly because of the crash. This may seem fairly straightforward, but it can get tricky. Say you have pre-existing injuries and get into a wreck. The insurance company might argue that even though their driver caused the wreck, your injuries were not due to the crash.
- Damages / Injuries
Finally, you still have to prove the extent of your damages. How badly were you hurt, and how much should you be paid as compensation for your injuries?
Clear vs. Contested Liability
First, there are certain types of cases that are typically considered presumptively “clear liability,” meaning they are assumed to be the other driver’s fault unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. These typically include:
- Rear-end collisions
- Drunk drivers
- Texting and driving (if proven)
- Clear right-of-way violations
- Crossing center line
On the other hand, in some cases, the evidence may be a little tougher and there may be “contested liability.” Consider a case where two drivers are travelling next to each other, and one merges into the other causing a crash. How would a lawyer prove this? How do police determine fault in an accident? They search for evidence that can support your theory of what happened.
- Police reports
- Accident reconstruction reports
- Witness statements
- Traffic cameras or closed-circuit surveillance cameras (if available)
- Skid marks and damage measurements at the scene
- Vehicle damage
- Social media posts by the other driver
- Traffic citations issued to those involved
An experienced New Mexico personal injury lawyer may be able to use a host of evidence to prove that the other driver is at fault.
By thoroughly investigating the facts and evidence available, an attorney can often show who is at fault in a car accident.
Examples of Fault in Real Cases
Imagine, for example, that you are approaching a green left turn arrow, and another vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction. She has a red light, but she proceeds through at the same time, thus striking you head on and causing serious injuries. She tells police that she had the green light, and you had a red light. You know this is not accurate, but how can you prove your version of what occurred?
Witnesses may be able to provide statements to support your statement that you were had an arrow and the other driver ran a red light. Police frequently use witness statements and other evidence to determine fault in an accident. Sometimes your attorney may be able to show from the traffic light sequence that the other driver could not have had a green light.
Finally, there may be nearby businesses with security cameras that captured the accident on video. Finding this kind of video evidence requires having a personal injury attorney get to work on your case as soon as possible after the accident. Security videos are typically erased or recorded over after a certain amount of time.
Can I Still Recover if Fault is Shared?
Yes, you may still have a legal right to seek compensation even if you are partly at fault.
New Mexico law apportions fault among the parties, so fault can be divided, such as 80/20 or 60/40, for example. You would have your recovery reduced proportionately, but you would still be entitled to a recovery.
Insurance companies may tell you that because you were partly at fault, there is nothing they can do. They know that you may not fully understand your rights, and they are hoping that you’ll just walk away from the case.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Many auto crashes involve minor damage. Fender benders that do not involve significant injuries may not require legal representation.
If you only had damage to your vehicle, and the other driver admits liability, then you may be better off working with your insurance company to keep your expenses low and get your case resolved more quickly.
However, even with smaller injuries, it can be helpful to work with an attorney. There are a lot of things that go into resolving an auto injury claim that people don’t consider.
For example, you may have health insurance liens, Medicare or Medicaid liens, or unpaid collections and medical bills. You may find that your health insurance company wants to be paid back for unrelated medical care that has nothing to do with the crash, thus stripping you of your entire settlement. You might find that the other driver changes his story, even after initially admitting fault.
A lot of annoyances can come up during an auto accident case that can make a lawyer’s guidance helpful. Consider whether you have time to deal with medical debt collectors, insurance lien holders, multiple insurance adjusters calling for statements, on top of performing a thorough investigation into the evidence. It can cost a lot of money to pursue a case. Working with an attorney ensures that you do not have to go through it alone.
Working with an Experienced Auto Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been seriously injured by someone else’s negligence, you deserve aggressive and experienced legal representation. Don’t take chances with the insurance company. Parnall Law Firm, LLC has the experience and resources to tackle even the most challenging car wreck cases. Insurance companies want you to wait. They want you to delay doing anything about your case until the statute of limitations expires, because then you have no right to recover for your injuries. They want you to believe that you have no options or that you should take whatever they offer you.
Whether the other driver has already admitted fault or the insurance company is disputing it, our team of attorneys and paralegals will give your case the personalized attention that you deserve. Don’t settle with the insurance company. Don’t give a recorded statement. And don’t sign anything until you’ve talked to an experienced injury lawyer about your case. Contact us today to set up your free private consultation.