Determining Fault in a New Mexico Car Accident

arguing about fault after car accident

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 involves negligence. This means someone is at fault.

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What is a 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 cell phone 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.

Is New Mexico a No-Fault State?

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.

Since New Mexico is an at-fault state, insurance providers allow car accident victims to recover compensation in one of the following ways:

  • Seek compensation from your own insurance company (if you have certain coverage)
  • Pursue compensation from the insurer of the at-fault party
  • File a personal injury lawsuit against the liable party

New Mexico also follows the comparative negligence rule, which means the fault is apportioned to all parties involved in the accident based on their degree of contribution. If you’re partially responsible for the accident, your compensation will be reduced by the percentage of your fault, but you can still recover in most cases.

Contact an Albuquerque Car Accident Lawyer

How Much Car Insurance Must New Mexicans Carry?

New Mexico state requires drivers to operate vehicles with minimum insurance coverage.

The minimum auto liability insurance requirements in New Mexico are as follows:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person
  • $50,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more persons
  • $10,000 for property damage in a single accident

Essential Auto Insurance Coverage to Consider

In addition to minimum insurance requirements, consider the following coverage for additional protection.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage pays for the damage from a collision with another car, object, tree, signpost, or from a single-car accident. Similarly, if the vehicle sustains damage after hitting a pothole, collision coverage would cover  the loss,

Usually, collision coverage is sold with a separate deductible. Even if you’re at fault for a car crash, the coverage will reimburse you for repairing your vehicle, less the deductible.

Comprehensive Coverage

Comprehensive insurance coverage covers all risk factors associated with your vehicle, passengers, third-party vehicles, and property. It is vital coverage that covers losses other than a collision with another car or object.

Comprehensive insurance coverage covers events such as:

  • Fire
  • Falling objects
  • Explosion
  • Earthquakes
  • Hail
  • Flood
  • Vandalism
  • Riot
  • Contact with animals

Medical Payment or Personal Injury Protection(PIP)

Medical payment coverage is an essential part of an auto insurance policy. It can cover medical expenses for you and your passengers if you are involved in a car accident. Although medical payment coverage is optional, it can save the hassle of paying injury-related expenses out of pocket.

Medical payment coverage can cover doctor’s consultations, diagnostic tests, and emergency room costs.

Depending on your risk exposure, the following insurance coverage may be essential:

  • Transport expense coverage
  • Towing coverage
  • Rental car reimbursement
  • Engine protection coverage
  • Road assistance coverage
  • Loss of personal belongings

New Mexico’s Laws on Uninsured/Underinsured Insurance Coverage

New Mexico laws don’t require motorists to carry underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. However, consider having uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage for protection if involved in an accident with someone without insurance or who is inadequately covered.

Suppose you’re hit by a drunk driver carrying minimum insurance coverage with injury-related losses amounting to $40,000. In that case, your policy with underinsured motorist coverage could make up the extra $15,000 not covered by the at-fault driver’s insurer.

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 from your injuries:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

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 traveling 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.

For instance:

  • 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
  • Photographs
  • Social media posts by the other driver
  • Traffic citations were 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.

An attorney can often show who is at fault in a car accident by thoroughly investigating the facts and evidence available.

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 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 after a certain amount of time.

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Can I Still Recover if the 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 the 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.

Suppose you only had damage to your vehicle, and the other driver admits liability. In that case, 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, and 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 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.