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New Mexico Court Of Appeals Allows Fatal Road-Construction Site Accident Case to Move Forward

In the summer months, you may come across construction on state highways and county roads that typically require you to avoid items on the road, drive at reduced speeds, and increase awareness on the road. Even with safety precautions in place, these New Mexico road construction sites can be conducive to an auto accident. Like other automobile accidents, another driver may be responsible for your injuries, but the state of New Mexico may be liable as well, depending on what caused the accident.

In a recent decision, the New Mexico Court of Appeals allowed the estate of a woman killed in a fatal car accident to proceed with their law suit against the Dept. of Transportation (DOT). In Lujan v. New Mexico Dept. of Transportation, the driver was killed after her car flipped several time due to semi-truck tire debris left on an exit ramp. Her estate alleged that the DOT failed to clean off the debris in a timely manner, which led to the driver’s death. In the original suit, the trial court dismissed the claim against the DOT at the summary judgment stage, after it was established the DOT had no constructive knowledge of the tire debris. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court’s determination, and held that fact-finders could conclude that the DOT failed to uphold its duty to regularly inspect and maintain safe highways.

In personal injury cases, it is necessary to show that the at-fault party owed a duty to the party that was injured. In Lujan, the general duty of the DOT to provide safe roads to the public was not questioned; instead, they inquired about whether knowledge of the debris was necessary for the duty to remain in place. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that much of New Mexico case law surrounding the DOT’s duty to the public centered on fact-specific inquiries to determine whether a duty was owed to the injured or deceased party. The Court pointed to the state Supreme Court’s recent definitive turn away from fact-specific inquiries to answer whether a duty was or was not present in Rodriguez v. Del Sol Shopping Ctr. Assocs.

In reaching its decision, the appellate judges reviewed the testimony of the maintenance supervisor and the DOT’s handbook for picking up debris. The Court noticed a lack of guidance and order on how to apply the broad requirements of picking up litter on the roadways. While there was an expectation to keep roadways free of litter, the Court pointed out there was no set schedule or record-keeping regarding which locations were checked for debris. Since there was no schedule or record of clean-ups, none of the employees could recall or point to when the roadways were last cleared on the date of the accident. There were, however, records that there were several litter pick-ups near the accident site, which created the question of whether or not the DOT knew or should have known about the debris. Since this question exists, the Court of Appeals found that it was appropriate for the estate’s suit to continue forward.

The New Mexico auto accident attorneys at Parnall Law Firm, LLC are here to provide you with the aggressive representation you need to maximize the recovery you deserve. If you have been injured in a car accident due to road construction hazards, contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 505-332-BERT.