New Mexico Legislators Assess Child Abuse Laws After Tragic Death of Nine-Year-Old Boy

New Mexico law makers recently assessed the current laws and agencies related to reporting child abuse after a nine year old boy was allegedly kicked to death by his mother. This death came after at least three prior investigations by law enforcement and social workers. The proposed solutions ranged from addressing the high number of caseloads, frequent turnover, collaboration between agency social workers and law enforcement, and increasing the public’s responsibility for reporting abuse.

The president of a non-profit group opined that the breakdown is not in the laws governing child abuse and reporting, but the implementation of that system. The non-profit president pointed to inadequate funding and limited resources, asserting the lack of those things reduces the ability of social workers and law enforcement to properly protect children. An attorney went past this sentiment and claimed that general incompetency is present, rather than an overextended agency. The article cites the statistic that New Mexico has one of the worst rates of child abuse deaths, with 80 deaths between 2008 and 2012.

Child abuse is a heart-wrenching circumstance that affects loved ones, friends, and members of the public who have formed a relationship with the abused through teaching or providing services to the family. The abuser should be held accountable, but others may bear responsibility as well for the child’s injuries or death. New Mexico law requires professionals and regular citizens to report suspected abuse, but it also places a duty upon law enforcement agents and social workers to keep children safe. Holding any agent of the state accountable is a very tricky process and sovereign immunity must be considered.

Sovereign immunity is a legal concept that shields the government and governmental entities from suit in order to keep government moving forward and effective. New Mexico has incorporated sovereign immunity and formally has the Tort Claims Act, NMSA 1978 sections 41-4-1 through 41-4-29, which outlines what suits are permitted against the government where immunity has been waived, as well as the process in which to file suit. The Tort Claims Act requires notice to be filed within 90 days, and case law has established that mere knowledge is not enough to put the government entity on notice.

The Act seeks to balance the traditional motivation behind sovereign immunity with the need to provide members of the public compensation for the governmental employees who fail to use reasonable care. The list of exceptions to immunity includes providing health care services and injuries or damages caused by law enforcement officers acting within the scope of their duties. The New Mexico case, Methola v. County of Eddy, established that fitting under one of these exceptions to immunity is the only route to recovering damages from the government. The Act also outlines the cap on damages to specific immunities.

The New Mexico attorneys at Parnall Law Firm have the experience necessary to effectively and aggressively pursue your personal injury claim. If you or a family member are a victim of crime or abuse and would like to speak to one of our lawyers, contact us today at (505) 332-2378 for a free, confidential consultation.