Filing a Claim Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act

Making an injury or property damage claim against the government in New Mexico means playing by a unique set of rules.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you're harmed because of someone else's careless action in New Mexico, you usually have the option of bringing a personal injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system. But what if you think a government agency or one of its employees is to blame for your injuries or property damage? New Mexico has passed a fairly strict set of laws that apply in this situation, which together are called the "New Mexico Tort Claims Act."

This article dives into the details of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, including:

  • the specific kinds of incidents that can create government liability in New Mexico
  • the 90-day time limit for getting your "notice of claim" filed with the right agency or administrative office, and
  • caps on the amount of compensation you can receive even when the government is liable for your losses.

What Is the New Mexico Tort Claims Act?

The New Mexico Tort Claims Act says that, generally speaking, government entities and government employees "are granted immunity from liability for any tort." A "tort" is any kind of wrongful act that causes harm, including;

So, this blanket provision of the Act (which can be found at New Mexico Rev. Stat. Ann. section 41-4-4) shields government agencies and government workers from liability for harm caused to residents of the state and others, even for careless or negligent acts.

But crucially, the Act then carves out certain exceptions: specific situations in which the state or local government or one of its agencies can be held liable for injuries and other harm.

What Kinds of Claims Are Covered Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act?

The exceptions that can give rise to a claim against the state or local government under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act are laid out at New Mexico Rev. Stat. Ann. sections 41-4-5 through 41-4-12. These include:

  • car accidents (and other kind of motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft accidents) caused by the negligence of a government employee who is carrying out their job duties
  • negligent operation of buildings, public park, machinery, equipment or furnishings
  • negligent operation of public utilities and services including gas, electricity, water, waste collection or disposal, heating, and ground transportation.
  • negligent operation of any hospital, infirmary, mental institution, clinic, dispensary, medical care home or similar facility
  • negligence in the provision of health care services, including harm that might amount to medical malpractice
  • negligence of public employees during the construction and maintenance of any bridge, culvert, highway, roadway, street, alley, sidewalk or parking area
  • injuries arising from negligence in airport operation, and
  • liability for personal injury, wrongful death or property damage resulting from assault, battery, false imprisonment, and other harm caused by a law enforcement officer acting within the scope of their duties.

Because it's not always easy to understand whether a specific scenario falls neatly within the exceptions on this list—and because the viability of your case might hinge on this threshold issue—it might make sense to speak with a lawyer before pursuing an injury-related claim against the government in New Mexico.

How Do I File a Claim Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act?

The claim-filing process typically consists of several steps:

  • figuring out whether your injury or property damage qualifies under one of the exceptions we laid out above
  • filing a "notice of claim" with the right state/city/county entity within 90 days
  • waiting for a response to your claim
  • if your claim is accepted, agreeing to a settlement of your claim, and
  • if your claim is denied, deciding whether to file a lawsuit against the state/city/county over the harm you suffered; you'll almost always need to file this kind of lawsuit within two years of the incident that caused you harm.

What Is the Deadline for Filing a New Mexico Tort Claims Act Case?

You'll need to provide adequate "notice of claim" to the right agency or office within 90 days of the date of your injury or property damage, "stating the time, place and circumstances of the loss or injury."

One of the only exceptions to this 90-day deadline involves claims alleging that the government agency/employee is liable for a deceased person's "wrongful death." In these kinds of cases only, an estate representative, family member, or other qualified person has six months to get the notice of claim filed.

Where Do I File a Notice of Claim Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act?

Where you file your notice of claim depends on the specific government agency or entity you think caused your injury or property loss. The New Mexico Tort Claims Act itself says that a notice of claim can be filed with:

  • the Risk Management Division for claims against the state
  • the mayor of a city or town for claims against a municipality
  • the superintendent of a school district for claims against the district
  • the county clerk for claims against the county, or
  • the administrative head of any other local public body for claims against that body.

You may be able to complete a claim form online, depending on which government entity or agency you think harmed you. For example, a number of New Mexico cities have posted claim forms and filing instructions online for those wishing to pursue an action under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, including:

What Will the Response to My Notice of Claim Look Like?

Once notice is filed, the government will decide whether to pay the claim, or deny it. You'll typically receive a response to your claim in the mail, a month or so after you send the notice. In most instances, this response will include either:

  • an offer to settle the claim
  • a denial of the claim, or
  • a notice that your claim has been referred to the government office's insurance provider.

Filing a Lawsuit After Your New Mexico Tort Claims Act Denial

If your claim is denied, you're free to continue pursuing the matter by filing a civil lawsuit in New Mexico's court system. You usually have two years to file this kind of lawsuit, starting from the date of the underlying harm.

Are There Caps on Damages Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act?

Yes. Compensation ("damages" in the language of the law) is subject to certain dollar limits, set by New Mexico Rev. Stat. Ann. section 41-4-19. In most situations, the government won't be required to pay more than:

  • $200,000 for any instance of property damage
  • $300,000 for injury-related medical expenses (specifically, for the claimant's "past and future medical and medically-related expenses", and
  • $400,000 "to any person for any number of claims arising out of a single occurrence," as compensation for anything other than property damage and injury-related medical expenses.

In addition, the government cannot be required to pay more than $750,000 to any one person for damages in any one claim.

Getting Help With an Injury Claim Against the Government In New Mexico

Making an injury claim under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act can be a complicated undertaking, especially if you're not sure which governmental body might be responsible for your injury, or you're concerned about complying with the Act's strict procedural rules. It might make sense to discuss your situation with a lawyer, to make sure your rights are protected.

Learn more about when you need a lawyer for a personal injury claim, and get tips on finding the right injury lawyer.

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