After any kind of traffic accident in New Mexico, if you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensation. In this article, we'll discuss a few New Mexico laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting an accident to law enforcement.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.
(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
New Mexico Statutes Annotated section 37-1-8 sets the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all injury lawsuits arising from a vehicle accident. This law gives you three years to ask New Mexico’s civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else.
So, in the context of a car accident, that means any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this three-year filing deadline, and the “clock” starts running on the date of the accident.
If anyone was killed as a result of the car accident, New Mexico Statutes Annotated section 42-2-2 also sets a three-year statute of limitations deadline for any wrongful death claim that might be brought by the deceased person’s family. The main difference is that, for these kinds of claims, the three-year “clock” starts running on the date of the accident victim’s death (as opposed to the date of the accident itself).
Finally, if you had your vehicle or other personal property damaged as a result of the car accident, New Mexico Statutes Annotated section 37-1-4 says that any lawsuit over that damage must be filed within four years of the date of the vehicle accident.
Whichever deadline applies, if you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it’s crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.
Even if you’re confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you’ll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced New Mexico car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a New Mexico car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?
For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000.
Even if you are deemed more at fault than any other party, you can still collect damages, but keep in mind that you (or at least your car insurance company) will likely also be on the financial hook for the other parties' losses.
The comparative negligence rule binds New Mexico judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
According to New Mexico Statutes Annotated section 66-7-207, any driver involved in an accident in the state must report the crash if it:
The driver must report the accident to the police department, if the accident occurs within a municipality. If the accident did not occur within a municipality, the driver must report the accident to the office of the county sheriff or the nearest office of the New Mexico State Police.
The driver must report the accident "immediately, by the quickest means of communication."
The driver must also file a written report of the accident with the New Mexico Department of Transportation within five days.
In almost every New Mexico car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on New Mexico's car insurance rules.