Pain and Suffering Damages in New Mexico
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed February 10, 2023
What does New Mexico mean to you? To millions of television viewers, it’s known as the place where Breaking Bad was set. While most of us in the Land of Enchantment lead lives that aren't quite as dangerous as those of Walter and Jesse, accidents do happen every day. And if you've been injured in the state, you'll be happy to know that New Mexico has no cap on pain and suffering damages. Read on to learn more about pain and suffering damages in New Mexico, including how these types of damages are calculated in the state.
Pain and Suffering Damages: How They Work
We're all familiar with the term “pain and suffering” damages, right? You’ve heard about them in legal thrillers and high profile injury cases, but what exactly are they? These damages account for the excruciating physical pain and emotional anguish that a person deals with after an accident or intentional harm by another person. The emotional distress (or “anguish”) portion of these damages often factors in depression, anxiety, loss of sleep, and other mental symptoms that accompany the injuries sustained. If that sounds hard to put a dollar value on, you are correct – which is why lawyers and judges often refer to pain and suffering awards as non-economic (or “general”) damages.
When a judge or jury does attempt to calculate pain and suffering damages, they might include:
- How much will the injured party’s daily routine be limited or altered?
- Will the injury impact relationships at home or work?
- How does the pain or injury affect sleep or other lifestyle factors?
- Will the injury impact the party in the long term?
But the jury instructions [PDF] aren’t even that detailed: pain and suffering is simply defined as, “The pain and suffering experienced [and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future] as a result of the injury,” and jurors are told that, “No fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of these damages. You must use your judgment to decide a reasonable amount to compensate the plaintiff for the pain and suffering.”
Limits on Pain and Suffering Damages
Because the standard is vague, there is fear of, and potential for, abuse by sympathetic juries in the form of major awards – sometimes many times higher than the actual economic damages that occurred as a result of an accident. Many states have attempted to enact limits on these damages to keep awards under control. While ostensibly reducing the potential for abuse, these laws also limit the recovery available to those who are legitimately injured and suffering excruciating pain or distress.
New Mexico, fortunately for accident victims, is not one of those states.
Contributory or Comparative Negligence
Pure comparative fault means damages are reduced by one’s own percentage of fault, even if that percentage is high. (Scott v. Rizzo, 634 P. 2d 1234 - NM: Supreme Court 1981)
$600,000 cap applies to economic and non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, though medical care is excluded from the cap. (Medical Malpractice Act 41-5-1 through 41-5-29)
Pure Comparative Fault May Reduce Pain and Suffering Damage Awards
New Mexico is, thanks to a 1981 New Mexico Supreme Court case, a “pure comparative fault” state. In these types of states, the law limits the injured party’s damage recovery in proportion to their degree of fault. The judge or jury sets percentages of fault for each party, unless a case settles first. For example, if a driver is injured in an accident, but was found to be 15 percent at fault (such as someone speeding), they can recover up to 85 percent of their damages. The reverse is also true – the party 85 percent at fault can recover 15 percent of his injuries as well.
Only Doctors Are Safe from Large Verdicts in New Mexico
Unlike an increasing number of other states, New Mexico does not have limits on non-economic damages in most personal injury cases – a jury can award as much for pain and suffering as it sees fit.
However, New Mexico does have a limit for damages in Medical Malpractice cases. The “soft” cap, which is set at $600,000, covers both economic (such as lost wages) and non-economic (pain and suffering) damages except it exempts the cost of medical and rehabilitative care from the cap – your medical bills and pills are covered by the doctor and hospital responsible for your injury, in other words.
Filing for Pain and Suffering Damages? A New Mexico Attorney Can Help
With nearly no limits aside from medical malpractice and one’s own fault, and such broad instructions, the amount of damages a jury could award someone for pain and suffering due to an injury or accident are difficult to predict. Get more clarity today by meeting with a New Mexico personal injury attorney near you.
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