You've seen smoldering vehicles along the shoulder of I-40 before but never thought it could be you. Whose fault was it? Was the other guy hurt? How will you pay your medical bills? Sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to recover your losses.
More than 30,000 people die in car accidents each year in the United States, and many more are injured. To make matters worse, one in four New Mexican drivers are totally uninsured. And your grand prize is a slog through the dense New Mexican legal system just to cover your medical bills. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Albuquerque car accident.
It can be difficult to remain calm after an accident, but there are a few easy steps you should always take. First, immediately stop your vehicle. If you flee the scene of an accident you risk criminal charges as a "hit-and-run" driver. You should move your vehicle if it is blocking traffic, but try to keep the scene intact as much as possible. If you move any vehicles, take careful note of its position; photographs are even better.
Second, call an ambulance immediately if anyone has been injured. New Mexican law requires drivers involved in accidents to provide "reasonable assistance" to injured parties, which usually means calling 911. Take care not to move anyone who may have suffered a back or neck injury until the paramedics arrive.
Third, you must give your name, address and registration number to everyone involved in the accident, and show your driver's license if requested. Attach your name, address and a description of what happened to any unattended vehicles that were damaged vehicle. It would be a good idea to gather contact information from any potential witnesses. However, it is better if you do not volunteer any additional details until talking to a lawyer. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that it was your fault.
Finally, you should promptly report any accident causing injury, death, or more than $500 in property damage to the Albuquerque police. It is difficult to reconstruct exactly what happened months later, so it is usually in your best interest to get a detailed report written. You can purchase an official police report for $7.50 a few days later. You must also file a written report with the police within five days of the accident.
This is a lot of information, so why not print out a helpful checklist and store it in your glove box for that rainy day?
New Mexico has a "fault" system in determining financial responsibility for an accident. The person who was legally at fault for causing the accident (and their insurance) must compensate anyone who was injured or whose property was damaged. The minimum coverage a licensed driver must carry is:
- $25,000 for injury to or death of one person,
- $50,000 for injury to or death of two or more persons, and
- $10,000 for property damage.
Filing a Lawsuit
To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency basis, which means you don't pay them anything until you've won.
You can file your lawsuit in either big-time District Court or small-time Metro Court, depending on the amount of damages you suffered. If you seek $10,000 or more you should file your lawsuit in the Bernalillo County Courthouse of the Second Judicial District Court. If you seek less than $10,000 in compensation, you can enjoy the relaxed procedure of small claims court by filing with the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court instead. Read more about Albuquerque Courthouses to find which location is appropriate.
The law of negligence governs accidental injuries, and are the most common lawsuit after a car crash. You must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws or intoxicated.
In fatal accidents the surviving family members have a right to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. To succeed on this claim you must prove:
- the defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous;"
- the vehicle was being operated as intended; and
- the vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.
New Mexico has adopted a pure comparative negligence rule for distributing damages. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900. Significantly, New Mexico is one of 13 states to have a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if your injury is found to be 99% your own fault, you can still recover 1%.
Now that you know what to expect from your Albuquerque accident, try learning more about the law governing car accidents.