Car accidents in Santa Fe and across New Mexico can result in debilitating injuries with lifelong consequences. While some crashes result in minor injuries and limited property damage, others may cause severe and fatal injuries. Nobody anticipates getting hurt in a car collision when they get behind the wheel of an automobile or buckle up in a passenger seat of a car driven by a friend, family member, or rideshare driver. Yet traffic collisions happen more frequently than you might guess. According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, a traffic crash occurs every 11 minutes in New Mexico, and about 30% of all collisions result in a motorist, vehicle occupant, pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorcyclist getting hurt. In most car accident cases, human error is the primary cause of the crash, meaning that another driver’s negligence or carelessness resulted in the wreck.
If you or someone you love recently sustained injuries in a car accident in New Mexico, you should seek advice from a Santa Fe car accident attorney as soon as possible. In the meantime, the following are 10 things you should know about car accidents and claims for compensation after injuries in New Mexico.
1. Car Accidents Have Many Different Causes
There are many different causes of car accidents in the Santa Fe area. Most frequently, driver error is to blame, which can include one or more of the following causes:
- Aggressive driving, such as speeding, running red lights or stop signs, tailgating, weaving in traffic, attempting to block another car from passing, or engaging in more extreme acts of road rage;
- Distracted driving, which can include any type of distracting behavior that takes your eyes, hands, or mind away from the task of driving, such as chatting with a vehicle passenger, texting or talking on a smartphone, eating or grooming while driving, changing the song on the sound system, updating the GPS, or even thinking about an issue on your mind that prevents you from focusing on the road;
- Drowsy or fatigued driving, which can occur anytime a motorist does not get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel and can be particularly common among large truck drivers and overnight shift workers; and/or
- Intoxicated driving, which may include driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The above are examples of various kinds of driver negligence, meaning that the motorist did not behave as a reasonable person would have under the circumstances and that their careless act or omission caused the collision. In addition to driver error, other factors can also play causal roles in motor vehicle collisions, including but not limited to the following:
- Inclement weather, such as heavy rain, snow, wind, or fog;
- Poor or damaged road conditions, such as potholes; and/or
- Defective car parts, such as defectively designed or defectively manufactured brakes, steering, or other components where a defect might contribute to or cause a wreck.
2. More Than One Party Might be Responsible for Your Car Accident Injuries
Liability for car accidents, and thus for resulting injuries, can vary greatly depending upon the particular facts of your case. As such, it is critical to have a car accident attorney in New Mexico evaluate your case to determine the most likely party or parties who bear responsibility for the injuries you sustained in a crash. Examples of parties that are commonly responsible for injuries in motor vehicle collisions include but are not limited to the following:
- Negligent car driver;
- Negligent large truck driver;
- Negligent motorcyclist;
- Negligent pedestrian;
- Negligent bicyclist;
- Property owner where the accident occurred;
- Designer of the motor vehicle or one of its parts;
- Manufacturer of the motor vehicle or one of its parts;
- Negligent owner of the vehicle who may not have had the vehicle maintained properly or may not have attended to a repair necessitated by a recall notice); and/or
- Negligent mechanic who may have carelessly and erroneously serviced or maintained the vehicle.
3. Car Crash Injuries Can Vary Greatly in Severity
The severity of a car accident injury can vary based on many different factors, including the size and weight of the vehicle or vehicles involved in the collision, the speed of the cars at the time of the crash, and the nature of the accident. Some types of crashes result in particular kinds of injuries more frequently than others, such as rear-end collisions often being associated with whiplash. The following are some of the most common types of injuries that people sustain in car crashes and for which they seek financial compensation by filing auto insurance claims and car accident lawsuits:
- Traumatic brain injuries (or TBIs), including concussions;
- Back and neck injuries, including whiplash and spinal cord injuries (or SCIs);
- Broken bones;
- Facial fractures and lacerations;
- Bruises and contusions;
- Organ damage and internal bleeding;
- Traumatic amputations; and
- Psychological trauma.
It is essential to have an experienced healthcare provider assess your injuries so that you have clear medical records linking your injuries to the car accident and in order to receive the treatment you need in a timely manner. Once you have sought care from a healthcare provider, you should seek advice from our dedicated car accident attorneys in Santa Fe to learn more about moving forward with a claim for financial compensation.
4. You Will Probably Start the Process of Seeking Compensation by Filing an Auto Insurance Claim
In most car accident injury cases, the injured person will seek financial compensation initially by filing an auto insurance claim. New Mexico is a fault state, also known as a tort state for auto insurance purposes. As a result, the injured person has the option of filing what is known as a first-party claim (an insurance claim filed through the injured person’s own auto insurance policy), or what is known as a third-party claim (an insurance claim filed through the at-fault motorist’s auto insurance policy).
Both first-party claims and third-party claims have benefits and limitations. Generally speaking, first-party claims may go a bit more quickly and can, in some cases, result in a fairer payout in cases where multiple people sustained injuries in the crash, but you will need to pay your deductible up front. What would a first-party claim sometimes result in a fairer payout in cases where multiple people sustained injuries in the crash? Under New Mexico auto insurance law, drivers are only required to carry certain minimum amounts of liability coverage. Those minimums include $25,000 per person for bodily injury and $50,000 per accident for bodily injury. Accordingly, if the at-fault driver caused multiple injuries to several people in causing the collision and only has the minimum amount of required coverage, the injured people will each only get a portion of compensation up to that $50,000 amount.
Depending upon the severity of a person’s injuries, even a first-party claim might not provide coverage for all losses. When an auto insurance claim is insufficient to cover a person’s losses, it is likely time to file a car accident lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
5. You Should Take Steps to Maintain Your Eligibility to Obtain Compensation in a Car Accident Lawsuit
Regardless of whether you plan to start the claims process by filing an auto insurance claim or anticipate that you will need to file a car accident lawsuit in order to obtain full compensation for your losses in the collision, it is critical to take certain steps to maintain your eligibility to receive compensation. If you are able to do so, it is important to take the following steps after a car crash in or around Santa Fe:
- Get yourself out of harm’s way if you are able to do so, moving to the side of the road and out of the way of any oncoming traffic (you do not want to sustain additional injuries in a secondary motor vehicle collision);
- Document the scene of the traffic collision as best as you are able, using your smartphone to take a wide variety of photographs from different distances and angles, and capturing the overall scene where the crash occurred in addition to close-up visualizations of injuries and property damage;
- Get contact information for any parties involved in the car accident, as well as anyone who might have witnessed the crash, being sure to obtain names, phone numbers, and email addresses (and driver’s license and insurance information for any other motorists who were involved in the crash, regardless of your thoughts about fault at the time of the collision);
- Contact the police if anyone appears to have sustained injuries, which can help to ensure that there is additional documentation of the accident and may even result in the at-fault driver being cited for the accident and issued a ticket that can help you to prove fault in seeking compensation later on;
- See a healthcare provider for a medical evaluation as soon as possible, recognizing that there are many types of car accident injuries that may not produce signs or symptoms for hours or even days after the crash that a doctor will be able to identify and treat if you seek immediate medical attention (and in seeking immediate medical attention, you can avoid the defendant raising the issue of comparative fault by arguing that you delayed medical care and therefor are partially responsible for the severity of your injuries);
- Report the accident to your own auto insurance company as quickly as possible regardless of whether you plan to file a first-party or third-party auto insurance claim, but be careful to provide only objective, factual information and to avoid making any comments about fault that the insurance company might use against you later on to deny your claim; and
- Contact a car accident lawyer in Santa Fe to seek advice about obtaining compensation for your car accident injuries and to ensure that you file your claim in a timely manner.
6. Your Car Accident Lawsuit Must be Filed Within a Strict Time Window
Speaking of filing your car accident lawsuit in a timely manner, it is absolutely critical to begin working with a personal injury attorney quickly to ensure that you file your lawsuit within the time window required by New Mexico law. The time window in which you must file your lawsuit is known as the statute of limitations. For most car accident lawsuits and other personal injury claims, a lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date of the accident. Anyone who plans to file a car accident lawsuit but fails to do so within three years from the date of the collision will have a time-barred claim and will not be eligible for compensation any longer by filing a car accident lawsuit. To be clear, your car accident lawsuit does not need to be resolved within three years from the date of the crash, but the lawsuit must be filed within that time window.
Although you might think that three years is a long time and that there is no need to move quickly, it is important to understand some of the key reasons for getting started on your claim as soon as possible. First, if you begin seeking compensation with an auto insurance claim, you should know that this process can take time, and many months may go by before you realize that the time window on the statute of limitations is closing. Second, the longer you wait to begin the process of planning for and filing your lawsuit, the more difficult it may be to gather the evidence you need to win your case. As time goes by, it may be more difficult to track down witnesses or to obtain other information that you could use to support your case. Indeed, it also may be more difficult for an accident reconstruction expert to accurately reconstruct the scene of the crash if the area has undergone construction or has changed significantly since the car accident.
7. Compensatory Damages are Common in Car Accident Cases
Most people who have sustained serious injuries in motor vehicle collisions will seek compensatory damages when they file a car accident lawsuit. There are two separate types of compensatory damages, and they are both designed to compensate a person for his or her losses. Those two types of compensatory damages include:
- Economic damages: A type of compensatory damages that provides compensation for direct or financial losses, or those losses that can be objectively quantified, like hospital bills or lost wages; and
- Non-economic damages: A type of compensatory damages that provides compensation for subjective losses, or those losses that cannot be objectively quantified, like a person’s pain and suffering.
In car accident cases, which are civil lawsuits, compensatory damages are the primary remedy for the injured plaintiff if she or he wins the lawsuit. To be clear, a car accident lawsuit is a civil claim and not a criminal case, so the at-fault driver will be responsible for paying monetary damages (and not completing a criminal sentence) if the plaintiff prevails. The following are examples of common losses for which economic and non-economic damages are awarded in car accident lawsuits:
- Hospital bills;
- Follow-up healthcare appointment costs;
- Medication costs;
- Rehabilitative therapy costs;
- Lost wages and future lost wages due to a continuing disability;
- Medical devices to assist with injuries or disabilities;
- Pain and suffering; and/or
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
8. Punitive Damages Can be Awarded in Some Cases
Although compensatory damages are often the primary type of compensation a car accident plaintiff will seek in a lawsuit, there are some cases in which a plaintiff also might seek punitive damages. To be clear, punitive damages are not intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses, although the plaintiff can receive the punitive damages payout. Rather, punitive damages are supposed to punish the defendant for especially dangerous or harmful behavior and to deter people from engaging in similarly egregious behavior in the future.
Punitive damages are not common in most car accident lawsuits, but in cases in which a plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s behavior was malicious, willful, or reckless, punitive damages might be appropriate. For example, if a car accident resulted from the defendant’s intentional road rage, it may be possible to seek and obtain punitive damages in a car accident lawsuit.
9. Comparative Fault Can Impact Your Damages Award
What is comparative fault, and how can it impact your car accident lawsuit damages award? Comparative fault is a type of affirmative defense that the defendant might raise in your car accident lawsuit in order to limit his or her liability. To clarify, in raising the issue of comparative fault, the defendant is arguing that the injured plaintiff is also somewhat responsible for the car accident or for the seriousness of the injuries in the collision. Accordingly, the defendant then will argue, the plaintiff should not receive the full amount of damages awarded by the court.
New Mexico’s comparative fault law follows what is known as a pure comparative fault model. In pure comparative fault systems, the plaintiff’s own negligence will not prevent that plaintiff from recovering damages (unless of course the plaintiff is 100% at fault). Instead, the plaintiff’s total damages award will get reduced by that plaintiff’s portion of fault. For instance, if a plaintiff files a car accident lawsuit and is awarded a total compensatory damages award of $500,000 but the defendant successfully proves that the plaintiff is 10% at fault for the collision, that $500,000 damages award will be reduced by 10% (which is $50,000 in this example), and the plaintiff will recover $450,000.
It is important to know a couple of things about comparative fault in New Mexico. First, you should not assume that your damages award will be reduced simply because the defendant raises the issue of comparative fault. You can work with your attorney to prove that you do not bear any responsibility for the accident or your injuries. Second, you should know that New Mexico’s comparative law system is distinct from modified comparative fault laws and pure contributory negligence laws in other states. In those other states, a plaintiff can be barred from all recovery if that plaintiff is at fault in any way (even 1% fault in a pure contributory negligence state will result in the plaintiff being barred from recovery) or if the plaintiff’s fault exceeds the defendant’s fault (in modified comparative fault states).
10. Car Accidents May Result in Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Much too often, car accidents in New Mexico result in fatal injuries. As such, depending upon whether a car accident victim survived her injuries or sustained deadly injuries in a crash, a car accident lawsuit might be a personal injury lawsuit filed by the injured person or a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a personal representative of the deceased’s estate.
There are many similarities between personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits after a car accident, but there are also some critical distinctions. Personal injury lawsuits must be filed by the injured person, while wrongful death lawsuits must be filed by the personal representative of the estate. Wrongful death lawsuits can result in additional compensatory damages being awarded, such as funeral costs. In addition, while both personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have a three-year statute of limitations, the clock on these claims begins to tick at different dates. The statute of limitations on a personal injury car accident lawsuit begins to run on the date of the accident, while the clock will not start for a wrongful death claim until the date of death.
Seek Advice from Our Santa Fe Car Accident Attorneys
Nobody should have to suffer losses from a car accident injury caused by another motorist without obtaining financial compensation from the at-fault party. At Slate Stern Law, we know that monetary compensation cannot undo the physical and psychological pain associated with your injuries and the trauma of the collision, or the grief you are experiencing over the loss of a loved one in a collision. However, we want to emphasize that compensatory damages can allow you to pay for necessary expenses and to hold the responsible party accountable for the harm they have caused.
Our experienced and dedicated Santa Fe car accident lawyers can help you to seek the financial compensation you need and deserve after a collision. Contact Slate Stern Law today for assistance with your New Mexico car accident case.