In a recent case, the Federal Court for the District of New Mexico ruled against a plaintiff who was injured in an accident with a semi-truck in 2012 and has forbidden the issue of punitive damages from being heard at trial. As a result of this ruling, the plaintiff will be limited, as a matter of law, as to the amount of damages that she can request. Even if the jury wants to give an additional reward to the plaintiff as a result of the intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent behavior of the truck driver, the plaintiff raised the issue of additional damages too late for it to be heard by the jury.
The Accident and Plaintiff’s Claim
In this New Mexico accident lawsuit, the plaintiffs are arguing that the defendant truck driver caused one of the plaintiffs to lose control and then crashed his vehicle into theirs, causing injury to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs did not allege in their initial complaint or subsequent filings that they would seek additional punitive damages against the defendant. They were simply seeking the actual damages that resulted from the defendant’s alleged negligence. Nearly a year after the initial complaint was filed, the plaintiffs alleged, in a final pretrial order, that the defendant should be responsible for punitive damages because of its conduct. By including this claim in the pretrial order, the plaintiffs were attempting to give the jury the opportunity to award them more damages than what they actually suffered, as a way to punish the defendant for its conduct that led to the accident.
How to Allege Punitive Damages and the Court’s Ruling
Punitive damages are allowed in New Mexico accident cases as a way for the jury to punish a defendant for conduct that is so excessive or abhorrent that it must be condemned above and beyond what is required to compensate the plaintiffs for their injuries. In order for a jury to award punitive damages against a defendant, the plaintiff must properly allege such damages throughout the case. To be heard by the jury, an allegation for punitive damages must contain a claim that the defendant “acted maliciously, willfully, recklessly, wantonly, fraudulently, or in bad faith.” In this case, the Court found that the plaintiffs did not allege anything needed to seek punitive damages until they prepared the final pretrial order. The complaint, statement of the issues, and discovery disclosures contained no claim for punitive damages, and the Court therefore decided that the claim within the pretrial order was not made properly. As a result of this finding, the Court denied the plaintiff’s request to give the jury the option of imposing punitive damages against the defendant, and it ordered that the case go to trial on only the issues alleged in the initial complaint.
Someone’s Mistake Resulted in the Plaintiff’s Inability to Seek all the Damages They May be Entitled To.
If the initial complaint or other earlier filings had contained a claim for punitive damages, or even an allegation that the defendants acted maliciously, willfully, recklessly, wantonly, fraudulently, or in bad faith, the Court would have likely allowed the punitive damages issue to be heard by the jury, and the plaintiff may have received a larger award at the conclusion of the case. Because the plaintiff’s early filings did not allege what was needed to seek punitive damages, they have been prevented from receiving any such award. If the plaintiff’s counsel had noticed that the facts of the case could warrant punitive damages earlier in the proceedings, the plaintiff could have received a larger verdict or settlement offer. New Mexico accident cases are not always simple or easy to try, and it is extremely important for a plaintiff to have the best legal team that is available.
Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Accident?
If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, an experienced New Mexico personal injury attorney should be consulted as soon as possible after the accident. The semi-truck accident lawyers at the Fine Law Firm have the skill and experience that are needed to get all aspects of your accident case properly before the court early on in the proceedings. Our attorneys know the ins and outs of New Mexico law, and you will have a good chance of getting all of the award that you are entitled to if you give us the opportunity to try your case. Give us a call at (505) 889-3463 or contact us through our website to discuss your case with us free of charge. We handle many types of New Mexico personal injury cases, including accidents involving semi-trucks, so contact us today to ensure that you have proper representation in your accident case.
More Blog Posts:
Semi-Truck Rear-Ends Car in Horrible Wreck, Two People Tragically Killed, New Mexico Truck Accident Lawyer Blog, May 20, 2014.
Distracted Driver Causes Crash on Interstate 25 That Leaves One Dead, New Mexico Truck Accident Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2014.