Government Employee Not Entitled to Immunity after Failing to Place Warning Signs Near Construction Zone

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a construction accident case involving the question of whether the defendant – a government employee – was entitled to official immunity. The case presents important issues for New Mexico personal injury plaintiffs who have been hurt due to the negligence of a government employee or agency.

ExcavatorThe Facts of the Case

A husband and wife were traveling on a rural highway when they quickly came upon a parked construction vehicle. The wife, who was driving the van at the time, was unable to avoid a collision, and both plaintiffs were injured as a result. It was later established that the plaintiffs were traveling within the speed limit, and the weather was clear at the time.

The construction vehicle was similar to a back hoe, and it was parked on the road behind a small pile of dirt that had been dug up to access a leaking pipe below the road’s surface. The construction worker responsible for the job had previously been told by his supervisor to place warning signs in front of an active work zone. However, no one specifically told the worker to place warning signs that day.

The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the construction worker, claiming that his failure to place warning signs in advance of the work zone resulted in the collision. The construction worker argued that he was entitled to government immunity because at the time of the accident, he was engaged in official government business that required that he exercise discretion.

The court ultimately concluded that, since the worker’s supervisor had told him to place warning signs in the past, placing the signs was a ministerial act. As a result, the worker was not entitled to immunity, and the plaintiffs’ case was permitted to proceed.

New Mexico Cases Against Government Employees and Agencies

The New Mexico Tort Claims Act (NMTCA) governs all cases filed against the government. Interestingly, the NMTCA specifically abolishes the designations of “discretionary” and “ministerial” acts, and instead it relies on a specific set of enumerated exceptions to the general rule that government actors are entitled to immunity.

For example, under New Mexico Statutes section 41-4-11, official immunity will not attach “during the construction . . . of any bridge, culvert, highway, roadway, street, alley, sidewalk or parking area.” Thus, had this case been brought in New Mexico, it is likely that official immunity would not have been a significant issue. Of course, even when immunity does not attach, the plaintiff must still establish that the government actor was negligent in order to prevail.

Have You Been Injured in a Construction Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico truck accident in or around a construction zone, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated team of New Mexico personal injury attorneys at the Fine Law Firm has extensive experience assisting injured clients and their families with seeking the compensation they need and deserve. We provide free consultations to accident victims and operate on a contingent-fee basis, meaning we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Call 505-889-FINE to schedule your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

How Witness Credibility Comes into Play in New Mexico Personal Injury Cases, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, February 20, 2018.

Court Parses Out Liability in Multi-Defendant Truck Accident Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, February 5, 2018.