Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a wrongful death lawsuit arising out of a tragic train accident. After hearing the defendant’s appeal, the court affirmed a $20 million verdict in favor of the victim’s wife. The case is important for New Mexico personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates the types of issues that can arise in New Mexico wrongful death cases when each party claims the other was at fault.
A woman filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a railway company, after a train hit her husband’s pickup truck at a railroad crossing. The woman alleged that the railway company was negligent because it did not trim the vegetation around the crossing, which resulted in her husband being unable to see the oncoming train. In addition, the woman filed a respondeat superior claim against the railway company, alleging that its employees were also negligent because they did not stop or slow the train. Specifically, the woman also alleged that the company was negligent because it removed certain sight tables from its engineering instructions. These instructions, the plaintiff claimed, were intended to serve as guidelines on railroad crossings to provide motorists with warnings.
The Case’s Procedural Posture
The trial jury found in favor of the woman and apportioned 15% of the fault to the railway company, 80% of the fault to the employees, and 5% of the fault to the victim. In total, the woman was awarded $20 million. The defendant appealed the verdict on several grounds, but ultimately the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s award of damages.