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New Mexico District Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Case Brought Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

On Behalf of | Apr 11, 2018 | Litigation

The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico has handed down a ruling denying a motion to dismiss a New Mexico personal injury complaint alleging claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The court rejected the defendant’s contention that a waiver signed by the plaintiff should result in the dismissal of her claims.

The plaintiff in this case was a civilian who was injured at a U.S. Air Force Base.  According to the court’s ruling, she had gone there with a group of her coworkers to participate in team building exercises.  One of these exercises involved rappelling down a tower. The plaintiff and her coworkers were each handed a waiver of liability form, with the Sergeant handing them out explaining that the waivers were documents “relieving the Air Force from responsibility for injuries and that the participants had to understand they were taking a risk by rappelling.”

The plaintiff did not recall a discussion of specific risks, including, for example, falling or the safety line not working.  She signed the waiver, took some training after explaining she had no experience, and ascended to the top of the rappelling tower.  She fell and was thereafter moved and assessed.  One of her coworkers then took her to the hospital in an ambulance.

After the accident, the plaintiff sued the United States of America, operator of the Air Force Base, under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  She alleged negligence based on the cause of her fall and the manner in which she was treated following the fall, which included allegations she was moved and emergency personnel were not contacted after she fell.  The United States, as part of its defense against the lawsuit, moved to dismiss, contending that the waiver that the plaintiff signed before rappelling barred her claims and precluded the court’s subject matter jurisdiction.  The plaintiff responded that the waiver was unenforceable as a matter of New Mexico law.

In its analysis, the court reproduced the language of the waiver at issue in its entirety, except for the signature lines.  After discussing precedents, the court concluded that “owing to the breadth of the waiver combined with the non-obviousness of the risks, the waiver did not clearly and unambiguously inform Plaintiff of the risks being assumed” and that the waiver was, therefore, “invalid and unenforceable as a bar to Plaintiff’s negligence claims.”  The court then rejected the argument that it should hold the waiver to be unenforceable on public policy grounds.  Finally, the court rejected the argument that the waiver precluded the court’s subject matter jurisdiction.

The court denied the motion to dismiss, allowing the personal injury case to continue to proceed.

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident, there may be grounds for an award of damages.  In some cases, punitive damages are available in addition to compensatory damages.  An award of monetary damages can assist people who are injured and their families with the medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident.  To understand more about your case, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached at 505-445-1604 or online.

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