A recent ruling following settlements arising from a fatal New Mexico car accident discusses the recovery that a plaintiff can be awarded against a defendant who defaults.
The plaintiff in the case was the mother of a son who had been killed in a motor vehicle accident. A wrongful death case was filed on her behalf in New Mexico state court. As part of that litigation the plaintiff, who lived in Mexico, gave a power of attorney to her uncle. He allegedly agreed to act for her by accepting any money that she was entitled to as part of the litigation. He was to keep half of the money and send her the other half.
The plaintiff alleged in a subsequent federal court complaint that her uncle had misappropriated over two hundred thousand dollars in settlement money that was wired from the plaintiff’s wrongful death counsel to him. The defendant did not file an answer to the federal court complaint or move to dismiss it although he had been served. The clerk of court made an entry of default, and the defendant did not respond to this either, according to the court’s discussion of the history of the case. The court ordered supplemental briefing and directed the plaintiff to provide the evidence in support of her case to the defendant so he would have another opportunity to respond. He did not respond, and the court considered what award to the plaintiff would be appropriate.
The court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to judgment in her favor with respect to the defendant’s liability for breach of contract and fraud, and that there was not a basis for a claim under the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act, which requires the allegedly fraudulent acts to have been performed in the regular course of the defendant’s trade or commerce. After addressing liability issues, the court then turned to damages.
The calculation of compensatory damages was clear cut. The plaintiff was entitled to the amounts allegedly misappropriated by her relative, in total over two hundred thousand dollars. By way of punitive damages the court awarded half of the amount of compensatory damages, over one hundred thousand dollars. The court also awarded the plaintiff costs, to cover the cost of filing the complaint and serving process, less than $500 in total. The court did not consider whether the plaintiff was entitled to pre-judgment interest as she had not sought it, but did award post-judgment interest. The court declined to award attorney fees, however, noting in the United States the American Rule applies pursuant to which each party typically pays its own attorney fees.
If you, a family member, or other loved one has been injured in an New Mexico car accident, you may be entitled by law to receive a financial recovery. Recovering personal injury damages can help give people the financial benefit of lost wages, and help cover expenses caused by the accident. We are here to help. To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, 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) 242-6267 or send us a message online.
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