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Tractor-Trailer Manufacturer Sued in New Mexico Following Fatal Accident on Route 66

Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.

In a recent ruling applying New Mexico personal injury law, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico denied the defendant tractor-trailer manufacturer summary judgment on most grounds and granted the tractor-trailer manufacturer summary judgment in part.

The underlying litigation was brought following a fatal collision between a car and a tractor-trailer on Route 66. The surviving sister of the woman who was fatally injured in the lawsuit, acting as the personal representative of the woman’s estate, was the plaintiff. She alleged that her sister’s car struck the side of a tractor-trailer that was pulled across both lanes of traffic on Route 66. She further alleged that, during the collision, the car drove under the “under-rode” the tractor-trailer, causing the roof of the vehicle to collapse on her sister’s head and neck, severely injuring her. Her sister later died in the hospital.

The plaintiff asserted claims of strict products liability and negligence against the tractor-trailer manufacturer, and sought compensatory and punitive damages, on the basis that the tractor-trailer her sister’s car collided with was not equipped with a side guard to prevent vehicle under-riding.

The defendant tractor-trailer manufacturer asserted, in support of summary judgment on the products liability claim, that the plaintiff could not establish that its tractor-trailer was unreasonably dangerous. The plaintiff disagreed, and countered with evidence including the defendant’s attempts to design a side under-ride guard for its trailers and the defendant’s filing of a patent for a side under-ride guard in April of 2010. The evidence submitted by the parties to the court also showed that the defendant had installed a side guard protector and had been testing it. Based on its review of the evidence the court concluded that a jury could infer that the danger of under-riding was obvious, foreseeable, common knowledge, and, therefore, unreasonable, rendering the tractor-trailer defective. The court also concluded that, even if New Mexico law requires proof of a feasible alternative design, the plaintiff had come forward with enough evidence to prove the existence of design alternatives—including the defendant’s own blueprints and design plans. Accordingly the court denied the defendant summary judgment on the products liability claim. The court also sided with the plaintiff insofar as the court denied the defendant summary judgment on the negligence claim and declined to dismiss the plaintiff’s punitive damages claim.

The court did, however, rule in favor of the defendant tractor-trailer manufacturer with respect to damages suffered by the daughter of the deceased driver as a result of her mother’s death. Allegedly the daughter refused to submit to questioning by defense counsel, as part of the pretrial discovery process. As a sanction, the court restricted the plaintiff, who was acting for the estate of the mother, from presenting evidence on the damages suffered by the daughter. The court recognized that the ultimate distribution of the estate’s funds was left to the sound discretion of the plaintiff, as estate representative.

If you or someone you love has been hurt in an accident, you may be entitled to receive a monetary award for damages. Being compensated monetarily can help people and their loved ones recover out-of-pocket costs including medical bills and lost wages. Personal injury litigation can be complicated. We can 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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