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NM Supreme Court breathes new life into DOT suit

On behalf of Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C. posted in Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents on Monday, February 4, 2013

A car accident took the lives of three individuals in New Mexico in December 2005. and a recent decision from the state Supreme Court will allow the families of these individuals to have another trial for their lawsuit against the Department of Transportation.

Records indicate that the fatal accident on NM 502 between Pojoaque and Los Alamos, New Mexico, took the lives of three individuals: a 32-year-old man from Española, New Mexico; a 24-year-old man from the same town and a 23-year-old female from Chimayó, New Mexico. The latter individuals were riding in a Ford Probe while the 32-year-old was driving a Chevrolet Caprice.

Authorities said that the 32-year-old was driving in the center turn lane of NM 502 when he lost control of his vehicle. This may have been due to the fact that the lane he was driving in was covered with crushed red volcanic ash, also known as pumice. Authorities believe that this caused the vehicle to skid into oncoming traffic and collide head-on with the Ford Probe as it traveled westbound. The 23-year-old woman had been carrying a child for more than eight months at the time of her death.

It was discovered that the 32-year-old man had drugs and alcohol in his system at the time of the accident and was driving erratically before the crash. Family members of the occupants of the Ford Probe filed a lawsuit over the incident, not against the 32-year-old man but against the DOT. According to the suit, the state agency was liable for allowing sand or gravel to remain in the roadway and for not erecting concrete barriers between the lanes of traffic at this part of NM 502, unlike other stretches of it.

A district court found that the DOT was not responsible because it could not be held liable for the design of a roadway. A court of appeals decision upheld the ruling, but the state Supreme Court overturned these decisions because it believed that the issues at hand were a matter of maintenance, not design. The case will head back to the district court sometime in the future.

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, "Justices send fatal crash case against DOT back to District Court," Tom Sharpe, Jan. 31, 2013