There are very few events in life that rival the emotional and financial devastation that can occur as a result of a loved one’s untimely death. When that death results from a wrongful act or the negligent or reckless conduct of someone else, there is something that can be done. The New Mexico Wrongful Death Act provides a means for surviving family and friends to hold the wrongdoer responsible for the death and accountable for the emotional and financial devastation they have caused. A negligent or reckless person or corporation can not escape liability and civil justice because their victim is now dead and unable to bring a lawsuit. That is the power of the Wrongful Death Act – ensuring that deceased victims have a voice in our community and the wrongdoer can be held responsible. If you have found yourself in this difficult situation, Albuquerque injury attorney Matthew Vance, at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., can help you seek justice on your loved one’s behalf. Call the Law Office of Matthew Vance at (505) 242-6267 or contact us online and ask for a free, confidential consultation.Bringing a Wrongful Death Claim in New Mexico
When someone, including a business or corporation, is negligent, reckless, or willfully causes the death of someone, they can be held responsible for their actions and accountable for the harms and losses they have caused. The ability to seek civil justice does not die with the victim. The New Mexico Wrongful Death Act, (§ 41-2-1 N.M.S.A. 1978), provides that whenever the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another and the deceased victim would have had a right to sue the wrongdoer, if they had not been killed, then, a civil justice action can still be brought against the wrongdoer for civil liability and damages.
Every wrongful death action shall be brought by a personal representative of the deceased person. (§ 41-2-3 N.M.S.A. 1978). The personal representative is appointed under the wrongful death act by a New Mexico district court. The personal representative may be a spouse, parent, child, or other individual named in the deceased person’s will or estate planning documents. The personal representative appointed under the wrongful death act may be different from the personal representative appointed under the probate code. If someone has been appointed as a personal representative under the probate code, that does not automatically mean they have been appointed as a personal representative under the Wrongful Death Act. The two actions are distinct. In fact, the proceeds of any judgment obtained as the result of a wrongful death case are not liable for any debt of the deceased.
Many times a wrongful death case is pursued as a negligence cause of action. For example in an automobile accident or trucking accident, a careless or reckless defendant driver may have violated the rules of the road, which lead to a crash and the death of another person. The death may not have been intended, but it certainly was preventable. In those cases, the personal representative must be able to prove a case of negligence against the defendant. To show negligence, four elements are necessary: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Each element must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. In most ordinary circumstances, the duty of care is defined as acting as carefully as an ordinarily careful person would under like or similar circumstances. A breach would be any conduct that fails to meet this standard. Because the personal representative or plaintiff in a wrongful death case has the burden of proof, it is important for someone to begin investigating and preserving evidence as quickly as possible after such a tragic event so that the negligent or reckless defendant can be held fully responsible and accountable. Unfortunately after a death has occurred, family and friends are understandably focused on grief and recovery. Attorney Matt Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance P.C. can help - (505) 242-6267 or contact us.
The person or business that negligently, recklessly, or willfully causes the death of someone can be found liable and be held accountable for their actions through an award of monetary damages. (§ 41-2-3 N.M.S.A. 1978). A jury in a wrongful death case may award such damages, compensatory and punitive, as they deem fair and just. Juries take into consideration the financial or economic injury resulting from the death to the surviving statutory beneficiaries entitled to the judgment, and the mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act, neglect or default. Damage claims can be brought for; the value of the deceased’s life, lost earnings, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, loss of guidance and counseling, loss household services, and other compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are meant to pay bills or make up for harms caused. In addition, punitive damages can be sought where the conduct of the wrongdoer was reckless or willful. Punitive damages are monetary damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer for their reckless or willful conduct, specifically deter the wrongdoer from doing it again, and generally deter others from acting in a way similar to the way the wrongdoer did when they acted to cause the death of the deceased. Punitive damages allow the opportunity to ensure the safety of others moving forward.
If a judgment or settlement is obtained in a wrongful death action, the money recovered is distributed to the statutory beneficiaries – a list of people identified under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act. (§ 41-2-3 N.M.S.A. 1978). Statutory beneficiaries include the deceased’s spouse, child, father, mother, brother, sister, or child or children of the deceased’s child. Generally the distribution will proceed along that order. If there is a surviving spouse and no child, then the settlement or award goes to the spouse. If there is a surviving spouse and a child or grandchild, then one-half would go to the surviving spouse and the remaining one-half of the settlement or award would go to the children and grandchildren, the grandchildren taking by right of representation. If the deceased did not have a husband or wife, but did have a child or grandchild, then the settlement or award would go to such child and grandchild by right of representation. If the deceased was a minor, did not have children and was unmarried, then the settlement or award would go to the father and mother who shall have an equal interest; if either of them is dead, then to the survivor. If there is no father, mother, husband, wife, child or grandchild, then to a surviving brother or sister, if there are any. If there are no kindred then we would look to the Probate Code to determine how the money is to be distributed.
Wrongful death lawsuits, like other personal injury cases, are subject to filing deadlines called statutes of limitations. (§ 41-2-2 N.M.S.A. 1978). Generally, every action instituted under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act must be brought within three years after the cause of action accrues. The cause of action accrues as of the date of death, which can be different from the date of the negligent, reckless, or other wrongful conduct. Failing to timely file usually results in the dismissal of an otherwise valid lawsuit. In addition to the statute of limitations applicable to wrongful death cases, a particular claim may also have other procedural requirements that must be complied within a timely fashion, such as giving a tort claims notice to a public entity in a governmental tort liability action. Every case is different depending on the persons or corporations involved, the bad actors involved, and the causes of action involved. Albuquerque attorney Matthew Vance can discuss the unique circumstances of your situation.Explore Your Options with an Albuquerque Personal Injury Attorney
If your family is suffering because of a loved one’s wrongful death, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. It will be important to avoid any delay in investigating the accident or incident, securing documents pertaining to the resulting costs and losses, and negotiating with insurance companies regarding the many issues that may arise. After a fatal truck accident or another devastating event in the Albuquerque area, consult injury lawyer Matthew Vance for guidance on your options. Call the Law Office of Matthew Vance at (505) 242-6267 or contact us online and ask for a free, confidential consultation. We also represent victims and their families in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, Alamogordo, Silver City, and Carlsbad, among other cities in New Mexico.