There is a misconception that lawsuits against the state and local government.  It is often believed that suits against the State of New Mexico or individual local governments only involve “big picture” cases attacking the constitutionality of a law or claiming violation of an entrenched constitutional right.  This is misleading.  In reality, many “ordinary” accidents implicate state and local public bodies.  

Any time that a public entity is in any way involved in a harmful accident, there is a chance the government body will be named in any subsequent legal action.  It is critical that all those involved in an accident where the government may have any chance of being involved act quickly to protect their rights.

Types of Lawsuits Against State of New Mexico and Localities

Almost every type of legal action that might be filed against a private party can also result in a lawsuit against state or local government.  If you are in a car accident with a school bus driver, police officer, or streets and sanitation worker, the subsequent suit will likely involve the driver’s public employer.  You may have been the victim of a medical error at a hospital run by a public entity or suffer neglect at a publically-run nursing home.  

In addition, sometimes the government entity is involved even in cases where it is not obvious.  For example, a car or trucking accident may be caused by improper road maintenance or problem with road signs.  The government has a responsibility to maintain safe traveling conditions–failure to do so may results in a lawsuit.  

In other cases, the state or local government may be named a defendant in a lawsuit when police officers act inappropriately.  If an officer uses too much force in an arrest, then the injured party may file suit against the public agency for which the officer works to recover for the subsequent harm. 

Government claims involves lawsuits against the state, a county, school districts, an entity run by one of those government, or an employee of those entities.  It is a wide-net.  This means it is very important to identify immediately whether there is a governmental entity that should be put on notice of the claim.  

Unique Notice & Timing Requirements

The most important thing to remember is that time limits are very tight in cases against the state of New Mexico and local governments.  In most cases involving negligence, the public body must receive notice of the claim within ninety days of the conduct giving rise to the claim.  

It is not uncommon for plaintiffs in some cases to still be recovering within that time.  It is easy to push off visiting with a legal professional and missing this three month deadline.  The only exception to the ninety day requirement involves wrongful death claims, where the party usually has six months to give proper notice.  If the notice is not provided, those hurt will lose their right to any legal redress, no matter how egregious the conduct. 

In addition, regular statute of limitations rules still apply to these cases.  That means that, even after the notice is given, an actual lawsuit must be filed within the statute of limitations.  In the case of personal injury claims against the government, the statute of limitations is only two years instead of the standard three associated with most personal injury claims.  

Finally, special rules may also apply which limit the total amount that a plaintiff can recover in these cases–damage caps.  These caps are in fact the most unfair of the special rules applying to personal injury claims against the government.   Caps often make it impossible for a seriously injured plaintiff to recover full compensation for his or her injuries.  

The bottom line is that basic procedural rules are much more beneficial to the government than private defendants.  That make is incumbent upon injured persons to seek out the help of a New Mexico injury lawyer as soon as possible after the incident to learn about their rights and to ensure his or her rights are fully protected.