The wrongful death of a loved one can be emotionally and financially devastating to a family. Wrongful death laws have been created to protect and compensate the family for these tremendous losses. The Albuquerque personal injury attorneys at Collins & Collins, P.C. are here to help you both understand and navigate the wrongful death laws in New Mexico.
Legal Issues Can Be Complex and Challenging
Some of the legal requirements can be complex and sometimes a little overwhelming in light of all the other much more important things that a family must deal with upon the loss of a loved one.
The last thing that family members want to have to do following the death of a loved one is to deal with legal issues. However, it is important that these be addressed in a timely manner to insure that justice is done for both the deceased loved one and the surviving family members.
Deadlines Must Not Be Missed and Some Come Early!
There are numerous essential first steps in a wrongful death claims. The first and most important step is to make sure that you do not miss any deadlines. Despite the enormous loss associated with the wrongful death of a loved one, deadlines begin to run on wrongful death claims just as deadlines on all personal injury claims.
The deadlines on New Mexico wrongful death claims are very rigid. There are extremely few exceptions. It would be quite hazardous to believe that a deadline might apply to your case due to your circumstances. Missing a deadline will bar the claims completely. And some of these deadlines come up very quickly. For instance, in claims against the government, the first important deadline comes up only 6 months following the wrongful death.
There are a number of other important steps to take as well which you can read more on at our section Important First Steps in a New Mexico Wrongful Death claim. These are essential first steps that should be taken immediately to protect the rights of both the deceased and the surviving family.
Again, meeting deadlines and taking other necessary steps in a wrongful death claim can be complicated and somewhat burdensome, particularly in light of all the other issues facing a family in this situation. It is advisable to seek the assistance of any attorney as soon as possible to insure that all necessary steps are taken.
Wrongful Death Law and Process in New Mexico
In New Mexico, wrongful death claims are based in statute and in tort. What this means is that there is both a statutory basis as well as a common law basis for wrongful death claims in New Mexico.
In practice, this means that the personal injury law, process and procedure will govern for the most part in a New Mexico wrongful death action. However, there are also specific and firm requirements under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act (the Act).
We will address both briefly below. Keep in mind that this is only a brief overview and these cases tend to get quite complicated due to the magnitude of the loss and damages to the deceased and the surviving family.
Tort (Personal Injury Law) Basis for Wrongful Death Claims
Specifically, wrongful death claims follow the law, process and procedure of other personal injury claims. This makes sense since wrongful death actions may arise out of any number of situations which in the absence of death would give rise to personal injury claims.
By way of example, wrongful death may result from any number of situations such as auto accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, construction accidents, defective products, dangerous business premises, dangerous homes (as a guest), and so on. In fact, without enumerating them all, any personal injury type claim can turn into or begin as a wrongful death claim.
The law, process and procedure will vary depending upon the type of claim that is involved. For instance, the law on auto accidents, medical malpractice and work injuries vary enormously between them as do other areas of personal injury law. However, there are common threads as well.
In fact, there will be overlap much of the time on the principles, particularly in the area of injuries and damages. However, it is extremely important to keep in mind that each has its own unique requirements (including deadlines, expert needs, damage caps and more) which must be followed strictly in order to fully recover on the claims.
Statutory Basis for Wrongful Death Claims in New Mexico
In addition, wrongful death claims are addressed by statute in the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act. The Act covers quite a bit of ground and much of which will not be covered here. However, the initial step of the appointment of a personal representative will be addressed since this is a critical first step without which the claims cannot proceed at all. This applies even if the case is settled, and it is not necessary to file a lawsuit.
Under the Act, the surviving spouse, child, or parent may bring an action on behalf of the deceased. In order for a surviving family member to bring a wrongful death claim, a personal representative must first be appointed under the Act.
The personal representative is often a surviving family member. This would generally be the surviving spouse, one of the children or parents. However, the personal representative need not be a family member and there are occasions where it is best to have a third party Trustee act as the personal representative. This might be done for a number of reasons.
Appointed of the personal representative allows the personal representative to handle a number of critical tasks on behalf of the deceased. Keep in mind that the surviving family members may have claims of their own. However, the personal representative alone has authority under the Wrongful Death Act to act on behalf of the deceased.
Do Not Delay!
As mentioned above, there are a few extremely important deadlines that must not be missed in a wrongful death action. These may vary depending on the circumstances.
It is very important to contact an attorney experienced with wrongful death claims as soon as possible to avoid missing an important deadline while also taking other necessary step to achieve justice for you and your loved one.