Badilla v. Wal-Mart Stores (NMCA 2013)

The case of Badilla v. Wal-Mart Stores addressed the all-important issue of the statute of limitations in New Mexico personal injury lawsuits.  Essentially, the court was called upon to decide if the statute of limitations on a personal injury lawsuit could be extended by joining the claim with other claims enjoying a longer statute of limitations.

Specifically, in this case, the plaintiff filed a personal injury claim outside the statute of limitations.  In an apparent attempt to circumvent the statute of limitations on the personal injury claim, he also asserted breach of warranty claims under the Uniform Commercial Code’s (UCC).    In short, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that the statute of limitations would not be extended since the essence of the claim was a personal injury claim, not a contract claim,

The plaintiff was a tree trimmer.  He bought a pair of boots from Wal-Mart in late 2003.  He wore the boots six days a week for 8 to 12 hours a day for the next 9 months.  The boots began to wear with the soles coming unglued making the boots somewhat dangerous for his line of work.  He did not attempt to return the boots and instead continued wearing them.  He was badly injured in a fall that he blamed on the defective condition of the boots claiming a breach of warranty.

Based upon the alleged defect in the boots and the injuries sustained, he filed a claim for breach of warranty and personal injuries.  The claim was filed outside the 3 year statute of limitations for personal injury claims in New Mexico.  He asserted that the statute of limitation for the breach of warranty should control.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals disagreed affirming the district court’s dismissal of the personal injury claims as time barred by the expiration of the statute of limitations.  The Court noted that there is a long-standing distinction in New Mexico law between tort (personal injury) and contract (UCC/Warranty) claims.  There is a significantly longer statute of limitations on contract claims.

The Court noted that these claims are essentially different in both nature and damages.  Simply redefining a personal injury tort claim to try to fit it into a contract claim is not acceptable.  The Court went to great lengths to explain the decision.    However, at its heart, the logic is very simple.

A personal injury claim has a 3 year statute of limitations. Contract claims have a 4 to 6 year statute of limitations in New Mexico depending on whether they are oral or written.  Joining a personal injury claim with a contract claim or any other claim for that matter will not extend the statute of limitations on the personal injury claims.

The lesson here is that statutes of limitations are quite rigid.  Missing one will bar your claim completely.  There are very few exceptions where the statute of limitations will be extended in New Mexico.  It is quite risky to flirt with the statute of limitations with the expectation that your case might meet an exception.

The Court here makes clear that attempting to join other claims or otherwise redefine the essence of a personal injury claim to gain the benefit of a longer statute of limitations will not be tolerated by the New Mexico Courts.

To Read the Full Opinion from the Court, go here:  Badilla v. Wal-Mart Stores

 

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