The New Mexico Legislature passed a law known as the New Mexico Tort Claims Act which has very specific implications on the rights of plaintiffs in civil lawsuits where a state or local entity is a defendant.
The law does two things: waives immunity in certain cases and enacts special rules which apply to those cases where immunity is waived. Those special rules include very strict notice deadlines and tighter statute of limitations requirements. In addition, damage caps are placed on these tort suits.
Damage Caps in NM Tort Claims Act
Caps on liability in tort cases are a hot-button topic across the country. In our state, those caps apply in various circumstances, including all actions against a public employee or a government entity. The amount of the cap depends on the specific harm for which the plaintiff in the case is seeking recovery.
The Tort Claims Act delineates the maximum amount of money that can be recovered for each type of harm. Those limits include:
-$100,000 for damage or destruction of property. This applies to a single occurrence, however, and so repeated property damage may trigger multiple claims.
-$300,000 for past and future medical expenses. This also includes “medically related” expenses.
-$400,000 for most other damages, not counting property damage and medical expenses.
-No claims for exemplary or punitive damage are allowed.
In addition, specific limits may apply in situations where many different people have claims against the public entity arising out of the same incident. For example, if a tragic, mass accident occurs where public negligence was involved, many different people may have been hurt in the accident which arose for a single incident of misconduct. The Tort Claims Act places a limit on the total that the entity has to pay out to all claimants ($750,000). This limit excludes medical or medically-related expenses, however.
It is important to note that comparative fault applies in New Mexico. In many cases, the public entity may be found only partially at fault. As such, they will be required to pay their share of the total injury based on their percentage of fault. The caps only apply to the public entity’s portion of the award, and another party may also be required to provide additional compensation.
Unfortunately, the caps have been upheld time and time again. This means that those who have been seriously injured by governmental action are unable to fully recover for their injuries beyond the caps. Often times, these caps are grossly inadequate for full compensation to victims of governmental negligence.
It is important to discuss these matters with an experienced personal injury attorney. There are often other avenues to recovery that are not subject to these caps.
Remember, the notice rules for suits against the government are incredibly short with the first deadline running in 90 days from the date of the incident. Missing a deadline will bar your claim completely.