Effective Date, Acts and Omissions Under New Mexico Civil Rights Act

The effective date for the New Mexico Civil Rights Act is Jul 1, 2021. More important for the rights of New Mexico’s prisoners and inmates is the prospective application of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. Section 12 of the Act states:

SECTION 12. PROSPECTIVE APPLICATION.–Claims arising solely from acts or omissions that occurred prior to July 1, 2021 may not be brought pursuant to the New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

Acts or Omissions Occurring After July 1, 2021

First, acts means negligent acts of medical care such as giving an inmate the wrong medication. Omissions are much more common in New Mexico prisons and jails and often have much more severe consequences. Omissions include failure to diagnose and failure to treat medical conditions. The failure to diagnose and treat inmate medical conditions is the norm rather than the exception in NMCD facilities in particular with which Collins & Collins, P.C. has significant experience.

Having defined “acts and omissions”, Section 12 seems plain and simple. Only lawsuits for acts and omissions violating the civil rights of inmates that occur after July 1, 2021 may be filed in state court under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

Section 12 seems pretty straightforward, but it is a little more complicated than it appears.

Continuing Reckless Indifference to the Medical Needs of Inmates

Constitutional violations can be continuing in nature. That is the constitutional violations are ongoing.  In the context of NMCD, failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care is routine and daily.  It can go on for weeks, months and even years.

Last Date of Act of Omission Controls

Although there is not yet case-law (court cases) dealing with the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, the law of negligence generally provides that the date of the last occurrence of a negligent act or omission will be the trigger for any deadlines such as the statute of limitations. This principle should apply equally to the act or omission date of civil rights violations.

Chronic Health Conditions

Again, chronic health conditions include illnesses that continue over time such as Hepatitis C, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. These are the most common chronic diseases in New Mexico prisons and jails.

The question will be easily dealt with in cases involving failure to treat chronic conditions. Unfortunately, NMCD and its contractors will medically neglect an inmate with chronic medical conditions for many weeks, months and even years. Under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, the inmate would not be able to sue on the acts or omissions that occur prior to July 1, 2021. However, those acts and omissions will undoubtedly continue well into the future until the inmate’s medical condition has become critical or deadly forcing NMCD and its contractors to transport the inmate a hospital for treatment.

The point is that NMCD and is contractors will not get off the hook simply because they have been grossly reckless and indifferent to the inmate’s medical condition for weeks, months or years prior to July 1, 2021. They will be subject to civil rights claims under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act for recklessly indifferent ongoing failures to diagnose and/or treat chronic medical conditions.

Emergent Medical Conditions

Emergent medical conditions include injuries and illnesses that progress much more rapidly. The two are often related in New Mexico’s prisons and jails. Injuries can occur in innumerable ways in prisons and jails, just as they occur outside those facilities. Some of those injuries may themselves be life-threatening. With others, what would be a minor injury outside a prison or jail can become life-threatening.

For instance, an inmate might fall and break his or her ribs. There is not a lot one can do to repair broken ribs. But broken ribs should be monitored for infection and other adverse health consequences. This is especially true in prisons and jails where infections, including MRSA, run rampant.  As a consequence of broken ribs, the inmate might then develop pneumonia which can become deadly. Pneumonia then leads to extreme risks of contracting COVID-19 .  Even a casual review of the press will illustrate that NMCD took very little action to protect inmates from COVID-19 including inmates such as one suffering from pneumonia.  Due to high susceptibility to contracting the virus and the reckless indifference of NMCD to the dangers of COVID-19 to inmates, the inmate may as a result contract COVID-19 and subsequently die. Thus, the failure to treat the broken ribs prior to July 1, 2021 may lead to a chain of events ending with the inmate’s death after that date.

The same pattern holds true for infections. For instance, an infection can begin with a minor scratch or even a pimple.  Infections may progress very slowly or very rapidly necessitating immediate preventative and effective antibiotics.  Whether the infection is slow or rapidly moving, NMCD and its medical contractors will almost certainly it seems ignore the infection.   These simple infections can be stopped in their tracks with basic medical care. Unfortunately, this is not the course taken in the many cases that Collins & Collins, P.C. has filed lawsuits on or in many others under review.

Instead, these simple infections are allowed to grow life-threatening and far too often are deadly.  In the lawsuits filed by Collins & Collins, P.C. the infections are allowed to spread the bones, spines and even the hearts of NMCD inmates.  As suggested, the progression of infections can take weeks or months which means that the first omissions in violation of the civil rights of NMCD inmates may occur prior to July 1, 2021 but continue past that date.

NMCD and its medical contractors will not get off the hook for the civil rights violations that continue past July 1, 2021 simply because the constitutionally violative acts and omissions have been going on for weeks or months.

Deadlines on Prison Medical Malpractice Claims

The deadlines to trip up prisoner claims are many:

  1. Grievance procedure 5-day deadline,
  2. Tort Claims Act 90-day Tort Claims Notice deadline,
  3. New Mexico Civil Rights 1-year Notice deadline,
  4. Two year statute of limitations on simply medical malpractice claims under the Tort Claims Act, and
  5. Three year statute of limitations on claims under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act

The first two deadlines are the ones that most frequently trip up inmates.  They are extremely short and unforgiving.  It is very important to contact an attorney experienced in prison medical malpractice claims immediately if you or a loved one has suffered serious injury or harm and suspect medical negligence as the cause.

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