Liability of Negligent Family Member Driver to Other Family Member Passengers in an Auto Accident

New Mexico Issues can be a Complicated MazeInsurance issues in New Mexico auto accidents can get pretty confusing. There are a number of potentially overlapping issues that can create a maze for those injured in a car accident. This is never more true than when a passenger is injured in an car accident caused or partially caused by the passenger’s spouse or other family member.

Several Insurance Coverage Issues in Family Member Passenger Injury Cases 

The first issue will be whether the other driver was negligent in causing the accident. This will lead to questions regarding insurance coverage. In New Mexico, insurance coverage is often lacking. Many are either uninsured or underinsured.

This then will typically lead to the question of the family’s uninsured/underinsured coverage. This coverage would be related to the injuries caused by the uninsured or underinsured driver.

However, it may also lead to the issue of the family member driver’s liability coverage if that driver was at fault, either totally or partially. This can lead to some interesting coverage issues. It can also lead to some interesting pleading/allegations between different courts and different parties.

Wife Passenger Injured in Truck Accident – Alleged that Husband Partially at Fault

We don’t usually discuss out of state cases here but a recent case from the Mississippi Supreme Court raises a number of these issues. In that case, the passenger was the wife of the driver of the vehicle in which she was traveling. There was a fatal accident involving a rear-end collision by a truck. The husband was killed and the wife suffered severe and permanent injuries.

A federal court lawsuit was filed on behalf of the deceased husband and the injured wife. The trucking company defendant alleged, and the plaintiffs denied that the husband was at fault. The case survived summary judgment and was subsequently settled.

Injured Wife Sues the Estate/Insurance Company of Deceased Husband

Then the case got more interesting. The injured wife then sued the husband’s estate for his role in the accident. It was discovered during the federal suit that the husband had at least partially caused the accident by pulling into traffic at a slow rate of speed.

Thus, the injured wife was taking a position seemingly contrary to her original position that the truck driver alone was at fault. The trial judge dismissed the case on summary judgment due to the contrary positions based on judicial estoppel.

Though the decision was fairly comprehensive, in a nutshell, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed basically holding that the positions were not entirely inconsistent since the federal court found that factual issues existed regarding fault for the accident.

Comparative Negligence of Truck Driver and Husband

For some, this may come as a surprise and may seem somewhat unfair. Apparently, it is not in Mississippi, and not in New Mexico. Although there may have been other ways of reaching a similar outcome in terms of how the case was filed, the outcome was in terms of liability on the husband’s estate (insurance) is perfectly legitimate and fair.

New Mexico recognizes comparative negligence, as does Mississippi. This means that if both drivers are at fault and one is injured, the injured driver may recover for his or her injuries in proportion to the other driver’s fault. The same would hold true for a passenger. This would include a spouse or other family member.

Liability for Family Member Negligence Covered by New Mexico Insurance Policies

This may seem odd or even unsavory that one family member is suing another. However, the suit is really against the insurance policy of the driver. This throws many injured persons off a little, often to their severe detriment since the injured person and the family, which often includes the at-fault driver will suffer the financial consequences of not seeking recovery for the injuries.

The federal court settlement most certainly accounted for the comparative negligence of the husband. One may rest assured that this was factored into the settlement. The husband’s insurance in New Mexico would clearly covered injuries to passengers including family members. The question would be as apparently was in this case the respective comparative negligence of the husband and the truck driver.

To that end, the wife must still has to go back to trial court to prove husband partially at fault, assuming the insurance company forces her to do this. The insurance company will pay only for that portion of the injuries called for under the policy of insurance. This is what they were paid to do and it is anything but unfair to hold them to it.


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