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Wrongful Death Claims: What if the Victim Was Partially at Fault?

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Personal injury cases can quickly become complicated, and the same holds true for wrongful death claims. One circumstance that can quickly cause confusion and lead to missed opportunities for compensation is when the injured party contributes to the accident.

Courts throughout the country handle the issue of contributory negligence in one manner or another. The way in which the state addresses contributory negligence in ordinary car crash cases is the same way the court will handle the issue if it appears in a wrongful death lawsuit.

How New Mexico Handles Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is a situation in which the victim’s negligence contributes to the overall picture of the accident. When this occurs, states are free to decide how that might impact an injured party’s right to recovery, if at all. 

Every state’s laws hold that contributory negligence affects the victim’s right to recover damages in some way. However, there are differences between the states as to what precise effect contributory negligence has.

On one end of the spectrum, there are states that bar victims from recovering any damages if they contribute to their own injuries in any way. They do not care if they were also injured due to another’s negligence. 

Most state laws are not so absolute. While they do stipulate that any contributory negligence will reduce the compensation you are eligible to receive, they still allow you to recover some damages if you are not the primary cause of the accident.

New Mexico finds itself in a third group of states that follow what is known as a pure comparative negligence model. This model says that no matter how much your own negligence contributed to your accident and injuries, you retain the right to seek damages. However, the damages you are entitled to would be reduced in proportion to the role your negligence played in the accident.

For example, suppose that you were hurt in a car accident at an intersection and sustained $100,000 in damages. Because you were not paying attention to the road, though, the jury determined that you were 50 percent responsible for the crash. In this situation, you would be eligible to recover $50,000 in damages from the other party.

Pure Comparative Negligence and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

The issue of a decedent’s contributory negligence would impact a wrongful death recovery in the same manner. The amount recoverable from an at-fault party whose negligence led to a loved one’s death would be reduced in proportion to the amount of fault attributable to the decedent.

Suppose again that your loved one perished in a car accident at an intersection. They sustained $100,000 in final medical expenses prior to passing away, but a jury determined the decedent was texting on their phone at the time of the crash.

As a result, your loved one was deemed 50 percent responsible for the crash. The person bringing the wrongful death statute would then only be able to recover $50,000 in damages.

Get Help with Your New Mexico Wrongful Death Suit

A wrongful death lawsuit is your family’s opportunity to hold a negligent person or entity responsible for the damage their actions caused in taking the life of your loved one. There are numerous situations and circumstances that could potentially limit your family’s right to recovery. 

The advice of an attorney familiar with New Mexico’s personal injury laws and wrongful death statutes is often needed to ensure you receive full and fair compensation. 

If your loved one has been killed by the negligence of another anywhere within New Mexico, including Roswell and Santa Fe, contact Hunt Law for experienced and compassionate assistance.