The Albuquerque Journal reports that vehicular homicide charges have been filed against the BMW driver who allegedly ran a stop sign at high speed, hitting a car and killing two on December 16. While the criminal proceedings are significant, when a driver negligently, recklessly or even aggressively causes an accident that kills another person, he or she may also become the subject of a civil suit for wrongful death or related claims.
A wrongful death action may be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate under New Mexico statute. Damages may be awarded for the value of the victim’s lost life when the death was caused by the “wrongful act, neglect or default” of another. Usually, a wrongful death suit must be filed within three years of the death.
A jury may award “fair and just” money damages: compensatory (to pay for the value of the lost life) and exemplary (to punish the wrongdoer and deter others).
The New Mexico Wrongful Death Act specifies which close relatives are entitled to an award and in what order of preference. If none of them survive the deceased, the award goes to his or her estate.
To determine the value of the life lost the jury can consider the financial injury the death caused to those family members named. Factors to consider are the deceased person’s “age, earning capacity, health, habits and life expectancy,” according to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Financial loss is not required for recoverable loss to have occurred in wrongful death, however. For example, damages are available to a child for loss of the deceased parent’s guidance.
A surviving spouse may sue in a separate action for loss of spousal consortium, meaning for emotional suffering from loss of companionship.
This is a brief introduction to a complex area of law that we will revisit in future postings.
In Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico, the law firm of Giddens & Gatton Law,amp; Jacobus has personal injury attorneys who handle motor vehicle accident cases and can specifically provide advice to injury victims and their families regarding how to proceed in the wake of an accident-related injury.
Contact Giddens & Gatton Law,amp; P.C., at (505) 273-3720 to set up an appointment or visit the firm’s website at giddenslaw.com. Giddens & Gatton Law,amp; P.C., is located at 10400 Academy Road N.E., Suite 350, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.