Personal Injury & Wrongful Death

The Role of a New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer

The world of law is complex and multifaceted, home to a vast array of specializations.

Personal injury is a legal term referring to the harm suffered by an individual with respect to his body, mind, or emotions, and includes harm to one’s reputation or business interests. The term is often used to refer to a type of tort claim in which the person bringing the claim or lawsuit has suffered harm to their body or mind. To help navigate this often complex and emotional area of law, we turn to personal injury lawyers. The experienced attorneys at Prince, Schmidt, Baca & Woods, LLP were all born and raised in New Mexico and specialize in the legal field of personal injury law. But what exactly do these legal professionals do?

Personal Injury Law

Personal injury law concerns instances where a person’s body, mind, or emotions are injured, typically due to someone else’s negligence or carelessness. The damage can arise from various scenarios, including car accidents, slip or trip and falls resulting from dangerous conditions on property owned by another—also known as premises liability—defective products, workplace accidents, police misconduct, dramshop or alcohol liability, construction site accidents, assault and battery, defamation of character by libel or slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, bystander accidents resulting in negligent infliction of emotional distress, and medical malpractice.

The Role of Personal Injury Lawyers

A personal injury lawyer, or plaintiff’s lawyer, is a legal professional who provides representation to those who have been injured, physically or psychologically, due to the negligence of another person, company, government agency, or any corporate or business entity. These lawyers specialize in an area known as tort law, which includes both negligent and intentional acts.

Key Responsibilities

1. Case Evaluation

The initial responsibility of a personal injury lawyer involves a thorough assessment of the case. This evaluation determines whether the client has a legitimate claim and how best to proceed. The attorney will review the details of the incident, gather evidence, interview witnesses, identify all relevant sources of insurance coverage, and consult experts if necessary. The universe of insurance coverage is highly complex, and the availability of insurance often determines the value of a claim. The lawyers at Prince, Schmidt, Baca & Woods, LLP are highly trained and experienced in identifying all sources of insurance that may cover and pay a claim, and in litigating insurance coverage issues if an insurer declines to provide coverage.

2. Legal Advice

Once a personal injury lawyer takes on a case, they will provide their client with legal advice about their rights, explain how the legal process works, and provide a realistic expectation of potential outcomes. They also advise their clients on whether it is more prudent to settle out of court, attend informal or formal mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution, or proceed to a jury trial on the merits.

3. Representation in Court

If the case goes to court, the personal injury lawyer represents the client, presenting the case in the best light possible. This responsibility includes preparing for trial by promulgating and assisting clients with answering written discovery such as interrogatories and requests for production of documents, formulating legal arguments, drafting motions, setting litigation deadlines, presenting evidence, and deposing and cross-examining witnesses.

4. Negotiation

Before any case goes to trial, a personal injury lawyer will usually try to negotiate a settlement with the defendant or an insurance company. The lawyer will fight for a settlement that covers a client’s medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, lost enjoyment of life, punitive damages, and any other damages that the client suffered and to which the client is legally entitled.

5. Paperwork and Legal Documentation

Legal cases can involve considerable volumes of paperwork, including filing claims with insurance companies, requesting medical records, submitting letters of representation to prevent others from contacting the client, drafting settlement demand letters, filing court documents, and managing ongoing documentation throughout a case. A personal injury lawyer handles all these tasks, ensuring every document is completed and submitted accurately in a timely manner and that the client’s case files are well organized and maintained.

A personal injury lawyer’s goal is to help clients secure fair compensation for their losses. These may include loss of earnings capacity, pain and suffering, medical expenses, emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship, and others.

The role of a personal injury lawyer is complex and multifaceted, requiring knowledge specific to the field, empathy, and determination. Whether you have been in a car accident, suffered a slip and fall, or been the victim of medical malpractice or civil rights violations, the professionals at Prince, Schmidt, Baca & Woods, LLP are there to guide you through the legal process, seeking justice and compensation for your injuries. We are a boutique firm that has recovered millions of dollars in settlements for our clients throughout New Mexico while providing the personal touch only available at a local, family-oriented law firm.

New Mexico Wrongful Death

The New Mexico Wrongful Death Act is a vital piece of legislation in the field of tort law pertaining to cases in which an individual’s death has been caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another. Encompassed within Sections 41-2-1 through 41-2-4 of the New Mexico Statutes Annotated (NMSA) 1978, the act allows relatives or other representatives of a deceased person to pursue a legal action seeking compensation for damages resulting from the untimely death. The attorneys at Prince, Schmidt, Baca & Woods, LLP have successfully handled hundreds of wrongful death cases over their many years of practice in the State of New Mexico.

History of Wrongful Death Claims in New Mexico

At common law, no cause of action for personal injuries resulting in death survived in favor of any personal representative of a deceased person. The right to recover damages for wrongful death was a statutory invention of the New Mexico State Legislature, beginning with the passage of the Wrongful Death Act in 1882. The first version of the statute provided for the recovery of damages for wrongful death by various statutory beneficiaries, but only if the beneficiary suffered a financial loss because of the death. The 1882 statute was amended in 1891. Among other things, the 1891 Act provided that the statutory action was to be brought in the name of the “personal representative” of the decedent, rather than in the name of specified beneficiaries, and permitted the representative to recover economic and non-economic damages, including for the pain and suffering of the decedent and the value of his or her life. The Wrongful Death Act has since evolved to permit any family member as well as any licensed attorney, to bring a death action under the statute on behalf of a group of beneficiaries designated by the statute.

Definition of Wrongful Death

Under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act, a wrongful death is defined as a death that occurs due to the “wrongful act, neglect, or default of another” person or entity. This broad definition includes a variety of situations, such as deaths resulting from car accidents, medical malpractice, criminal acts, product liability cases, or other forms of negligence or intentional misconduct. If a family or household member dies as the result of negligence or other wrongful acts, it is critically important to consult with a personal injury attorney experienced in handling wrongful death claims immediately, as the area of law is rife with pitfalls and challenges that are difficult for laypersons to navigate.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

A wrongful death claim under the New Mexico law is not filed by the family members of the decedent directly, but through a personal representative of the deceased’s Wrongful Death Estate. The Wrongful Death Estate is a completely different entity than the decedent’s Probate Estate or Trust and is handled separately from any matters governed by the New Mexico Probate Code. The personal representative of the Wrongful Death Estate is appointed by a court to act on behalf of the Estate. The best person to have appointed as the personal representative is a strategic matter, as the decision may impact the county and venue (trial court) in which the lawsuit is heard and decided. 

The personal representative files the wrongful death lawsuit for the benefit of the deceased’s statutory beneficiaries. These beneficiaries typically include the surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren. In the absence of these, the deceased’s parents or siblings may be considered beneficiaries.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

The purpose of the Wrongful Death Act is to compensate the statutory beneficiaries for the “value of the life had it continued” and to hold the negligent actor accountable. The Act therefore allows for the recovery of both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those that can be quantified in financial terms and include funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses related to the deceased’s final illness, injury, or hospitalization, and lost income and benefits that the deceased would likely have earned had they lived.

Non-economic damages are more subjective and compensate for the loss of companionship, guidance, and consortium suffered by the deceased’s loved ones. In New Mexico, unlike in some other states, there is no limitation on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death suit. Accordingly, it is important to retain a lawyer skilled in handling wrongful death cases to maximize the recovery to the beneficiaries, identifying all sources of available insurance coverage, and joining any corporate entity that may share responsibility for the death, vicariously.

Statute of Limitations

New Mexico law imposes a time limit, known as a statute of limitations, on filing wrongful death claims. In most cases, the personal representative has three years from the date of the individual’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there can be exceptions to this rule, depending on the specifics of the case, making it important to seek legal advice promptly when considering a wrongful death action.

Understanding the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act is crucial for those who have lost a loved one due to another’s wrongful act or negligence. While no amount of compensation can make up for the loss of a loved one, a wrongful death lawsuit can provide financial relief and a sense of justice to the bereaved family members. Always consult with a qualified and experienced attorney to ensure you navigate these complex legal waters effectively. Prince, Schmidt, Baca & Woods, LLP is a local firm with over 100 years of combined experience, specializing in personal injury, insurance coverage, and wrongful death claims and has recovered millions of dollars for New Mexico families over several decades.

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