Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court

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The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico certified a question of New Mexico law to the state Supreme Court. The question centered on whether a worker injured in the course of employment by a co-worker operating an employer owned motor vehicle was a person “legally entitled to recover damages” under his employer’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Andrew Vasquez was killed at the workplace after being struck by a steel beam that fell off of a forklift during the course of his employment at Coronado Wrecking and Salvage. A coworker operating the forklift had jumped off to check whether the steel beam being lifted was secure, leaving the forklift unattended as the steel beam slid off of the forks, striking and killing Vasquez. Plaintiff, Vasquez’s estate, subsequently collected workers’ compensation benefits from Coronado’s workers’ compensation carrier. Related to the forklift accident, Plaintiff also collected uninsured motorist benefits under Vasquez’s own automobile insurance policy.The certified question from the district court arose from an alleged discontinuity among the plain language of New Mexico’s Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the Uninsured Motorist statute, and the New Mexico Court’s case law. Because the WCA provided the exclusive remedy for an employee injured in a workplace accident by an employer or its representative, the employee was not legally entitled to recover damages from the uninsured employer tortfeasor under the Uninsured Motorist statute. The Court therefore answered the certified question in the negative. View "Vasquez v. American Cas. Co. of Reading" on Justia Law

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The questions certified to the Supreme Court by the Court of Appeals pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 34-5-14(C) (1972), required the Court to determine whether the primary or the secondary underinsured motorist (UIM) insurer, if either, should be given the statutory offset for the tortfeasor’s liability coverage. "[T]he short answer to the certified question is that neither the primary nor the secondary insurers are directly awarded the offset because under existing case law, the offset is applied before any UIM insurer is required to pay UIM benefits." View "State Farm v. Safeco Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned the construction of a single word, "sudden," within a pollution exclusion clause in a series of liability insurance policies barring coverage for certain damages unless the events causing those damages were "sudden and accidental" (an issue of first impression in New Mexico). Concluding that "sudden" lacks a single clear meaning, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that the word unambiguously signifies "quick, abrupt, or a temporarily short period of time. . . .Under well-established principles of insurance law," the Court construed this ambiguity in favor of the insured, Petitioner United Nuclear Corporation, and interpreted the term "sudden" in the insurance policies at issue in this dispute to mean "unexpected." the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "United Nuclear Corp. v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Through its opinion in this case, the Supreme Court addressed an exception in the New Mexico Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) that permitted compensation for injuries incurred in travel by employees when those injuries "[arose] out of and in the course of employment." Eloy Doporto, Jr., Mike Lucas, Jose Turrubiates, and Pete Rodriguez (collectively, the Workers), employed by Permian Drilling Corporation (Permian) and insured by American Home Assurance, were involved in an automobile accident while traveling to their work site, resulting in the death of Doporto and injuries to the others.  Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the injuries suffered by the Workers arose out of and in the course of their employment because the travel was mutually beneficial to employees and employer and the Workers encountered special hazards unique to their employment while traveling, thus rendering the Workers "traveling employees" whose injuries are compensable under the Act.