Personal Injury in New Mexico
New Mexico is a tort insurance state. That means if you are judged at fault in an accident, you and your insurance carrier are responsible for the costs incurred to all parties involved. This is just one of the reasons you are required by law to carry a minimum level of liability insurance.
This insurance will cover part or all of the damage and personal injury suffered by the victims of the accident. Physical damage is pretty easy to assess. Every minute detail of a vehicle has a price attached to it. Thus, a mechanic can put an estimate on the damage and the labor costs need to fix it. Even if a vehicle is deemed nonrepairable or "totaled," there are levels of fair monetary compensation that are easily established.
But personal injury is something altogether different and much more convoluted. That is why this area of law is the domain of so many lawyers. Of course, these are also the lawyers that fall prey to stereotypes. Everyone has heard of the "ambulance chaser," and few days go by without someone slamming a fist down on a table in a legislative session and calling for tort reform.
But while this issue may be controversial to those not facing a mountain of medical bills, those in need are grateful for the assistance. It is always easy when the ball is not in your court, and despite the interesting methods of communicating to the public (the bad TV commercials), these lawyers can, and do, help a great deal.
Unless you're an expert in personal injury law, it is imperative that you have an experienced attorney who knows the ins and outs of the process and is a pro at negotiating with insurance companies. If hiring an attorney is not an option, at least pick up one of the wealth of guidebooks published each year for the do-it-yourself crowd.
Before any claims can be put into motion, fault has to be established. This has usually been determined by the law enforcement agency investigating the crash, either based on firsthand observation or the filed accident report. Many times, this aspect of a personal injury case is pretty cut-and-dried.
If a person is hurt in the accident and was not the party liable, then that person must clearly establish that the injuries sustained were actually caused in the crash. This is not so straightforward, considering there are many other facets that need to be considered besides the obvious physical injury.
Of course, you can file an injury claim without overwhelming evidence that the accident was the cause of the injury; it just may be harder to prove. When stepping into these waters, the entire process can turn into a crapshoot that only a skilled lawyer may be able to navigate.
Once a claim is filed, and in some cases before it is even filled out, the insurance companies will start calling you. Without a lawyer, you will be on your own during these bantering sessions. It is critical that you remain calm and make sure to jot down thorough notes―especially if you intend to eventually retain an attorney.
A broken bone or blatant wound and the ensuing costs of treatment for these injuries are rather easy to assess. Even loss of a paycheck due to time missed from work is simple for an insurance company to add up.
When the claim process becomes tricky is when an injury is so serious that it causes damage to other parts of your life that are rather difficult to account for in monetary figures. How does an injury affect family relationships or the overall quality of the plaintiff's life?
What is the cost of this loss? Can you put a dollar amount on emotional damage such as depression and undue stress caused by the injury? Generally, the injured party is entitled to receive monetary compensation for these matters, but settling on a dollar amount might be difficult.
Injury damages are split into three categories:
- Economic damage: Medical expenses, wages lost (past and future), and any other "real" damages or expenses incurred.
- Noneconomic damage: The category for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of quality of life.
- Physical disfigurement and impairment: The financial consequences of irreparable physical injury or permanent disability.
Insurance companies have a calculation method to determine a settlement figure. They multiply the easily pinpointed monetary figure (i.e. economic damage) by a number based on the extent of the injury in order to compute a total for the subjective (i.e. noneconomic damages).
If the injuries sustained are slight, the economic cost is multiplied by 1.5 or 2 to devise the noneconomic settlement figure. The worse the injury, the higher the number used (going up to 10). A personal injury attorney can help you put a fair value on your injuries and get the settlement you deserve.