Is the County Ever Liable for Wrong Way Driving Accidents?

The Answer Depends on the Extent of the State’s Involvement

Nationwide, wrong-way crashes account for only about 2% of all traffic collisions. Yet these wrecks account for 10%, or five times as many roadway fatalities. When vehicles collide with one another in a head-on fashion, the amount of force is doubled. That means more severe property damage and personal injury.

These kinds of wrecks are especially common on rural, two-lane highways in isolated areas. Such roadways crisscross many parts of Bernalillo County.

In many cases, some form of driver impairment, such as alcohol or fatigue, causes these crashes. In other cases, a defective roadway is responsible for the crash. Some common issues include inadequate signs and faded or missing roadway stripes. In both these situations, an Albuquerque car crash lawyer may be able to obtain significant compensation for victims.

Sovereign Immunity

For centuries, injured victims could never sue a government agency under any circumstances. The concept of sovereign immunity came from the Medieval notion of the divine right of kings. According to this theory, since the king was an agent of God Himself who ruled by divine right, his decisions were never wrong. Papal infallibility, a similar idea, existed in the Catholic Church for many years, as well.

When democracies came along, these notions fell out of favor, but the idea persisted here in the United States, in the form of sovereign immunity laws. In fact, these laws are still technically in place.

Even today, people can never sue the federal, state, county, or local government because they disagree with its policies. Instead, claimants must always show an actual injury. Things like paying higher taxes do not constitute injury.

For most purposes, New Mexico has waived its sovereign immunity. So, if a defectively designed roadway caused a wrong-way crash, it may be possible to sue the state for damages. However, there are some additional hurdles to overcome.

Discretionary and Ministerial Functions

Another reason people cannot sue the government over policy issues is that these acts are discretionary decisions. Lawmakers can pass or reject laws almost on a whim. They have complete discretion in this area.

However, ministerial functions are in a different category, and they could be the subject of a legal claim. Ministerial functions involve no discretion whatsoever.

In the car crash context, putting up a stoplight is usually a discretionary function. The city can install one or not. However, maintaining the stoplight is a ministerial function. Such maintenance includes changing the light bulb and so on.

The New Mexico Supreme Court has defined ministerial functions in a broad and victim-friendly way. Essentially, the Department of Transportation has a legal duty to correct any hazardous conditions on any road.

Procedurally, these claims must normally follow the Tort Claims Act’s guidelines. Before they file legal paperwork, victims in defective roadway cases must usually file a notice of claim with the state. If the state refuses to acknowledge the claim and settle it, the victim may file a legal claim for damages.

These damages normally include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Count on a Dedicated Attorney

The State of New Mexico is not immune to wrong-way crash lawsuits. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Albuquerque , contact the Law Offices of Edward Chavez, Jr. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.