The New Mexico Supreme Court recently handed down a ruling that significantly broadens the grounds on which injured plaintiffs can bring claims of negligence against a property or business owner in that state. Specifically, the court struck down the issue of “foreseeability” in premises liability, finding that a court should never consider whether harm was foreseeable in determining the duty owed to the plaintiff.
In most places, including Florida, property and business owners generally have a duty to mitigate or abate reasonably foreseeable injury risks on site. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in Rodriguez v. Del Sol that foreseeability doesn’t matter, so long as the injury risk existed.
Whether other state will now be more inclined to adopt this same standard remains to be seen. Fort Lauderdale accident attorneys know Florida has one of the broader interpretations of foreseeability, having adopted the “foreseeable zone of risk” in the 1992 case of McCain v. Florida Power. This is the assertion that the duty element of negligence in tort cases can be established by determining whether the defendant’s conduct foreseeably created a broader zone of risk that could pose a general threat of harm to others.
This was most recently illustrated in the March 2014 Florida Supreme Court decision in Dorsey v. Reider, where a drunk bar patron was found negligent for an assault inflicted by his companion because he blocked the victim’s safe exit. He also left a weapon in his unlocked vehicle, which was used in the assault. These actions, the court found, created a foreseeable zone of risk to the victim, even if the defendant never tossed a single blow or had any intention for him to be hurt.
In the New Mexico Rodriguez case, the complaint was filed by survivors of the three people killed when a woman, prone to seizures and advised not to drive by her doctors, crashed her truck through the front glass window of a medical/shopping center in 2006. Two lawsuits were filed against the shopping center for premises liability – one on behalf of the deceased and one on behalf of the critically injured.
The plaintiffs alleged that the shopping center had negligently contributed to the crash because, among other things, it failed to post adequate signage, failed to install speed bumps, failed to erect barriers that would have shielded building patrons from errant vehicles and failed to use appropriate traffic control methods in the parking lot.
The two district courts ruled the accident was “not foreseeable” as a matter of law, and as such, no duty existed and summary judgment was granted to the defendant.
The cases were consolidated on appeal, and the appellate court found that the duty analysis should not be foreseeability-driven, but policy-driven. The idea is that foreseeability is a matter of fact, and facts should be determined only by a jury, not the court. Therefore, foreseeability should only be weighed as an element of breach or causation – not in establishing the duty itself.
The end result of this ruling will be that rather than resulting in a summary judgment for the defense, most premise liability cases will likely either be settled or go before a jury.
While victims of premises liability in Florida won’t benefit directly from this ruling, they can benefit from the help of an experienced injury lawyer.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Rodriguez v. Del Sol, May 8, 2014, New Mexico Supreme Court
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