Driving in New Mexico can be stressful. In 2020, New Mexico ranked as the number one state in the country for alcohol-related fatalities. That grim trend carries over to our roads and highways, with 137 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2020—a number that was down from previous highs of 177 in 2019 and 152 in 2018.
DUIs and Wrongful Death Claims
As these statistics demonstrate, people driving under the influence are dangerous on roadways. If your loved one was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver, you may be entitled to compensation from a wrongful death case. These civil cases can be filed in addition to any criminal proceedings the driver is subject to. Criminal cases are aimed at protecting the public and holding the driver accountable for their reckless actions.
Wrongful death suits are part of a continuum of personal injury negligence civil suits. Civil cases require the same burden of proof and make the same types of damages available: economic, non-economic, and punitive. The cases offer victims and their loved ones recourse to recover direct economic costs, such as medical treatment, funeral and burial costs, lost income, or other economic damages; and to be compensated for non-financial damages, such as pain and suffering. You may be entitled to non-financial damages if you can justify additional anguish, such as if a loved one lingered in ICU for days before passing away. Punitive damages are amounts awarded with the intention of further punishing the drunk driver and deterring future DUI incidents in the future. These damages may also come into play if the driver was grossly negligent and/or intentional with his/her actions.
What to Do to File a Wrongful Death Claim
Only certain people are entitled to file these suits in New Mexico. The primary party with the right to file a claim is the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. If the deceased hasn’t named an executor or personal representative, the court will appoint one. This individual is usually the deceased’s spouse, or, if there isn’t one, an adult sibling or child. The personal representative will act on the deceased’s behalf, with the proceeds going to everyone with a valid claim to the deceased person’s estate.
If you pursue compensation through a suit, you’ll need to prove the other driver was at fault. Your attorney must establish the other driver was intoxicated. Witness testimony, such as a person testifying they smelled alcohol on the person’s breath or that he/she was slurring their words, may help establish this fact. With a copy of the police report in hand, you’ll also have access to the officers’ observations from the scene, such as results from a roadside breathalyzer test and/or a field sobriety test. You’ll need to show direct causation between the driver’s actions and the death of your loved one.
Your civil case can proceed separately from the criminal DUI case. You don’t have to wait for the criminal case to be resolved; however, if the driver is found guilty in criminal court, that may affect the outcome of your civil case.
It may be wise to file before finding out the outcome of the criminal case because wrongful death suits are subject to a statute of limitations. (The statute of limitations is the time limit for people to take legal action.) New Mexico’s statute of limitations for wrongful death is three years. The clock starts with the victim’s date of death. Filing after the statute of limitations will likely lead the judge to dismiss the case—no matter how valid it is otherwise. There’s one exception to this rule: If the drunk driver committed any type of fraud or attempted to conceal his/her liability in the death, the clock for the statute of limitations wouldn’t begin until the date the survivors discovered the deception.
How Sanchez and Piñon Can Help
Sanchez and Pinon are experienced in filing and winning cases against drunk drivers. If your loved one recently died due to a crash involving a drunk driver, contact Sanchez and Piñon, Rio Rancho’s auto accident and injury attorneys, for a free consultation. While other attorneys talk, we listen and provide a personal level of representation. We can discuss how to fight for the compensation you deserve.