The right to bring a lawsuit for personal injury lasts for a relatively short time. In New Mexico, the “statute of limitations” for a personal injury claim based in tort is three years. If an injured party does not file a lawsuit within this time, the claim is said to be “time-barred.”
Statutes of limitation can be complex, which is one reason attorneys advise injured parties to seek legal advice as soon as possible after the injury.
These Boots Are Made for Working
A recent statute of limitations decision of the New Mexico Supreme Court highlights the need for expert legal assistance in recovering damages for personal injury. In Badilla v Wal-Mart Stores East Inc. (N.M. Sp. Ct., Sept. 10, 2015), the plaintiff, a tree trimmer, sued for injuries he sustained while wearing work boots purchased at Wal-Mart. The boots were described on the packaging as meeting or exceeding OSHA standards for protective footwear. According to Mr. Badilla, the sole of his boot became unglued and caught on debris, which caused him to trip and drop a 150-pound log on himself. His back injuries required surgery and months of physical therapy.
Mr. Badilla filed a lawsuit three years and two months after the accident, seeking damages for personal injury caused by a defective product. His claim was based on sections of the Uniform Commercial Code, as adopted in New Mexico, that deal with express and implied warranties.
But the trial court never addressed these issues. It agreed with Wal-Mart that the claim was time-barred by the three-year statute of limitations for personal injury caused by tort, which, in most cases, means negligence.
If, for example, Mr. Badilla had slipped and fallen in a Walmart store because of spilled liquid that the merchant had failed to clean up, he might have filed a personal injury suit based in tort. In this case, however, although the limitations period for UCC product warranty claims was four years, the court ruled in favor of Walmart on the time-bar and refused to hear Mr. Badilla’s arguments.
Essence of the Injury
Mr. Badilla appealed and the appellate court agreed with Walmart and the lower court that the three-year time bar applied. According to that court, it was not the statute or theory of the case that determined which limitations period applied, but rather the “essence of the injury.” Because Mr. Badilla sued for personal injury, and not for reimbursement of the commercial value of the boots, he was subject to the three-year limit and his case was barred.
The New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed, rejecting once and for all the “essence of the injury” theory. According to the Supreme Court, UCC product warranty claims may include personal injury, so the four-year limitations period applies. Mr. Badilla’s lawsuit was therefore timely, and the case was sent back to the lower court for a decision on the merits.
Time Is of the Essence
Whether Mr. Badilla will in fact recover damages remains to be seen, but he will at least have the opportunity to present his case. Because statutes of limitation can have such a dramatic effect on a plaintiff’s right to bring a lawsuit, it is important to get advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as you are injured.
The Law Office of Samuel I. Kane has more than ten years of experience in personal injury claims, handling over hundreds of cases. We handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis. This means that we get paid only when you recover compensation. Call our office today at (575) 526-5263 for a free consultation.
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