Today we drive safer cars than ever, but that hasn’t slowed the rising number of car accidents causing injuries to more than 2.35 million people each year.¹
We live in a mobile society, with heavier traffic in every community. Traffic accidents have become a fact of life. These days, the average American can expect to be in three or four car accidents during their lifetime.²
New Mexico has its fair share of car accidents, with over 45,000 crashes in a given year injuring more than 13,000 people.³
Sooner or later, you’re bound to be in an accident. Recovering from your injuries and losses after a collision can be stressful and challenging. Your financial recovery depends on building a strong auto insurance claim.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a New Mexico Car Accident
You can’t avoid every accident, but you can be prepared to build a successful insurance claim by knowing what to say and do, and the pitfalls to avoid, after a car accident.
Here are 11 steps to help you build a successful car insurance claim. We’ve also provided answers to the most frequently asked questions about New Mexico car accidents.
If you’ve just been in an accident involving injuries or property damage, you’re required to stop as close to the accident scene as you safely can.
Check to see if anyone is hurt, then call 911.
The 911 dispatcher will want to know the nature of your emergency, where you are located, if anyone is injured, and what’s going on at the scene.
Location: Look for street signs, highway exit numbers, mile markers, and describe any nearby landmarks. Tell the dispatcher which direction you were heading. Emergency services will get to you faster if they know where to find you.
Injuries: Tell the dispatcher if you or anyone else is hurt and if anyone is trapped in their car.
Hazards: The dispatcher needs to know about specific dangers at the scene, like overturned cars, fire, traffic near the wrecked cars, leaking fuel or downed power lines.
If the accident resulted in injuries, drivers are required to render “reasonable assistance,” including making arrangements to transport injured people to the hospital. The obligation to make arrangements for transporting the injured for medical treatment is met by telling the 911 dispatcher of injuries at the accident scene.
Drivers are also required to provide their name, address, and registration number to anyone involved in the crash, and show their driver’s license.
You may have obvious injuries from the accident, like broken bones or bleeding wounds. But not all injuries are immediately obvious. Vehicle crashes are violent events. Even potentially life-threatening injuries like internal bleeding or head trauma may not show symptoms until hours or even days later.
Never refuse medical treatment after an accident. Let paramedics do their job. Be honest about every symptom you are having, even if it’s mild. This is not the time to be tough. If the paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, let them take you.
If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, see a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident. If you can’t go to your primary provider, get to the local urgent care center or emergency room.
Delaying medical evaluation and treatment can seriously undermine your insurance claim. The longer you wait to seek medical attention, the greater the chance the insurance company will contend that your injuries were not caused by the accident.
New Mexico law requires drivers who hit a parked and unattended vehicle to make a reasonable attempt to locate the owner or the driver of the car. Give the other driver your name and address. If you can’t locate the other driver, leave a note on the car with your contact information and an explanation of what happened.
After a collision with other types of property, like a fence, drivers must attempt to notify the owner or person in charge of the property.
When the owner is located, drivers are to provide their contact information and vehicle registration number. Drivers must also display their driver’s license upon request.
Drivers involved in any New Mexico car accident that results in injury, death, or property damage of $500 or more must immediately notify local police.
If the driver is incapacitated, a passenger may notify police of the collision
Drivers involved in any New Mexico car accident that results in injury, death, or property damage of $500 or more must submit a written accident report to the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Law enforcement officers are highly trained in accident investigation.
The investigating police officer will secure the scene, evaluate dangers, and manage traffic. The officer will also coordinate care for the injured, determine fault, and gather information that will be part of the official crash report.
During the investigation, the officer may conduct sobriety tests, question those involved in the accident, talk to witnesses, issue traffic citations, impound vehicles, and more.
While you have the right to try to tell the officer your side of the story, the officer is not required to listen to you.
Don’t argue with law enforcement. When the officer asks you to wait or gives you any instructions, you should cooperate. You risk being ticketed, or even getting arrested if you act aggressively or continue to challenge the officer’s authority.
If the officer is asking you to identify yourself, or asks to see your driver’s license, registration, or proof of insurance, you must comply. However, if you are being questioned about actions that could result in criminal charges, you may invoke the right to remain silent.
If the investigating officer decides you violated New Mexico traffic laws, you may be issued traffic citations. You can try to talk the officer out of writing you a ticket, but once a citation is issued, you should accept it.
Accepting or signing a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. Argue about the citation in court, not at the accident scene.
Accident scenes change quickly. Cars are towed, drivers leave, and witnesses walk away. You’ll need proof the other driver was negligent or failed to act responsibly. Use the time right after an accident to gather evidence from the scene for your insurance claim.
The evidence you preserve may not only prove the at-fault driver was negligent, but it may also help refute allegations made against you by the other driver.
Property damages include the cost to fix your car, the value of your vehicle if it’s a total loss, the value of personal items damaged in the crash, and the cost of a rental car while your vehicle is in the shop.
Personal injury damages can include the costs of medical, chiropractic, and dental diagnosis and treatment; medications; medical supplies; transportation to medical appointments; mental health services; lost wages; and your pain and suffering.
You’ll need important information about the cars and the people involved in the crash.
People: Gather driver and passenger names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. If the driver doesn’t own the car, ask for the owner’s information.
Vehicles: Get the make, model, year, license number, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each car. The VIN can usually be found in the left corner of the dashboard near the windshield, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door. Don’t enter another car without permission.
Diagrams: Create a diagram of the accident scene. Indicate the location of the cars and the way they were heading. Your drawing should show any contributing road conditions, like construction or ice.
Notes: Make detailed notes about the date and time of the accident, weather conditions, lighting conditions, and anything else that may have contributed to the crash. Include your impressions of anything you saw, heard, or even smelled before and after the accident.
Take as many photos and videos as you can. Use your camera, cell phone, tablet or any other device you have with you. Photographs can reveal important facts about the cars and the surrounding area.
Pictures and video with sound can document the behavior and statements of the other driver and passengers, including possible intoxication and admissions of fault.
The pictures and videos you capture can make it very hard for the other people to change their story later.
Witnesses do not have to speak with you, but you should try to find out if witnesses saw anything that might help your claim. If you find a cooperative witness, ask them to write down what they saw, and sign and date their statement.
Take advantage of our free Car Accident Information Form. Keep copies with a pen in your car, in the same place you keep your insurance and registration cards. You’ll be ready to collect the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.
Almost everyone’s auto insurance policy has a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation.
The clause in your policy will look something like this:
“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”
You’re obligated to notify your insurance company of every accident, even if it’s a minor collision or everyone says they’re fine.
By promptly reporting the accident, you give your insurance company the best chance to protect your interests.
If someone from the other car decides to hire a lawyer or begins to complain of injuries hours or days after the collision, you can be sure they’ll contact your insurance company to demand compensation. Your insurance company would be at a distinct disadvantage if you hadn’t already notified them of the collision.
Failure to notify your insurance company is a contractual breach that could lead your insurance company to raise your premiums, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance.
There are apps for Apple and Android devices that make reporting a New Mexico car accident easy and fast. Depending on the app, you’ll be able to:
- Identify your GPS location
- Gather driver and passenger information
- Take photographs and video
- Draw a diagram of the accident
- Notify your insurance company
- Initiate a claim
Here’s a sampling of free accident reporting apps. Your insurance company may have their own application.
New Mexico uses the pure comparative negligence rule for determining each driver’s percentage of blame for causing an accident. The resulting percentages are used to calculate the claimant’s eligibility for financial compensation.
In other words, if you have damages from a car accident, you can pursue the other driver for compensation even if you are mostly to blame for the accident, so long as you are not 100% at fault.
Once the amount of liability is determined for each driver, your compensation will be reduced by the percentage of your liability for the accident. The insurance company will decide how much blame for the accident should rest on you.
If you don’t agree with the insurance company’s decision, you may need an attorney to reach an appropriate settlement amount.
Here’s how comparative negligence can affect a settlement:
Sue was driving home in the right lane of the interstate. Johnny was also in the right lane, traveling behind her.
Johnny wanted to pass Sue, so he moved into the center lane and increased his speed. Once he thought he had passed her, Johnny started moving back into the right lane.
Unfortunately, when Johnny moved back into the right lane, his car hit the front of Sue’s car, causing her car to run off the road and overturn, severely injuring Sue.
Sue filed a personal injury claim with Johnny’s insurance company, demanding $100,000 for her medical bills and pain and suffering.
Johnny’s insurance company refused to pay Sue’s claim, deciding that Sue was to blame for the accident because she sped up when Johnny was trying to pass her. Through her attorney, Sue filed a lawsuit against Johnny.
During trial, the jury learned that Johnny was ticketed at the scene for moving into the right lane before it was clear for passing. The jury also heard witness testimony that Sue increased her speed when Johnny was trying to pass her.
The jury determined that Johnny was 60% at fault for the accident for moving back into the right lane before it was clear. The jury also found that Sue was 40% liable for the crash because she sped up while Johnny was trying to pass her.
While the jury agreed that Sue had $100,000 worth of damages, based on New Mexico’s comparative negligence rule, Sue was awarded $60,000, representing a 40% reduction to the $100,000 settlement she sued for.
Under the pure comparative negligence rule, even if the jury had determined Sue to be 99% at fault for the accident, she still would have been able to recover 1% ($1,000) of her damages.
New Mexico law requires drivers to provide “evidence of financial responsibility” with auto insurance policies that provide limits of no less than:
- Bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident
- Property damage liability coverage of $10,000
Liability coverage pays for injuries and property damage caused by the insured driver.
If you’re injured in a New Mexico car accident, you may pursue the negligent driver or the driver’s insurance company for compensation.
New Mexico is not no-fault insurance state, where drivers must rely on their own insurance to pay for their injuries.
A third-party liability claim is your claim for damages against the other driver’s insurance when the other driver is to blame, or “liable” for the accident.
If you make a claim on your own insurance policy, you’re making a first-party claim. If you make a claim against someone else’s auto policy, it’s a third-party claim.
When you’ve suffered bodily injury or property damage caused by another driver, you have three options:
- File a claim with your own insurance company
- File a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
While there are some accident claims you can settle without hiring an attorney, there are other claims that require expert legal help to get the settlement you deserve.
Before deciding to take on the insurance company all alone, think about the kind of injuries you suffered in the accident:
“Soft tissue” injuries include scrapes and bruises, muscle sprains, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are straightforward and usually consist of medical, chiropractic, or therapy bills, some days missed from work, and a nominal amount of pain and suffering. Soft tissue claims can often be successfully settled without an attorney.
“Hard” injuries are much more severe and can include deep lacerations, open fractures, internal bleeding, head trauma, spinal cord damage, and similar serious, potentially disabling, and sometimes life-threatening injuries. Hard injury claims are complicated, requiring the insurance company to pay large amounts of money for a fair settlement.
There’s just too much at stake for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.
Convincing the insurance company to part with a high-dollar settlement when you’ve suffered hard injuries usually involves expert medical testimony, subpoenas for records, interrogatories, multiple depositions, actuarial wage analysis, and much more.
Insurance companies will do whatever it takes to protect their profit margin. Adjusters are trained to minimize payouts to claimants like you. They may even suggest you won’t need an attorney.
When the insurance company makes their “final” offer, they know you probably won’t have the knowledge or energy to fight them. Insurance companies bank on that, and routinely offer far less settlement money to claimants without legal representation.
Experienced personal injury attorneys have the tools and legal savvy necessary to convince the insurance company to pay the amount of money you deserve in compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering.
Personal injury attorneys typically offer a free initial consultation. You can meet with more than one attorney before choosing who you want to fight for you.
If you’ve been severely injured in a New Mexico car accident, gather all your accident-related paperwork. Your accident file should include your medical records, police report, photographs, your detailed notes, and records of any communication you’ve had with the insurance company. Bring your accident file to the first consultation with each attorney you meet.
After hearing your account of the accident and reviewing your file, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it might take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit.
Personal injury attorneys normally represent accident victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from 25% up to around 40% of your gross compensation.
You won’t pay any attorney fees if the attorney fails to settle your claim or loses your case in court.
In New Mexico’s court system, small claims lawsuits are decided in Magistrate Court.
You may want to consider filing a small claims lawsuit in magistrate court when:
- The insurance company only offers a low-ball settlement
- The insurance company denied your claim
- The at-fault driver was uninsured
- An attorney won’t take your case
New Mexico magistrate courts will accept car accident cases seeking compensation amounts up to $10,000.
You small claims lawsuit must be brought against the negligent driver, not the driver’s insurance company.
For more information visit the New Mexico Magistrate Court guide on How to File a Civil Lawsuit.
A statute of limitations for car accidents is the legal deadline for an accident victim to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit.
New Mexico has a three-year statute of limitations for car accident claims. The statute begins to “run” on the accident date. This means you have three (3) years from the date of the accident to settle your property damage or personal injury claim or file a lawsuit against the negligent driver.
The insurance company isn’t obligated to settle your claim before the statutory deadline. The adjuster isn’t your friend and won’t look out for your best interests, no matter what they say to the contrary.
The insurance company has no authority to grant you an extension of time. Don’t expect the adjuster to remind you when the clock is running out. They know what happens if you haven’t settled your claim or sued their insured before the statute of limitations expires.
Without a fully executed settlement agreement in hand, if you haven’t filed a lawsuit against the negligent driver before the statutory deadline, you’re done. You’ll never be able to recover your losses from the at-fault driver, or the driver’s insurance company, no matter how badly you’ve been injured.
Don’t be reluctant to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Not only will a lawsuit stop the statutory clock, but it will also send a clear message to the insurance company that it’s time for them to bring serious money to the table.
Once suit is filed, your attorney will continue negotiations with the insurance company. It’s not unusual for an experienced attorney to be able to negotiate a good settlement before the case goes to trial.
Don’t wait until the evidence is cold and the deadline is looming before calling an attorney. Act now to protect your claim and get the compensation you deserve for your injuries and suffering.
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