Medical malpractice lawsuits are often extremely complicated, and that's true in all states—not just New Mexico. This article will give you an overview of the most important rules that apply to medical malpractice cases in New Mexico, including:
New Mexico, like all states, has laws known as "statutes of limitations" that set time limits on filing different types of lawsuits in court. In New Mexico, an injured person (the "plaintiff") must file a medical malpractice case within three years "after the date that the act of malpractice occurred." (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 41-5-13 (2022).)
Many states apply what's known as the "discovery rule" in medical malpractice cases. Under this rule, the filing period can be delayed when the health care provider's error could not have been immediately discovered. New Mexico, however, doesn't follow the discovery rule. That means you must file a medical malpractice lawsuit no later than three years from the date that the health care provider's alleged medical negligence caused your injury, even if you didn't discover (or couldn't have discovered) the injury until after those three years have passed.
Bottom line: It's crucial to comply with the statute of limitations, because if you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed, the defendant (the health care provider you're trying to sue) will ask the court to throw out your case, and the court will almost certainly do so. At that point, you've lost your right to a civil remedy. To ensure you understand exactly how the statute of limitations applies in your case, it's best to speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
New Mexico's three-year period for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit can be extended in just a few circumstances, including when the injured person is a minor (younger than 18 years of age) or incapacitated. In those cases, plaintiffs have one year from their eighteenth birthday or "termination of incapacity" to file the medical malpractice lawsuit. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 41-5-13 (2022).)
New Mexico law also requires many potential medical malpractice plaintiffs to submit their claims to the New Mexico Medical Review Commission before the lawsuit can be filed in court. The panel, which is made up of attorneys and health care providers licensed to practice in New Mexico, must review claims against all "qualifying independent providers," unless the patient and the health care provider agree to forgo the panel process. (Note that "independent providers" are generally defined as (1) individual health care providers who are not employees of a hospital or outpatient health care facility, or (2) business entities that are not hospitals or outpatient health care facilities; see N.M. Stat. Ann. § 41-5-3(E) for the full list of who qualifies as an independent provider under New Mexico's medical malpractice laws). As of July 1, 2021, the commission will not consider claims against hospitals or outpatient health care facilities.
The panel review process begins when the injured patient's attorney files an application with the commission. There's no official form for the application, but it must include:
After the plaintiff's attorney files the application, the health care provider will be served with a copy of it and a hearing will take place, typically within 60 days of the application's submission. The panel will decide whether there is "substantial evidence" that the provider failed to provide treatment that was in line with the applicable standard of care and that the treatment caused the patient's injuries.
If the commission decides in the patient's favor, the panel and other officials must work with the patient to locate a physician to assist in trial preparation and to testify on behalf of the patient.
Note that the statute of limitations will be "tolled" (or paused) while the commission is reviewing the case. The clock begins to run again 30 days after the panel issues its final decision on the claim.
Many states "cap" (or limit) the amount of damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases. Most states' damage caps apply only to compensation for "noneconomic" losses, which can include such intangible injuries as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. New Mexico's damage caps, however, apply to total damages, except for awards for:
New Mexico state law currently caps damages against "independent providers" (see the above section for more on who qualifies as an independent provider) at $750,000 per act of malpractice. Beginning in 2023, that figure will be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.
In addition, New Mexico law provides different damages caps on health care facilities, depending on whether they are majority-owned and -controlled by a hospital.
The following damage caps apply to outpatient health care facilities that are not majority-owned and -controlled by a hospital (excluding awards for past and future medical care and punitive damages), per act of malpractice:
Beginning in 2027, the amount will be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.
The following damage caps apply to hospitals and outpatient health care facilities that are majority-owned and -controlled by a hospital (again, excluding awards for past and future medical care and punitive damages), per act of malpractice:
Beginning in 2027, this amount will also be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.
(N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 41-5-6, 41-5-7 (2022).)