In these consolidated cases, a truck crashed through the window of Concentra Medical Clinic, causing deaths and injuries of several people. Both groups of plaintiffs sued the defendant, which was the owner and operator of the shopping center that Concentra located at.
When determining the existence of a duty of care, foreseeability is not a question for courts to consider.
A truck crashed through the front glass of the Concentra Medical Clinic in the Del Sol Shopping Center, resulting in the deaths of three people and severe injuries of several others. Two groups of plaintiffs sued Del Sol and the two cases were consolidated. Plaintiff claimed that Del Sol’s negligence caused the accident, for there were no posted signage; speed bumps, and other safety precautions that might prevent the accident.
Was the Court of Appeals correct in focusing on foreseeability in determining defendants’ duty?
No. The Court of Appeals’ analysis focused predominantly on foreseeability and reasonableness, which is an incorrect approach. The Supreme Court of New Mexico reversed and remanded the case to the trial court.
The Supreme Court of New Mexico’s most important clarification in this case is that foreseeability should not be considered when determining the existence of duty of care.
The Court explained that foreseeability is a question that a jury should consider when it decides whether a defendant acted reasonably under specific circumstances. The shopping center owner owes duty of care to its employees and customers presumptively unless it could establish a policy reason for not doing so. However, in this case, no such analysis was given.
By focusing on statistical evidence showing there was a sheer improbability and lack of inherent danger of vehicle-pedestrian accidents within the related businesses, the Court of Appeals erred in making its analysis foreseeability-driven. Such an analysis is inconsistent with the Restatement Approach, which provides that only “[i]n exceptional cases, when an articulated countervailing principle or policy warrants denying or limiting liability in a particular class of cases, a court may decide that the defendant has no duty or that the ordinary duty of reasonable care requires modification.” The Court also disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ evaluation of plaintiffs’ expected standard of care. By addressing factual details in deciding if there was a modified duty of care or exemption of duty of care, the Court of Appeals was actually determining defendant’s reasonableness, not the existence of duty of care.
The Court of Appeals’ also stated that public policy governed the “scope of ordinary care” owed by defendants to plaintiffs. However, this Court clarified that Restatement (Third) of Torts is concerned with the scope of duty, and not with the scope of ordinary care. To be concerned about the scope of ordinary care is to be concerned about whether a defendant’s conduct was reasonable, but to be concerned about the scope of duty require a judge to articulate policy considerations when modifying the duty of ordinary care or exempting a class of defendants from the duty of ordinary care in a class of cases.
In this case, plaintiffs provided evidence in demonstrating accustomed safety practices in local businesses, but the Court of Appeal rejected those evidence. This Cout argued that such determination should be left to the jury, not the judge. The Court of Appeal erred in engaging in weighing evidence to determine whether a duty of care exists. Evidence is for the jury to consider, whether defendant acted reasonably even having the duty of care.