Law School Case Brief
Rodriguez v. Del Sol Shopping Ctr. Assocs., L.P. - 2014-NMSC-014, 326 P.3d 465
Foreseeability is not a factor for courts to consider when determining the existence of a duty, or when deciding to limit or eliminate an existing duty in a particular class of cases. The New Mexico Supreme Court reaffirms its adoption of Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm § 7 comment (2010), and requires courts to articulate specific policy reasons, unrelated to foreseeability considerations, if deciding that a defendant does not have the duty or that the existing duty should be limited. Foreseeability is a fact-intensive inquiry relevant only to breach of duty and legal cause considerations. What may not be foreseeable under one set of facts may be foreseeable under a slightly different set of facts. Therefore, foreseeability cannot be a policy argument because foreseeability is not susceptible to a categorical analysis. The supreme court does not hold that courts may never consider foreseeability; however, when a court does so, it is to analyze no-breach-of-duty or no-legal-cause as a matter of law, not whether the duty exists.
A truck crashed through the front glass of the Concentra Medical Clinic (Concentra) in the Del Sol Shopping Center (Del Sol) (collectively Defendants) killing three people and seriously injuring several others. Both groups of Plaintiffs (collectively Plaintiffs) sued Del Sol's owners and operators, alleging that Del Sol negligently contributed to the accident by, among other things, failing to adequately post signage; failing to install speed bumps; failing to erect barriers that would have protected buildings, employees, and visitors from errant vehicles; or failing to use other traffic control methods in the parking lot. Relying on Stop-N-Go of N.M., Inc., 2009-NMCA-059, the district courts granted summary judgment and found that this accident "was not foreseeable" as a matter of law, and therefore, found that no duty existed. On appeal, the state appellate court consolidated the two cases and affirmed the district courts' common ruling. Plaintiffs sought further review in the Supreme Court of New Mexico.
Was the court of appeals correct when it focused mainly on foreseeability considerations in determining liability?
Foreseeability is not a question for courts to consider when determining the existence of a duty, or whether to limit or eliminate an existing duty in a particular class of cases; courts must articulate specific policy reasons, unrelated to foreseeability considerations, when deciding whether a defendant does or does not have a duty or that an existing duty should be limited. Therefore, foreseeability is question that a jury under N.M. Const. art. II, §§ 12 and 14 considers under N.M. R. Ann. 13-1603 when it decides whether a defendant acts reasonably under the circumstances of a case or legally causes injury to a particular plaintiff. Courts are not powerless to dismiss cases as a matter of law, despite the holding that a foreseeability-driven duty analysis is inappropriate. A court may still decide whether a defendant did or did not breach the duty of ordinary care as a matter of law, or that the breach of duty did not legally cause the damages alleged in the case. However, these determinations are materially different than a no-duty or modified-duty analysis. The court must determine that no reasonable jury would find that the defendant breached the duty of ordinary care or that the breach legally caused the plaintiff's damages.
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