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Torres v. El Paso Electric Co.

987 P.2d 386 (1999)

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Torres v. El Paso Electric Co.

New Mexico Supreme Court

987 P.2d 386 (1999)

Facts

Francisco Torres and his spouse, Sonia Torres, (plaintiffs) sued the El Paso Electric Company (EPEC) (defendant) after Francisco was electrocuted. Aldershot of New Mexico employed Francisco, and he was replacing the roof on Aldershot’s greenhouse when a metal rod he was handed by another employee touched a high-voltage conductor. Francisco fell to the ground; his injuries included severe electrical burns and an amputated foot, with stipulated medical expenses of nearly $200,000. The Torreses brought negligence and loss-of-consortium claims, arguing that EPEC negligently installed the conductor next to the greenhouse and failed to maintain the pole. At trial, EPEC argued that Francisco, his employer, and his employer’s two contractors were the source of the negligence that caused Francisco’s injuries. Specifically, EPEC asserted that (1) Francisco knew about the danger and failed to exercise reasonable precautions, (2) Aldershot did not properly train Francisco and violated safety regulations, and (3) Aldershot’s contractors—an expert glass installer and an electrical contractor—should have advised Aldershot to take precautions, including de-energizing the power lines. A uniform jury instruction was given on independent intervening causes, i.e., that a causally independent superseding act occurring after the alleged tortious act can be deemed to override the accused’s behavior as the cause of injury, thereby relieving the defendant from liability. The jury returned a special verdict finding that (1) EPEC had been negligent but (2) EPEC was not liable because its negligence was not the proximate cause of Francisco’s injuries. The Torreses appealed, challenging the jury instruction. The New Mexico Court of Appeals certified to the New Mexico Supreme Court the question of whether jury instructions on independent intervening cause should be given considering New Mexico’s adoption of comparative negligence.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Serna, J.)

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