The recent New Mexico Court of Appeals case of Badilla v. Walmart addressed the appropriate statute of limitations to apply to a personal injury case where the case is brought under a different theory of law.
Specifically, this case involved a claim for personal injuries that was filed as a breach of warranty claim. Personal injury claims have a 3 year statute of limitations in New Mexico. Breach of warranty claims under the Uniform Commercial Code have a 4 year statute.
The suit was filed as a breach of warranty claim to gain advantage of the longer statute of limitations. As an aside, the plaintiff had apparently successfully filed a worker's compensation claim.
There is no indication of third party liability that would have allowed the plaintiff to escape the exclusivity provisions of the New Mexico Worker Compensation Act. As such, it is not clear there was a personal injury claim at all which may also help to explain why it was filed as a breach of warranty claim.
The facts of the purchase, subsequent accident and claim are remarkable to say the least. The fact that the case was taken all the way to the Court of Appeals is more surprising still. According to the Court, the plaintiff purchased a pair of boots from WalMart and then wore them daily for 8 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for nine months. After all this, he was injured when he tripped while lifting a large log.The plaintiff apparently admitted he never tried to return the shoes nor was he aware of any defect in the boot that made them dangerous
No kidding! This is what the Court stated as the facts of the case. Upon these facts, the plaintiff brought the case as a breach of express and implied warranty of merchantability and fitness.
He did suffer pretty serious back injuries including two ruptured or bulging discs. However, there is nothing in the opinion suggesting anybody else was responsible. In fact, it is hard reading the case to ascertain how it was the boots were at fault at all. The District Court dismissed the case on summary judgment on the statute of limitations though it seems that the case could have equally been dismissed for failure to state a claim.
In any event, the Court of Appeals ruled that the 3 year statute of limitation on personal injury law matters governed the case. The Court stated what appears obvious from a reading of the opinion (though perhaps/hopefully there was more to it that went unstated) that the essence of the case was personal injury. Simply calling it by another name would not relieve the plaintiff of the statute of limitations.
It appears that in cases of personal injury claims, the old saying of a Rose is a Rose...applies with full force here. It seems so obvious that perhaps he question has not been addressed with sufficient rigor in the past. However, it seems clear moving forward that the courts will not allow a re-characterization of the essence of a claim in order to avoid the statute of limitations. Presumably, the same would hold true for any other motives for attempting to redefine the nature of a claim.
Though this case is fairly remarkable and likewise pretty rare, it does point to the importance of knowing and meeting the statute of limitations on your personal injury claims. Though there a were a number of obvious problems with this case, the one that got it dismissed was the statute of limitations. Missing a statute of limitations with very few and rare exceptions is an absolute bar to personal injury claims.
New Mexico Statute of Limitations & Exceptions -- Time is Always of the Essence!
Tolling of Statute of Limitations is Rare
Extension of Statute of Limitations in New Mexico for Cases Originally Filed in the Wrong Court