— NM Cops and Courts Beat Guide

The following (which also exist in their own pages) are the documents that can be very helpful for finding and writing stories.

Some serve as reference documents while others are worthy of stories themselves.

Tort claims

Most states (including New Mexico) and the federal government have a tort claims act.

Tort claims acts dictate the things a person must do before he can sue the governmental entity for damages (outside of constitutional civil rights violations), such as file a tort claim, as well as caps on damages and statutes of limitations, both for bringing a lawsuit and filing a tort claim.

Federal civil rights violations do not require a tort claim to be filed.

Tort claims are usually, but not always, submit to the clerk (for municipalities), and/or the risk management division of the entity.

In New Mexico, tort claims are a public record and no exception covers them, unless they were filed with the Risk Management Division.

If they were filed with the Risk Management Division, they are not considered to be public records until six months after the statute of limitations has expired or a settlement has been reached, that is, the case is “closed.”

The Santa Fe New Mexican and Santa Fe Reporter both wrote about this issue.

That same caveat goes for settlement agreements.

Why request them?

Tort claims are important to request because the public entity could be sued, if it does not settle the case before a lawsuit is filed (although lawsuits are not always filed, even if the entity does not settle).

Usually, the decision to settle or not is up to the entity’s insurance company and adjusters, as well as person claiming he was wronged somehow.

Sometimes tort claims are as simple as a fender bender involving an entity-owned vehicle but often tort claims are filed for alleged police misconduct, including brutality.

For jails, the tort claims often range from wrongful death to brutality to an inmate being attacked by other inmates to unsanitary jail conditions.

Not only are tort claims important because of financial liability, but they are usually indicative of bad behavior or practices at an entity. Think police brutality or a wrongful death at a jail.

As a journalist, it might be worthwhile to consider compiling all of the tort claims you collect into a spreadsheet listing the alleged wrongdoers, the entities, and the type of alleged wronging involved.

This can help to find trends, say, about a specific intersection that is causing car crashes due to a lack of upkeep or a police officer who keeps causing tort claims due to a excessive force.


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