Can You Sue for Negligence If You Already Received Workers' Compensation In a Car Accident Case ?

In Singhas v. New Mexico State Highway Department, 1997 NMSC 54, 124 N.M. 42, 946 P.2d 645 (N.M. 1997), two public defenders were involved in an automobile accident while traveling to an employment-related meeting. The plaintiffs initiated a negligence action against the state highway department even though they had received disability and/or death benefits under New Mexico's workers' compensation statute. Like Kincel, plaintiffs argued that the highway and public defender departments were separate legal entities. The Supreme Court of New Mexico disagreed and held "as a matter of law, the State is the employer." Id. at 647. Key to the court's analysis was the statutory definition of "employer," which is substantially similar to Pennsylvania's: "for purposes of this section, 'state' or 'state agency' means the State of New Mexico or any of its branches, agencies, departments, boards, instrumentalities or institutions." Id. (citing N.M. Stat. Ann. 52-1-3(D) (1987)). The Singhas court reasoned that because the legislature did not attempt to distinguish the various state agencies and departments from the State itself, it intended that "the State of New Mexico be considered the employer of all employees in its various 'branches, agencies, departments, boards, instrumentalities or institutions.'" Id.