Estate of Brice v. Toyota Motor Corp.Annotate this Case
In a certified appeal, the issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's consideration was whether the doctrine of fraudulent concealment applied to actions under the Wrongful Death Act (WDA), an issue of first impression in New Mexico. Alice Brice (Decedent) died in an automobile accident in 2006, when her 2002 Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated into a highway intersection, collided with a tractor-trailer, and burst into flames. The Estate of Alice C. Brice (Plaintiff) filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2010, asserting products liability and various other claims against the car manufacturer, the dealer, and others (Defendants). Because this wrongful death action was filed three years and eleven months from the date of Decedent’s death, Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants prevented Plaintiff from obtaining knowledge about the cause of action, that Defendants were aware of the sudden acceleration problem in its vehicles for most of the decade preceding 2010 and well before Decedent’s 2006 accident, and that Defendants fraudulently concealed these problems until February 2010 when the sudden acceleration problems drew public attention and led to congressional hearings. Plaintiff contended that it had no way to discover its wrongful death cause of action before February 2010. Plaintiff asserted therefore that after discovering its cause of action, it promptly filed its wrongful death suit on August 31, 2010. The district court granted Defendants' motion. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that the doctrine of fraudulent concealment could apply to toll the statutory limitations period for a wrongful death claim if a defendant has fraudulently concealed a cause of action, thereby preventing that defendant from claiming the statute of limitations as a defense until the plaintiff learned or, through reasonable diligence, could have learned of the cause of action. Accordingly the Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings.