According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use while driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents. Cell phone use leads to over 1.5 million crashes and close to 400,000 injuries. Maine drivers who engage in this risky behavior may be liable for any resulting injuries and damages.

Driving while texting or talking on the phone exponentially increases the likelihood of an accident. In addition to other distracted driving such as, adjusting music, arguing with passengers, and tending to children or pets in the backseat can have potentially fatal consequences and account for almost 30% of accidents in the United States.

In response to these startling statistics, Maine legislators enacted a hands-free driving bill. This recent law prohibits Maine drivers from using hand-held devices or cell phones while driving. Before this law, Maine banned texting and operating a motor vehicle; however, police officials expressed the challenges they encountered trying to discern texting drivers from those engaging in other similar behaviors. This law is designed to allow police officers to apprehend drivers who are using their phones in any manner while driving.

Individuals who suffer injuries because of contaminated food may hold the restaurant or food manufacturer liable for the damages that they suffered. Food-borne illnesses can have severe and long-lasting consequences for an individual, especially for someone who is young or otherwise immunocompromised. Maine product liability lawsuits based on food-borne diseases can be challenging to establish and require a thorough understanding of the state’s product liability laws.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 125,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die each year because of exposure to contaminated food. Many of these deaths and injuries are preventable if food manufacturers follow appropriate and safe food processing standards. However, despite strict regulations, many companies continue to value quick processing times over consumer safety.

A food-borne illness is any illness that results because of exposure to food contaminated with unsafe chemicals, bacteria, or other pathogens. Similarly, injuries can occur if food products contain foreign, dangerous substances, such as glass, metal, and plastic. For example, in a recent state appellate decision, a woman filed a lawsuit against a popular yogurt manufacturer after she consumed metal fragments in the yogurt.

The winter storm season in Maine is among the most intense in the United States. Indeed, Maine residents can see upwards of 110 inches of snow per year, depending on which part of the state is their home. Needless to say, all this snow creates a serious hazard for Maine motorists. According to the most recent state government statistics, there are over 6,000 Maine car accidents each year caused by winter driving conditions.

Maine drivers face many potential hazards in the winter, including snow, ice, sleet, and freezing rain, as well as potholes, snowplows, obscured road markings, other motorists driving too fast for the conditions, and uncleared roads and parking lots.

In Maine, motorists have an affirmative obligation to make sure that they are safely operating their vehicles at all times – regardless of the weather conditions. For example, Maine speed limits are designed to be used as a guideline during ideal road conditions. However, during periods of reduced visibility, when it is snowing or raining, or when the temperatures are below freezing, motorists should slow down below the posted speed limit. If a driver fails to reduce their speed according to the weather conditions and causes an accident as a result, they may be liable for any resulting injuries.

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Self-driving cars are gaining traction among many drivers across the United States. Although manufacturers of these vehicles emphasize their safety, these vehicles still pose significant risks of Maine car accidents. The popular electric car company Tesla uses an autopilot feature to allow drivers to let go of the wheel while driving. According to developers, the cars work faster than humans and work by collecting vision, sonar, and radar data to process driving conditions. The autopilot feature helps cars stay in their lanes, match speed conditions, shift lanes when necessary, and self-park. Despite these features, Tesla urges drivers to remain alert while operating these vehicles and keep their hands on the steering wheel.

This warning seems to contradict many of the company’s claims regarding the safety and reliability of their cars. However, Tesla’s CEO posts videos of drivers engaging the system without their hands on the steering wheel. In response to safety concerns and accidents involving these vehicles, Tesla continues to stand by their position that its autopilot feature is a safer way to drive.

Tesla claims that its autopilot feature is almost 40% safer than driving without this system. However, safety experts argue that Tesla’s statistics are flawed and do not accurately reflect crash data. In fact, Tesla’s autopilot feature was engaged during three fatal collisions in the United States. More recently, Tesla’s autopilot feature was engaged when a car rear-ended a police vehicle in Connecticut. According to a news report, after the accident, the driver told the police that he was tending to his dog in the backseat when the car collided with the police vehicle. Fortunately, the police car was disabled, and no one suffered injuries; however, images show substantial damage to the vehicle. Police cited the driver with a misdemeanor summons for reckless driving and endangerment. If the car were occupied, the driver would likely face civil liability claims as well.

Property owners have a responsibility to make sure that their premises are safe for visitors; this often includes clearing snow and ice during the winter season. In some instances, individuals who suffer injuries because of a slip and fall on ice or snow may be able to hold the property owner or business owner responsible for their damages. Accidents that occur on icy or snowy walkways, parking lots, and steps can lead to severe injuries, including broken bones, concussions, spinal cord injuries, and even death.

Generally, there are three ways in which a Maine property owner or business may be liable for injuries during a weather-related slip and fall. The three main situations are:  1.) if the owner contributed to the dangerous condition that caused the fall, 2.) if the owner knew about the hazardous condition but failed to fix it, or 3.) if the owner should have known about the dangerous situation. Property owners typically include commercial businesses, such as stores, restaurants, and apartment complexes. Owners also include residential homeowners, including people who own private homes, condominiums, and townhouses. Finally, owners include properties that are run by the government, such as post offices, police stations, and courthouses.

Liability for typical slip and fall accidents often hinges on the duty that the property owner owed the injured party. The extent of a duty owed to a guest depends on whether the injured person is classified as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. However, challenges establishing liability arise when the slip and fall occurs because of snowy and icy conditions. Generally, Maine does not have a state statute that requires property owners to remove snow and ice from their property; however, certain towns may have local ordinances that do impose liability. In many cases, courts will look at what a “reasonable” property owner should be expected to do in similar circumstances. For example, the court may look at where the snow or ice accumulated, how much time between previous removal and accumulation had elapsed when the slip and fall occurred, or whether the business was in operation when the dangerous condition arose. Many cities are urging their residents to engage in safe driving and pedestrian practices to avoid injuring themselves or someone else during the winter season.

In an attempt to enhance safety and reduce accidents, the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) gathers data and provides statistics regarding Maine motor vehicle crashes. Most recently, the DOT reported that Maine experiences one fatal crash every 60 hours, and one personal injury crash ever 56 minutes. There have been over 30,000 traffic accidents, and many of these involve all-terrain vehicles (ATV).

ATVs are motorized off-road vehicles typically used for recreational purposes. There are many risks associated with these vehicles because of their design and limited restrictions on their operation. Although Maine prohibits children under ten years old from operating an ATV, they do permit children and teenagers over ten and under 16 years old to operate them if they complete a training course. Moreover, while typical driving under the influence statutes applies to ATV drivers, many times, riders engage in this unsafe behavior because there are not many law enforcement officials patrolling the areas where these vehicles are usually driven.

There are several leading causes of severe and fatal ATV accidents in Maine. For example, accidents may arise when a driver uses an ATV on a paved surface, as these vehicles are designed for off-road use and not pavement. Further, most ATVs are single-rider vehicles, and an additional passenger can throw off the vehicle’s balance. Also, many times, accidents result because drivers lack training and supervision. Drivers who unsafely operate an ATV can cause substantial injuries to themselves, bystanders, and other drivers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducts research, compiles records, and provides the public with data regarding relevant health and safety issues. One important health and safety issue that the CDC reports on is the rate and circumstances surrounding drunk driving accidents in Maine. Impaired driving is one of the most harrowing traffic risks in the United States, resulting in thousands of deaths every year. According to the most recent data, more than 15,000 people nationwide have received impaired driving charges, and over 100 people die every year in Maine because of an impaired driver.

For example, recently, a Maine couple died after a drunk driver collided with them when they were on their way to pick-up their young daughter from a play date. According to a recent report, state police were in the process of responding to calls reporting an erratic driver when they received notice that there was a two-vehicle crash. Emergency officials said that the erratic SUV driver crossed a double-yellow line and collided with the couple. The couple died upon impact, and police believe that the at-fault driver was under the influence of alcohol and speeding.

In response to the rising rate of Maine drunk driving accidents, such as the one above, Maine lawmakers have employed various strategies to reduce and prevent impaired driving. Some policies include implementing zero-tolerance laws when people under 21 drive with any alcohol in their system. Further, Maine permits police officials to engage in sobriety checks. Police can stop drivers in visible locations and conduct breath tests if they have reason to suspect that the driver is under the influence. Moreover, courts may require that convicted impaired drivers equip their vehicles with ignition interlock systems. Also, Maine has promoted community coalitions, media campaigns, interventions, and school programs to thwart the rising rate of drunk driving accidents.

One woman was killed and another seriously injured when two vehicles were involved in a Maine car accident near St. Albans. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the collision occurred on Palmyra Road at a time when there were wet road conditions. It is unclear if it was actively raining at the time of the crash. Evidently, a 20-year-old woman driving a 2002 Toyota Camry was traveling southbound on Palmyra Road when she inexplicably drifted across the center median into oncoming traffic. As the Camry crossed into traffic, it collided head-on with a Toyota Corolla being driven by a 65-year-old woman.

The older woman was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, and the younger driver was seriously injured, including a broken leg. Neither vehicle contained any passengers. Authorities attribute the crash to the wet road conditions, as well as the fact that they believe the driver of the Camry was speeding at the time of the accident. According to the police, both of these factors contributed to her losing control of the vehicle. An investigation is still underway to determine if criminal charges will be brought against the Corolla’s driver.

Maine Wrongful Death Claims

Historically, the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred private citizens from filing lawsuits against tortious government employees and entities. In response to the inherent unfairness of this broad prohibition, legislators enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA (the “Act”) provides Maine citizens a mechanism to sue federal government employees for tortious acts in federal courts. However, the Maine Tort Claim Act (MTCA) is more restrictive and only allows private citizens to sue local and state government entities officials under very particular circumstances.

The MTCA allows injury victims to file lawsuits against Maine government employees and entities in four main situations. First, when the claim for bodily injury or property damage is based on the government’s negligent ownership or maintenance of vehicles, machinery, and equipment. This includes injuries that occur while the government employee is using a car, special mobile equipment, trailers, aircraft, watercraft, and other similar vehicles. Second, the government may face liability when the injury occurs at a public building. Public buildings typically include libraries, police stations, and public schools. However, there are exceptions, and the government is not liable for claims involving injuries from the construction, ownership, or maintenance of historical sites, land buildings, unimproved land, land used for recreation, and dams. Finally, the government may be liable for injuries resulting from the discharge of pollutants and road construction, cleaning, or repair.

Maine accident victims who sustain injuries on federal property may have other avenues for relief based on the FTCA. The FTCA permits injury victims to file a lawsuit in federal court based on injuries that occurred on federal property or by a federal government actor. For example, if an individual suffers injuries at one of the four national parks in Maine, they may be able to file a negligence lawsuit based on the FTCA. However, there are 13 exceptions to the waiver of immunity under the FTCA. The most frequent exception that the government will utilize is the discretionary function exception. This exception bars lawsuits against the government that are based on a government actor’s exercise or failure to perform a discretionary function or duty. Courts will examine two main factors when determining whether the government can employ this exception. First, they must decide if the government employee’s actions involved a judgment or choice. If they determine that an element of choice exists, they will then look to public policy considerations and whether the FTCA was designed to bar this type of lawsuit.

Earlier this month, a Maine car accident in Lisbon sent five to the hospital, three of whom remained hospitalized for more than 24 hours with critical injuries. According to a local news report covering the accident, the two vehicles, a Subaru and a Chrysler, were headed in opposite directions on Route 196, also known as Lisbon Road, early in the afternoon. For unknown reasons, the Subaru crossed into the opposite lane of traffic and collided with the Chrysler. The crash was so severe that Route 196 was closed for two and a half hours afterward, and police are still investigating exactly what happened.

All five people involved—an older couple in the Chrysler and a young couple with an infant in the Subaru—were taken to the hospital after the crash. Unfortunately, the passengers of both cars, a 71-year-old woman and a 29-year-olf woman, remained in critical condition more than 24 hours later. The latter suffered very severe upper-body injuries and had to be taken to the Intensive Care Unit. The driver of the Subaru, presumed to be at-fault, also suffered severe injuries.

When an accident occurs as a result of a driver’s mistake, Maine law allows the victims to hold the at-fault party responsible, usually through a negligence action. Under Maine personal injury law, all drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care on the road, to avoid injuring others. If they breach that duty, a plaintiff injured by their actions – whether it be intoxicated driving, distracted driving, or reckless driving—may be able to hold them liable.