Under Maine personal injury law, accident victims or their loved ones may seek compensation for their damages against the at-fault party. However, issues arise when the at-fault party dies at any point after the accident. When a defendant in a Maine personal injury action dies, victims must take specific steps to preserve their rights and remedies.

Personal injury claims generally survive the death of a defendant in a Maine injury lawsuit. State law permits a plaintiff to continue their claim against the defendant’s estate. When this occurs, the defendant or plaintiff must file a motion with the court to substitute the at-fault party’s estate as the defending party. This applies whether the defendant dies before or after the filing of the case. In either situation, the plaintiff is a victim of wrongdoing, and they maintain the right to compensation for their damages.

For example, a recent Maine news report describes a head-on crash that caused a four-vehicle collision, resulting in two fatalities. According to the Police Chief, he discovered a vehicle crashed head-on with a tour bus, and another car collided head-on with a dump truck. Evidence suggests that one of the cars crossed into the center lane and hit an SUV, the SUV spun out of control and was hit by the dump truck. The car then slammed into a tour bus, resulting in the death of two people inside the car. If an investigation reveals that the car driver was responsible for the accident, the victims or their family members may file a claim against the deceased driver’s estate.

Given Maine’s reputation as a beautiful place to live and vacation, the state experiences a significant amount of car and truck travel every year. However, all this traffic creates busy highways filled with cars and large commercial vehicles, increasing the chances of a serious Maine truck accident. Although some accidents are unavoidable, many trucking accidents are preventable. A significant number of these accidents result from a driver’s negligence or a defective car or truck component.

Trucks with defective parts, as well as those with inherently dangerous features, kill and injure thousands of people every year. A seemingly small defect can change the mechanical workings of these intricate vehicles. Even one defective part in a commercial truck can result in a total system failure, causing the truck to become a serious hazard. This is why federal and state lawmakers require commercial truck drivers to obtain special education, training, and licensing to operate them. Even simple tasks such as shifting and braking require several systems to work together. If even one of these systems contains a defect, the risk of a system failure or accident significantly increases.

The most common defects involve brakes, hydraulics, engines, steering systems, hitches, tires, and restraints. For example, recently, a state court issued an opinion in an accident lawsuit stemming from a truck’s un-commanded activation of a dump gate.

Recently, the City of Portland appealed a denial of its motion for summary judgment on immunity grounds in a Maine slip-and-fall lawsuit. In this case, the plaintiff suffered various injuries after, slipping and falling on ice outside of the Portland Police Department Headquarters’ lobby. Evidently, the plaintiff fell on a partially open brick-paved plaza about seven feet from the exit. The particular location is part of the defendant’s building and is used as a parking area and holding pen. The victim and his wife filed a negligence lawsuit against the City. In response, the City filed various affirmative defenses, including being immune under the Maine Tort Claims Act (MTCA).

Under the MTCA, “all governmental entities shall be immune from suit on any tort claims seeking recovery.” However, the immunity is subject to several exceptions, including the “public building” exception. Under the statute, a “public building” is one that is accessible to the public and serves a public function. When a dispute arises regarding whether an area “belongs” to a building, courts review the area to determine whether it is a “fixture.” The law defines a fixture as something that is “physically annexed” to the property, adapted to the realty, and intended to be irremovable from the property. Similarly, an appurtenance is an object that belongs or is attached to a public building, not including personal property outside the building.

In this case, the defendants argued that the area the plaintiff’s fall did not fit into the statute’s public building exception. The plaintiff did not argue that the area was, in fact, a “public building,” rather, they argued that the plaza was a part of the defendant’s building. In the alternative, the plaintiff contended that the plaza was an appurtenance or a fixture to the building.

Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) classifies buses as one of the safest forms of transportation for passengers in the United States, the safety does not extend to people not on the bus. The FMCSA reported that the country experiences over 50,000 bus accidents every year, resulting in thousands of injuries and fatalities. The sheer magnitude of buses makes them a serious and potentially deadly threat to Maine motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and bystanders. In some instances, bus passengers may suffer injuries and death as well. Despite the training that bus drivers must complete, many Maine bus drivers operate their vehicles without the proper concern for others’ safety. In these cases, Maine bus injury victims may seek compensation for their damages.

Many reasons can cause a Maine bus driver to collide with another motorist or pedestrian. These drivers encounter the same risks and hazards as other motorists; however, the accidents come with much more significant consequences. Although the rate of injury is lower, Maine bus passengers face risk when traveling in these vehicles. The primary risk stems from the state’s lack of seat belts on many public and school buses. Although some manufacturers add seat belts on these vehicles, most individuals do not have access to buses with seat belts, and there are vague rules requiring wearing them. Further, most Maine transit buses are overcrowded, especially during peak travel times. Overcrowding leads to many passengers standing closely together without access to safety handles. If an accident occurs in this situation, the passengers may ram into one another, resulting in more serious injuries.

There are even more dangers to those not traveling on the bus. Most Maine transit buses weigh between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds. As a result, a moving bus generates over four times as much energy than a typical vehicle. Further, the design of these buses often results in many blind spots. This often impairs a driver’s ability to gauge their surroundings safely, which can result in a collision. These accidents can have long-lasting and potentially fatal consequences.

Under Maine law, an individual who suffers injuries because of another’s negligence or reckless conduct may hold at-fault parties or entities responsible for their damages. In some cases, the other party may be responsible under both civil and criminal statutes. Generally, tort or civil claims involve situations where one or more parties’ negligence directly or proximately causes personal damages to another person. Whereas criminal conduct involves a wrong committed against society, in general. The difference between this conduct generally involves the method of wrongdoing, the actor’s intent, and the effect on society. However, in some cases, a tort activity may involve criminal conduct. In either case, a victim may be entitled to damages through civil awards or court-ordered restitution.

Court-ordered restitution is “monetary reimbursement ordered at the offender’s sentencing.” This reimbursement may include a combination of monetary compensation or services by an offender to the victim of a crime and the economic loss caused by the crime. Under the law, criminal courts cannot impose restitution for pain and suffering. In cases where restitution is a condition of an offender’s probation, a probation officer will monitor compliance. Also, the Maine Crime Victims’ Compensation Program may provide additional compensation for a victim’s expenses.

Victims must understand that criminal restitution does not negate their right to civil damages. Court-ordered restitution and civil damages serve different purposes. Victims who seek compensation through the civil system do not need to establish that the victim was guilty through the criminal system. Restitution is designed to rehabilitate the offender and deter future criminal behavior. In contrast, a civil judgment is aimed at compensating the plaintiff for their losses. Although civil plaintiffs can recover through restitution, this does not always cover the extent of the victims’ losses.

Recently, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion addressing whether medical records of individuals who are not parties to a lawsuit are protected from discovery. The case arose after a patient died shortly after undergoing gallbladder surgery. The decedent’s estate argued that the surgeon negligently cut the incorrect duct and caused bile to leak into the woman’s abdomen, resulting in additional surgeries, extended recovery, and additional treatments. The estate filed a lawsuit against the hospital that employed the surgeon, arguing that it was vicariously liable for the doctor’s negligent conduct.

In support of its claim, and per Maine’s statutory scheme, the decedent’s estate went through the pre-litigation screening process. At the screening panel, the plaintiff claimed that the safest manner to perform the surgery was through a procedure called the Critical View of Safety (CVS), and that the doctor did not implement this procedure. The defendant’s expert testified that although that procedure is commonly regarded as the safest way to perform the procedure, a surgeon is within the standard of care if they use an approach they are comfortable with. The doctor testified that she performs approximately 200 surgeries every year, and she does not use the CVS method.

The estate filed a motion to compel the doctor’s notes, with redactions, for the 25 gallbladder surgeries she performed before and after the decedents’. The defendant did not produce the documents, arguing that the records were irrelevant and violated privacy laws.

When you witness an accident, especially involving a close family member or loved one, it can often be a traumatic experience. Thankfully, the law provides various opportunities to recover in the wake of these incidents. When a bystander only hears — and does not see — an accident occur, however, the legal calculus can often become complex.

In a recent Maine Supreme Court opinion, a couple sued after an accident resulted in their son’s death. The plaintiffs had their own company and employed their son as a foreman. On the day of the accident, an employee of the defendant arrived at the plaintiffs’ home to deliver supplies. The delivery included multiple pieces of extremely heavy concrete. During delivery, one of the pieces fell off the forklift and landed on the plaintiffs’ son. The plaintiff’s father was in another part of the house when he heard a loud bang, followed by screaming. He ran to the scene and found his son lying face down with blood coming out of his mouth. After the concrete was removed, the plaintiff performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his son for thirty to fifty minutes. The plaintiff’s son never regained consciousness and died by the time EMTs arrived. For several hours after he died, his body remained in the yard of the plaintiffs’ home awaiting the official investigation.

Following the accident, the deceased’s father was unable to move back into his home because of emotional pain and threatened suicide several times to his wife. The couple was later divorced. The deceased’s father filed a bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim individually, and the deceased’s mother filed a loss of consortium claim against the defendant. The lower court ruled in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiffs appealed.

Under state law, a negligent city, town, county, or state government official may be held liable for negligence through a Maine personal injury lawsuit. However, unlike typical personal injury claims, these cases impose significant burdens on injury victims. For over a century, the doctrine of sovereign immunity protected states and government agencies from civil lawsuits for their negligent conduct. However, to address the inherent unfairness in the doctrine, lawmakers have determined that these laws are not absolute.

Those who have suffered injuries because of a Maine government entity’s negligence may file a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or the Maine Tort Claims Act (MTCA). The avenue of relief depends on the case’s circumstances, including the defendant, injury, and accident location. The FTCA provides Maine citizens a way to hold federal government employees liable for their tortious acts. On the other hand, the MTCA, is more restrictive, and allows these lawsuits in limited circumstances.

Under the MTCA, injury victims can pursue lawsuits against government employees under four circumstances. The first circumstance includes when the lawsuit stems from the government’s negligent ownership or maintenance of a vehicle or machinery. The following situation, is when the injury occurred at a public government building. This includes locations such as police stations, fire departments, public schools, and libraries. However, the government is not liable for accidents occurring because of the ownership or maintenance of areas such as historical sites or unimproved land. Lastly, the government may be liable for damages resulting from road construction or pollutant discharge.

As people become accustomed and adjust to social distancing and the “new normal,” our shopping centers and roads are becoming busy again. With more people out and about, that also means a higher likelihood of potential accidents. Car collisions can truly occur anytime, anywhere, and often happen when you least expect it to. When you find yourself involved in an accident, sometimes it can fuel a lot of adrenaline and anxiety. However, everyone should take a few crucial steps when they’re involved in a Maine auto accident, especially in regards to reporting the incident to the proper authorities.

A recent news report discussed a car accident that took place near the entrance of a shopping center and left at least one individual hospitalized. According to those on the scene who witnessed the accident, a car collided with a sign placed where two lanes diverge. The car then slid into the opposite lane and crashed into a truck. Following the accident, local fire rescue, police, and the sheriff’s office all responded to the crash. Many cars near the accident were trapped in the lane and surrounded by emergency vehicles until law enforcement could re-direct traffic around the scene of the accident.

Auto accidents can be an extremely stressful experience, and are often laced with chaos and confusion. In Maine, following a car accident, state law requires that you file a report to the police if you are on a public road and have caused more than $1,000 in property damage or bodily injury. In parking lots or private property, however, you do not have to report. Failure to notify the local authorities of an accident is considered a Class E crime and can result in your license being suspended.

Product liability claims generally arise when an individual suffers injuries as a result of a defective or unreasonably dangerous product. Under Maine product liability law, any person who is a “reasonably expected” user of the defective product may have standing to file a lawsuit, regardless of whether they purchased the product. Further, although many products have limitations on warranties, state law provides that manufacturers and sellers cannot limit the implied warranties on consumer products. It is important to note that the law distinguishes between consumers and commercial purchasers. Despite the broad rights and remedies that consumers have, Maine product liability lawsuits often entail many challenges.

Maine product liability claims are often complicated, especially when the defective product was bought through Amazon, or a similar online retailer. Historically, Amazon maintained protection for defective products purchased through their site. However, the tide has begun to turn, and courts have found that Amazon cannot always shield itself from liability for defective products. This policy shift has occurred mainly after a series of situations where consumers suffered injuries from defective products sold by third-parties. However, lawmakers are now focusing on Amazon’s liability for its own defective merchandise.

A recent news report indicates that senators across the United States are demanding that Amazon recall hazardous Amazon-brand products. Many of these products are marketed under “AmazonBasics.” Safety experts discovered that many defective products remained available for sale, despite reports that they presented fire hazards. Senators wrote to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, indicating that Amazon’s refusal to remove defective products may pose a serious threat to consumers.

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