Brown v. Austin: Hunting Death Weighed by Maine Court

The Androscoggin Superior Court has granted a pre-judgment writ of attachment requested by the surviving family of a man killed in an apparent hunting accident near his home.

In the case of Brown v. Austin, the judge ruled it was more likely than not that the plaintiff will succeed in the wrongful death lawsuit, and therefore granted a writ of attachment  (seizure of assets) in the amount of $30,000 prior to trial. Plaintiffs in these cases can be entitled to receive up to $500,000 under state law – and it’s possible the plaintiff could ultimately be awarded that much. The writ is what ensures she will collect at least the $30,000 if successful at trial.

With the fall hunting season upon us, our Bangor wrongful death lawyers believe this is an important time to note that hunters are required by law to follow reasonable and prudent standards when targeting prey.

Specifically, 12 M.R.S.A. 11222(2)(A) holds that a prudent and reasonable hunter bases identification of the target on spotting the unobstructed view of the target’s head and torso.

Further, 12 M.R.S.A. 11209(1) specifies that it is a criminal act for a hunter to discharge a weapon within 100 yards of a residential home without the owner’s express permission.

Here, according to court records, the defendant was arrested in January 2013 on charges of manslaughter and unlawful discharge of a firearm near a dwelling after he shot and killed a neighbor. The two had been hunting separately on their own properties.

Court records indicate the defendant saw the decedent outside the decedent’s home just after the defendant fired his first shot. By the time he’d fired a second shot, he had lost sight of the decedent. After firing that second round, he saw the target (believing it to be the deer he was after) drop.

He ran over to the target, only to discover it was in fact his neighbor, lying on the ground, dead, with a gunshot wound to the chest. An autopsy would later show his blood-alcohol level was 0.07 percent.

At the time of his death, the neighbor was wearing an orange hunting vest, though not a bright orange hat, as is recommended. A so-called “expert” witness for the defense testified the decedent had been trying to “cut in” to shoot the deer the defendant was following. However, the court rejected this testimony on the basis that the “expert” had no foundation to qualify him as such.

In contesting the request for writ of attachment before the beginning of trial, the defendant argued the decedent was as negligent if not more negligent, and therefore it was more likely than not the plaintiff would not prevail in the case. The court disagreed, based on the full record of facts in the case.

Even if the trial court finds the plaintiff was negligent to some degree, Maine recognizes comparative negligence. This means an injured party’s total damages may be reduced depending on the degree of fault he or she holds in a situation. However, a finding of fault is not enough to bar a plaintiff from collecting damages.

In Bangor, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Brown v. Austin, Oct. 1, 2013, Androscoggin Superior Court

More Blog Entries:

Strout v. Cent. Me. Med. Ctr. – Maine’s Apology Statute, July 1, 2014, Bangor Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog

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