Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

The Bureau of Highway Safety and the Maine Department of Transportation periodically release Maine crash data. These reports indicate that the leading causes of Maine accidents are distracted and inattentive driving, lane departures, speeding, and impaired driving. Many people believe that impaired driving is only a result of alcohol or illicit drug use; however, impaired driving also includes those driving while under the influence of a prescription medication that was prescribed to treat an underlying medical condition. It can also include those who drive while suffering from certain medical conditions.

Some medical conditions make it unsafe for an individual to drive a vehicle. People who know or should know that their medical condition can cause driving impairment should take appropriate precautions before operating a motor vehicle. In some instances, driving may not be safe at all. Certain medical conditions may predispose a person to engage in unsafe driving. For example, seizure disorders, sleep disorders, limited eyesight, and other conditions that require medication may limit a driver’s ability to drive safely.

If a driver’s health condition is the cause of an accident, they may be liable for any injuries caused by the accident. Establishing liability in typical impaired or drunk driving accidents may be straightforward; however, accidents resulting from medical conditions can be more complicated. Drivers owe others a standard of care to operate their motor vehicle safely. If a driver knows or should know that their medical condition or medication can cause impaired driving, they should not risk the safety of others by driving. If they fail to take the appropriate precautions and cause an accident, they may face liability.

Earlier this month, three individuals were tragically killed in a car accident in Acadia National Park. According to a news report covering the accident, the driver had been drinking late into the evening on the night in question, yet mistakenly thought that he was able to drive. While specific details about the accident are not yet known, the report indicates that the driver, while traveling faster than the 25 miles per hour speed limit, lost control of his vehicle on a curve and then hit a tree.

The driver called 911 after the crash, and officials immediately responded. Three victims were identified, ages 27, 30, and 36. Law enforcement recently charged the driver with three counts of manslaughter, one for each victim.

Unfortunately, traffic deaths resulting from car or truck accidents are not uncommon and are a huge cause for concern in Maine. According to the Maine Department of Public Safety, traffic deaths in 2019 are up 24% from 2018. Before this tragic accident occurred, 105 people had been killed on Maine roads in 2019 so far. These deaths can result in criminal charges, potentially carrying fines and jail time for the driver, but the filing of criminal charges does little to help the accident victims, or their families, deal with the expenses incurred in the accident’s aftermath.

While some accidents are solely the cause of one party, it is not unusual for multiple parties to share responsibility for an accident. One of the most common questions Maine personal injury victims have is whether they can pursue a claim for compensation if they were partially at fault for the accident resulting in their injuries. The answer, as is often the case with legal questions of this nature, is “it depends.”

Maine courts employ the doctrine of modified comparative negligence when it comes to determining which injury victims can recover for their injuries. In many jurisdictions using a comparative negligence system, a partially at-fault plaintiff can recover for their injuries; however, a plaintiffs’ recovery amount will be reduced by their percentage of fault. Thus, if a plaintiff suffered $400,000 in personal injury damages but was found to be 25 percent at fault by the jury, the plaintiff’s total recovery amount would be $300,000.

Under Maine Rules of Civil Procedure section 156, as long as the injury victim is less than 50% percent at fault for the accident, they are legally permitted to recover for their injuries. However, unlike other jurisdictions, Maine courts “instruct the jury to reduce the total damages by dollars and cents, and not by percentage, to the extent considered just and equitable.” In so doing, juries should consider the plaintiff’s share of responsibility, but should not strictly rely on percentages when reducing a plaintiff’s award figure. In addition, the court must instruct the jury that their award amount will be the final verdict in the case and that there will be no further modification by the court.

Summer is in full swing, but lawmakers in Maine recently had their minds on the winds of winter when they debated a bill that would have penalized motorists who failed to remove ice and snow debris from the roofs of their cars before traveling at faster speeds. It’s already a requirement of motorists in numerous other states, including nearby New Hampshire with Jessica’s Law. Our injury lawyers have learned that the Maine bill, S.B. 1527, has died in committee. This is unfortunate given that the measure had bipartisan backing, and with vigilant enforcement, might have made a notable difference in Maine roadway safety this upcoming winter season.

Had S.B. 1527 passed, it would have amended Sec. 1. 29-A MRSA §2396, sub-§5 (pertaining to unsecured loads) to include a provision fining $250 to any motorist traveling 40 mph or faster on a public way with a “load of solid precipitation on the motor vehicle.” Solid precipitation was defined to include snow, ice, sleet and hail. Exceptions were to be made for “minor amounts” of solid precipitation where a reasonable effort had been made to remove the load, but otherwise, having a lump of snow on the roof of your car would be grounds for a steep fine under the act which would have doubled for second or subsequent offenses. The one major weakness in the measure was that it exempted commercial vehicles, very often the culprit in these cases.

Why Snow and Ice on Cars is So Dangerous

Car accident lawyers know public opinion on car snow and ice removal is somewhat split. Obviously, there are those who say daily snow and ice removal from one’s vehicles is a major hassle. On the flip side, those clumps of debris and shards of ice can cause serious accidents. For example, Jessica’s Law in New Hampshire is named for a teenager who was struck and killed in 1999 by another driver who lost control on the highway when a huge chunk of ice that flew from a box truck smashed his windshield. This January in Wells, Maine, a driver’s entire front windshield was shattered when a hunk of solid ice came flying off another vehicle. In another similar incident that same month in Freeport, a woman and her three daughters narrowly escaped injury when ice from a box truck hurtled their direction and shattered the windshield. In February, a New Hampshire DOT worker was hurt when ice from atop a box truck flew off the back and slammed into the windshield. Continue reading

Maine has one of the lowest rates of uninsured drivers in the country. That’s great news for Maine’s road users, who get cheaper uninsured motorist coverage for injuries caused by a hit-and-run/unidentified driver. Still, it doesn’t show the full picture. Many drivers have the minimum mandatory auto insurance coverage. Currently, that rate is $50,000 per person/$100,000 per crash in bodily injury liability, $25,000 in property damage and $2,000 in medical payments. This might sound like a lot, but as your Portland injury lawyers will tell you, it’s often inadequate to reimburse for total losses following a serious Maine car crash. Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage makes up the difference – between the policy limit of the at-fault driver and your UIM limit.

Don’t assume, however, that when the time comes, the insurer will acquiesce automatically to your requested UIM compensation. Auto insurers actively seek ways to deny or reduce payments – even to their own long-time, safe driver customers. An experienced Portland UIM attorney can advocate for your right to receive full and fair compensation. We can also identify potential acts by insurers – such as vastly undervaluing a legitimate claim or refusing to tell you why they are denying a claim – that might amount to bad faith. If proven, bad faith insurance violations under the Maine Insurance Code can result not only in full crash injury compensation but also attorney fees (which would otherwise come out as a percent of your damage award), court costs AND a penalty of up to 150 percent of that amount.

Although disputes over UIM coverage can often be settled through negotiation (avoiding the time and expense of a trial), it wasn’t long ago a UIM coverage case found its way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The case, Wallace v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co., involved the question of how an “underinsured motorist” is defined. This is an important technicality of which to be mindful because the definition can differ depending on policy language and it can have a big impact on how much your insurer is required to pay you. Continue reading

A new report detailing the vast expanse of dangerous bridges in the U.S. from coast-to-coast is startling, especially if you live in Maine, where 352 of 2,450 bridges were identified as having serious structural deficiencies. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent bridge inventory analysis classified more than 47,000 bridges nationally “structurally deficient” and “in poor condition.” The American Road & Transportation Builders Association notes that if we were to lay these structures end-to-end, they’d stretch from Houston to Chicago.

Bangor car accident attorneys know that when someone is injured or killed because of dangerous transportation infrastructure, the question of liability may be complicated. You’ll need an experienced, well-resourced law firm to help you untangle the question of who is responsible – and further to hold them legally accountable for damages.

The Scope of U.S. Decaying Traffic Infrastructure

TheTrucker.com’s report on the new data estimated more than 178 million trips are made in cars, school buses, tractor-trailers, and motorcycles across these defective roads and bridges daily. Continue reading

A fatal car accident in Prospect resulted in the deaths of two men and, now, the felony conviction of a man suspected – but not proven – to have been the negligent driver of that vehicle. Bangor car accident attorneys know the case represents some unique elements from a wrongful death litigation perspective, due to the fact the person who was driving was not conclusively decided.

According to The Bangor Daily News, the 2016 crash involved a pickup truck on North Searsport Road on an afternoon in September 2016. What authorities know for certain is there were three occupants in that vehicle at the time the truck slammed into a utility pole, causing the truck to roll over several times, ejecting all three from the vehicle. Investigators determined speed was a major factor in the crash, but several crash scene reconstruction experts called to investigate for the prosecution and defense were unable to determine who was driving at the time of the collision – the 33-year-old surviving defendant or one of the two men who died, ages 59 and 35. Defendant, who suffered serious head injuries in the collision, cannot remember who was behind the wheel. Investigators know that defendant had been driving at other times during that day. Blood found on the driver’s side airbag was determined to belong to the surviving defendant, prompting serious felony charges of manslaughter and other crimes. However, an expert later determined the blood on the airbag most likely came form the person sitting in the center, not the driver. The more serious charges were dropped, but defendant was still charged with operating without a license as a habitual offender (resulting in a 3.5 year prison sentence) and violating conditions of his release (six months, to be served concurrently).

As for a Maine wrongful death lawsuit, a case where the driver cannot be identified poses some challenges. Still, our Bangor wrongful death car accident attorneys know there may be a number of potential options for compensation.

Last year, officials reported record-breaking traffic on New England roads over the Thanksgiving holiday. More than 2.2 million people in this region make a turkey day trek more than 50 miles, representing a 3.5 percent increase over a year ago and the biggest boost in volume since 2005. It’s not clear exactly how many of those were in rented vehicles, but we know it’s common. There was also an uptick in air travel, with some 36,000 people flying out of Portland International Jetport, many opting for rental vehicles while in town.  Nationally, it’s estimated some 51 million people traveled over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday through Sunday (with Wednesday being the busiest day).

Maine car accident attorneys in Bangor know that when a collision involves a rented vehicle, there may be some unique elements to consider with regard to auto insurance and liability coverage.

Prior to 2005, victims of car accidents could take legal action against rental car companies, holding them liable for the negligent actions of the person driving a vehicle owned by the rental company. This falls under a special type of law called “vicarious liability,” meaning it’s not necessary to show the person you’re suing for injuries directly did anything wrong. Rather, motor vehicles are inherently dangerous and so the owner was responsible for negligent use of that dangerous tool by someone else if the owner gave that person permission.

But then Congress passed the Graves Amendment, part of a larger federal transportation bill, which largely released rental car companies from liability when a renter crashes a car. However, that does not mean they are entirely off-the-hook. They can still be held liable for direct negligence. For example, if a causal factor in the crash was worn tire tread, that could be the fault of the rental car company. If the brakes were old or the car hadn’t been maintained, that could be evidence of direct negligence by the rental car company.  Continue reading

The town of Kittery is now facing nearly half a dozen Maine injury lawsuits following a van crash in which nearly a dozen children, ages 7 to 9, were injured when the driver, employed by the town, crashed due to a medical emergency. Plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for medical expenses incurred in the weeks following the crash.

Injuries included a fractured leg, head injuries, facial scarring and emotional trauma. According to The Portland Press-Herald, the driver, 21, did have a commercial license, but had disclosed in a previous court case (which was public record) that he suffered from epilepsy and seizures, and he also had an extended history of previous criminal driving infractions. An internal review by the town revealed officials there did not check the man’s prior driving record before he was hired.

This case raises a number of legal issues, some of which, like the sudden emergency doctrine, we touched on previously. However, it also raises the common issue in Maine crash case which is one of respondeat superior, or employer liability for employee negligence.

Authorities say charges are likely in a Maine distracted driving crash that inflicted life-threatening injuries on a pregnant woman and her young child. Two other young children in the vehicle were treated at a hospital and released. The 29-year-old woman and her 8-year-old son were listed in critical condition initially, and later in stable/fair condition. It is not clear whether the woman’s unborn child survived.

The Portland Press Herald reports that police in Fryeburg are continuing their investigation of the collision on Route 302, which the police chief told media was likely caused by distracted driving. It’s unclear what type of distraction was allegedly at issue.

Portland distracted driving accident attorneys recognize that these types of crashes devastate individuals and families, not just physically and emotionally, but financially. Although this may be easier to quantify in the form of lost wages if a person is a working parent, even stay-at-home parents provide invaluable contributions to their families, who may suddenly not only be forced to find alternative means of child care and new living arrangements but also often more work to cover the significant costs involved with hospitalization, serious injury or death.

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