Articles Posted in Government Liability

Under the state’s “move over” laws and Title 29-A §2054-9 MRSA, Maine drivers must pull over or slow down when they encounter a stopped emergency vehicle. Emergency vehicles generally refer to police vehicles, fire trucks, tow trucks, highway safety vehicles, and ambulances. Drivers approaching emergency vehicles must pull as far to the right side of the roadway that is safe and practical. While many accidents involve drivers hitting emergency vehicles, in some cases, haphazard emergency vehicles cause serious accidents. The National Safety Council reports that their most recent statistics indicate that nearly 170 people suffered fatal injuries in an accident involving emergency vehicles. Over 50% of these fatalities involved victims who were inside passenger vehicles.

For instance, a Maine news report recently described a harrowing ambulance crash on Route 163. The ambulance crossed into the centerline and slammed into two vehicles before veering off the road, according to reports. The ambulance first hit a sedan and then struck a small SUV, sending both cars off of the road. Fortunately, the drivers did not sustain serious injuries as they were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident. The cause of the accident is under investigation; however, speed does not seem to be a factor in collisions.

Determining fault and liability in Maine emergency vehicle accidents can be a daunting process. The challenges largely stem from the state’s immunity laws which limit the types of claims citizens can file against the government. While many ambulances are run through private companies, the government often funds, owns or operates the vehicles. In these cases, injury victims may be left with little to no recourse for the driver’s negligence.

Police pursuits are often necessary to apprehend a suspect; however, these chases can put many innocent people in harm’s way. Maine car accidents involving police pursuits can result in serious injuries to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. While the Bureau of Justice reports that most jurisdictions maintain restrictions on police pursuits, these incidents often occur and cause plenty of accidents.

For instance, a recent news report described a Maine police pursuit involving the driver of a stolen pick-up truck. According to the report, law enforcement began chasing the driver of an allegedly stolen pick-up truck. Troopers stopped the chase when they approached heavy traffic in a construction zone; however, they continued the pursuit afterward. Police used a spike mat to try and stop the truck, but the driver swerved and slammed head-on with a passenger vehicle. Three adults in the passenger vehicle suffered injuries and were taken to a local hospital. The pick-up truck’s driver and passenger also suffered injuries. Authorities charged the truck driver with several offenses, including reckless conduct, driving to endanger, and receiving stolen property.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that a significant number of emergency room visits involve speeding accidents. Speeding drivers pose a serious risk to road users, and the risk increases when the driver is evading authorities. There are many reasons these chases often end in an accident:

When an individual suffers injuries because of poorly maintained property or land, they may be able to recover against the negligent land or property owner. However, Maine injury victims often face challenges when the incident occurs on public or government land or because of the negligence of a governmental entity or employee. The Maine Tort Claims Act (MTCA) provides municipalities and governmental entities with immunity for negligent acts. While the MTCA provides barriers to recovery, the government may still be liable for bodily injury and property damage in situations involving negligent ownership, maintenance or use of government vehicles, machinery, and equipment or roadways. Further, they may be responsible for injuries occurring at public buildings, such as public schools, parks, and courthouses.

While the MTCA provides broad immunity to governmental entities, the statute also includes exceptions to governmental immunity. Two critical road-related exceptions include:

  • Negligence during road construction, cleaning, and repair; and

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.

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