Negligence law in Maine is designed to compensate the victims of another’s negligence for damages related to physical harm that is caused by such negligence. In addition to physical harm, victims can generally recover damages for psychological and economic damages that are causally related to this physical harm. Negligent acts that cause psychological or emotional harm without physical injury may also form actionable claims, however, Maine law is more limited in this respect. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine recently ruled that a woman’s negligence claim alleging PTSD as a result of the defendant’s actions had been rightfully rejected by a lower court.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case worked as a heavy equipment operator for a paper company. The plaintiff’s company hired a heavy equipment repair company (the defendant) to fix a crane while the plaintiff was working. While working on the crane, employees of the defendant instructed the plaintiff to assist them in repairing the crane by operating the controls while a repairperson rode on the body of the crane. The plaintiff reluctantly agreed to assist the defendant’s employees. While the plaintiff was assisting in the repairs, one of the men repairing the crane unexpectedly stood up and was crushed between an overhead truss bean and the crane, causing him to fall 30 feet to the floor. The man dies as a result of his injuries.
The plaintiff suffered emotional distress and PTSD as a result of her experience surrounding the fatal accident. She filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that they negligently ordered her to participate in the repair, resulting in the death, and this caused the plaintiff’s psychological injuries. The plaintiff also made a claim that the defendant negligently inflicted emotional distress. In response to the plaintiff’s general negligence claim, the defendant answered that Maine law requires a plaintiff to allege physical harm as a result of negligence. In response to the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, the defendant argued that the plaintiff did not have a sufficient relationship with the deceased for her claim to succeed. The trial court accepted the defendant’s arguments and resolved the case in favor of the defendant.