Elderly at High Risk of Winter Falls in Maine

Our Maine slip and fall lawyers have blogged recently about many winter accident risks, including numerous accidents blamed on black ice. But it’s our elderly residents who are at highest risk of injuries due to dangerous property conditions, particularly fall accidents.

It’s a growing concern in a state increasingly relying upon home care to address the massive increase in elderly residents in the coming years with the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. A proposal for universal home care recently received enough signatures to make it onto the ballot in Maine. If passed, it would pay for hiring a home health worker to care for an elderly or disabled loved one whose relatives work full time.

The Press Herald recently reported Maine lawmakers in Augusta are considering similar legislation. The proposal would increase taxes on high-earners in Maine to raise $310 million a year to pay for the so-called “universal home care.”

Hawaii and Washington have already passed similar legislation.

Seniors are at a greater risk of falling and are more likely to be seriously injured in the event of a fall. Those who fall in their home may face limited options for recovery.  However, seniors are most at risk when venturing outside the home, or when confined to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

These types of cases often involve a number of areas of law, including personal injury, premises liability, and nursing home neglect.

While our fall injury attorneys discussed recently some of the added protections enjoyed by municipalities and government agencies when it comes to liability for fall accidents, private businesses do not enjoy the same protections. No state-wide snow-removal law is in place in Maine, but municipalities often have their own regulations. In Portland, property owners have only 12 hours after a winter storm to clear snow and ice from adjacent sidewalks. Residential property owners are given 24 hours. Those not in compliance will be cited by the Department of Public Works.

However, litigation over injuries caused by ice and snow date back more than a century in Maine. More recently, the court’s 2001 decision in Budzko v. One City Center Associates Limited Partnership, 2001 ME 37, found a business owner liable for injuries caused by an icy stairway fall during a winter storm.

The court found the business had a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing reasonably safe premises when it knew or should have known of a risk on the premises. Unlike many states, which define a landowner’s duty of care based on the status of the plaintiff — business invitee, guest, trespasser, etc. — Maine premises liability law provides that all property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to lawful guests.

While those injured in falls should consult a law firm experienced in handling such claims, safety advocates are working hard to prevent elderly falls as the first line of defense.

Maine offers a number of fall-prevention and screening options for the elderly and their caregivers. The Maine Agency on Aging, for example, offers balance and strength screening, along with a fall-prevention workshop. The National Council on Aging reports falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.

Each year, more than 2.8 million elderly Americans are treated in hospital emergency rooms after being injured in a fall accident. Nearly 1 million are hospitalized, and nearly 30,000 die. Fall accidents can have a significant impact on a senior’s quality of life. In many cases, an elderly person may never regain their former health, independence, or mobility after a fall injury.

Contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources

Universal home care proposal gets enough signatures to appear on Maine Ballot, Press-Herald, Feb, 23, 2018.

More Blog Entries

Liability in Maine Sledding and Skiing Accidents, Feb. 9, 2018, Peter Thompson & Associates.

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