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.
Employer Liability for Employee Negligence
In a case like this, our Maine injury attorneys in Portland recognize there are two main theories of liability against the town.
The first has to do with direct negligence. That is, the town itself was negligent with regard to a particular act or omission. Here, plaintiffs who have filed their notice of intent to sue the town will likely argue the town owed a duty of care to the minor campers who were in that van to use reasonable care in vetting the drivers who would be transporting them across state lines. In failing to do so, it’s likely the town will be accused of negligent hiring.
The second has to do with vicarious liability. Employers whose employees are negligent and cause harm while acting in the course and scope of employment can be held vicariously liable for those actions under a legal doctrine known as respondeat superior. That is Latin for, “let the master answer.” It means plaintiffs will not need to prove the employer (in this case, the town) directly did anything wrong, but nonetheless that the town should be held liable for the negligence of the employee. While medical emergencies sustained behind the wheel aren’t always considered “negligent,” it may be proven he should not have taken the job knowing he was prone to this particular medical issue, which might constitute a breach of care to passengers and other motorists.
Prior Driving Record, Medical Condition, Will be Central in Negligence Lawsuit
Reporters found the driver was twice convicted via administrative process of driving to endanger. He was also cited twice for speeding and three times for driving with a suspended license. Mind you, he’s only been a licensed driver for six years. His first conviction for driving to endanger occurred when he was 16, less than one month after he obtained his driver’s license. In addition to traffic infractions, he was twice criminally convicted for violating the terms of his release.