Maine Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed in Fatal Crash Involving Student, Teacher

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a teacher killed, her two young children seriously injured, after a 17-year-old high school student allegedly crossed the center line in his parents’ vehicle. He struck the teacher’s car head-on in Berwick.

The estate of the elementary school teacher is being represented by her father and a family friend on behalf of the minor children, ages 4 and 7 at the time of the crash. Named defendants include the 17-year-old driver and his parents.

The lawsuit was filed just before the statute of limitations deadline. In Maine, plaintiffs have two years from the date of a person’s death in which to file a wrongful death action. Personal injury actions, meanwhile, can be filed up to six years after the injury occurred.

According to news reports,  the teenager was driving his parents’ 2004 vehicle on his way to school, just before 8 a.m., when he crossed into oncoming traffic and struck the teacher’s vehicle head-on. She too was on her way to school, with her 4-and-7-year-olds in the back seat.

The attorney general’s office launched an investigation shortly after the crash and ultimately determined the teen had not been using his cell phone to talk or text in the minutes before the crash. He also wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Based on this, the attorney general’s office opted not to file criminal charges against the teenager. (Normally, this would be a task of local prosecutors, but the AG stepped in because the teen is a relative of the local district attorney.)

Instead, he was issued a civil citation for a motor vehicle violation resulting in death. Consequences of that are fines and fees totaling $1,640. Of that, $420 will be paid through community service hours. Additionally, the teen’s driver’s license was suspended for two years.

Now, the civil lawsuit brought by decedent’s family asserts negligence and liability by the teen and his parents. The vehicle the teen was driving was both owned and insured by his parents.

This kind of action can be asserted a few ways. The first is via an assertion of negligent entrustment. That is, the parents knew or should have known teen driver was a danger to others on the road, and yet provided a vehicle for him to use anyway. To prove this, plaintiffs might need to show the teen had a history of erratic or careless behavior behind the wheel.

Similarly, owners of vehicles may sometimes be held liable for actions taken in those vehicle, regardless of whether the owner was operating the vehicle at the time of the incident.

Finally, Maine has a parental responsibility law, codified in Maine Revised Statutes Title 14, section 304, that holds a parent or legal guardian of a minor is jointly liable for costs associated with personal injury, property damage or wrongful death caused by the minor. The law is applicable if:

  • Minor child is between the ages of 7 and 17;
  • Minor injured someone through willful or malicious action
  • Minor lives with parents or legal guardian;
  • Minor would have been liable for injuries if he or she were an adult.

Unfortunately, parental liability is capped at $800. The good news is liability may still exist for parents under traditional theories of negligence. An example would be if parent failed to properly supervise child or if someone was hurt by their child in a way that was foreseeable.

It’s important if you are injured in a crash with a teenager to contact an experienced Maine accident lawyer to learn more about your rights.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Family of Berwick Teacher Killed in Crash Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit, March 20, 2015, By Scott Dolan, Portland Press Herald

More Blog Entries:

Police: Maine Crash Caused by Drugged Driver, July 22, 2015, Bangor Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog

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