Recently, a man filed a Maine personal injury lawsuit against Ford Motor Company claiming that the defective design of a lawnmower caused a blade to fly off a mower and strike his leg. According to a local news report, the man was bicycling with his son when a pickup truck towing a trailer with a mower passed them. The blade on the mower came loose, struck the man, and severed his leg. The impact was so severe that the man may have bled to death. However, in a fortuitous turn of events, a nurse happened to witness the incident. The nurse stopped and used a beach towel as a tourniquet until further emergency help arrived. Although the man survived, he required amputation above the knee.

Following the accident, the victim filed a lawsuit against the mower’s manufacturer, the Ford Motor Company. The complaint alleged that the mower was defectively designed because there was no backup mechanism to prevent this type of accident. The mower’s design allowed the blade to drop when transported in an upright position. The plaintiff argued that the manufacturer should have designed a backup mechanism to ensure that the blade did not drop during transportation. Further, the plaintiff pointed out that the factory-installed safety device failed, and the manufacturer did not provide any warning to users that this type of accident could occur.

There are generally four types of product liability lawsuits in Maine; including:

Earlier this month, the federal appellate court overseeing Maine district courts issued an opinion in a medical malpractice case. The opinion illustrates the court’s power to exclude evidence if a party fails to comply with the court’s orders. The case raises an important issue for Maine personal injury litigants in that it emphasizes the importance of being familiar with the state’s procedural requirements.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured after she underwent surgery at the defendant hospital. A few years after the surgery, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim against the hospital and several doctors. Early on in the process, the court entered a scheduling order to outline several of the relevant deadlines. The scheduling order provided that the plaintiff must disclose the names of her expert witnesses and the contents of their reports by May 20, 2016. The scheduling order also stated that discovery was to close by November 15, 2016.

The plaintiff timely named one expert witness. At some point after the May 20 deadline, the plaintiff filed a motion to withdraw her case against one of the doctors, claiming that she did not have a case against that doctor. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion. The remaining defendants filed a motion asking the court to exclude the plaintiff’s named expert witness. While that motion was pending, the plaintiff filed a motion to re-join the dismissed doctor. The plaintiff noted that a report from another expert indicated that the dismissed doctor might have been responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

As a general rule, Maine personal injury laws hold people accountable for injuries that are caused by their negligence. In many cases, the basis of a personal injury suit is the defendant’s negligent action; however, a lawsuit can also be premised on a defendant’s failure to act. This is frequently the case in Maine premises liability cases.

Under Maine premises liability law, property owners and lessees owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. However, landowners do not owe the same duty to those who enter the property without permission. Courts generally do not require a plaintiff to prove that they were formally invited onto a property before finding that the property owner owed them a duty. Instead, courts consider the surrounding circumstances when making the determination. For example, a customer who enters a business establishment will be presumed to be an invited guest, even if they do not intend to make a purchase.

An important exception to the general rule that property owners owe a duty to those whom they invite onto their land is the Maine recreational use statute. A recreational use statute is a law that specifically prohibits certain lawsuits that are based on injuries occurring while engaging in recreational activity on the defendant’s land. The idea behind recreational use statutes is that the government wants to encourage landowners to allow the general public to enjoy their land without fear of being financially responsible for any injuries occurring as a result.

Losing a loved one in any kind of accident is a tragic, life-altering experience, especially when the accident resulting in your loved one’s death was preventable. While nothing can bring a family member back, or ease the pain caused by such a loss, aggrieved family members may find some solace in holding the responsible party accountable through a Maine wrongful death lawsuit.

A wrongful death claim is a type of Maine personal injury claim in which the personal representative of the accident victim brings a claim against the parties believed to be responsible for the accident victim’s death. Wrongful death cases are commonly brought after fatal Maine car crashes, workplace injuries, or other tragic, preventable accidents.

This year, the Maine Legislature reorganized the state’s probate code, which contains the wrongful death act. Before July 1, 2019, wrongful death actions were brought under Maine Revised Statutes Title 18-A section 2-804; however, moving forward these claims are controlled by Title 18-C section 2-807. For the most part, the laws governing wrongful death cases are unchanged, with a few minor differences related to how courts distribute wrongful death damages awards.

Maine is known for its excellent skiing and snowboarding. And while skiing and snowboarding are popular winter sports that all ages can enjoy, they can also present significant dangers. One common question that comes up after Maine skiing accidents is whether the ski resort can be held liable for a skier’s injuries. The answer, as is often the case in personal injury law, is “sometimes.”

Generally speaking, landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. Thus, absent any other legislation, it would seem that ski resorts are bound by this duty and could be held liable for a skier’s injuries. However, the Maine State Legislature has the ability to clarify or eliminate a duty of care if it sees fit. Not surprisingly, given the fact that the ski tourism industry is a significant source of revenue for the state, lawmakers provide some legal protections to ski resorts.

Under Maine Revised Statutes section 15217, lawmakers have determined that skiers and snowboarders assume certain risks by engaging in these winter sports. In effect, section 15217 provides broad immunity to ski resorts by stating that skiers and snowboarders accept “the risks inherent in the sport and, to that extent, may not maintain an action against or recover from the ski area operator … for any losses, injuries, damages or death that result from the inherent risks of skiing.” The statute notes that weather conditions, surface conditions, and collisions with fixed objects, among other risks, are all inherent risks of the sport.

While some accidents are solely the cause of one party, it is not unusual for multiple parties to share responsibility for an accident. One of the most common questions Maine personal injury victims have is whether they can pursue a claim for compensation if they were partially at fault for the accident resulting in their injuries. The answer, as is often the case with legal questions of this nature, is “it depends.”

Maine courts employ the doctrine of modified comparative negligence when it comes to determining which injury victims can recover for their injuries. In many jurisdictions using a comparative negligence system, a partially at-fault plaintiff can recover for their injuries; however, a plaintiffs’ recovery amount will be reduced by their percentage of fault. Thus, if a plaintiff suffered $400,000 in personal injury damages but was found to be 25 percent at fault by the jury, the plaintiff’s total recovery amount would be $300,000.

Under Maine Rules of Civil Procedure section 156, as long as the injury victim is less than 50% percent at fault for the accident, they are legally permitted to recover for their injuries. However, unlike other jurisdictions, Maine courts “instruct the jury to reduce the total damages by dollars and cents, and not by percentage, to the extent considered just and equitable.” In so doing, juries should consider the plaintiff’s share of responsibility, but should not strictly rely on percentages when reducing a plaintiff’s award figure. In addition, the court must instruct the jury that their award amount will be the final verdict in the case and that there will be no further modification by the court.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Maine personal injury case discussing the state’s equine statute. Specifically, the court had to determine if the equine statute precluded the plaintiff’s case against the parents of a ten-year-old girl who struck the plaintiff while riding a horse. As the court notes, this case was the first time the Maine Supreme Court heard a case requiring the court to determine the breadth of immunity provided by the equine-immunity statute.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was observing children race horses at an arena. While there was a designated area for spectators, the plaintiff observed from an area that was closer to the exit. The plaintiff watched as a ten-year-old girl rode around the track several times. However, on the girl’s fourth circuit around the raceway, the girl’s horse collided with the plaintiff. The plaintiff fell, seriously injuring her wrist, and later filed a personal injury lawsuit against the girl’s parents (the defendants).

In response to the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendants claimed Title 7 Chapter 743 Section 4103-A of the Maine Revised Statutes provides the defendant’s immunity from the plaintiff’s lawsuit. Specifically, that statute provides that any “person engaged in an equine activity is not liable for any property damage or damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant or spectator resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.”

Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case involving a slip-and-fall accident at a wedding. While the case did not arise under Maine law, it is relevant to Maine slip-and-fall accident victims because it shows the tendencies of the federal circuit court overseeing Maine courts. The case required the court to determine if the lower court correctly denied the plaintiff’s post-trial motion seeking judgment as a matter of law. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence supported the jury’s verdict, dismissing the plaintiff’s case.

As the court described the events leading up to the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff was a guest at a wedding which was located at the defendant resort. The wedding venue was adjacent to the swimming pool. As the night went on, and guests began to enjoy themselves, several of the guests started jumping in the pool. After getting into the pool, the guests returned to the dance floor. This resulted in the dance floor getting wet.

The plaintiff was walking across the dance floor, heading to the restroom to change into her bathing suit, when she slipped and fell. As a result of her fall, she fractured her wrist and seriously injured her back. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the resort. The case proceeded to trial, where a jury determined that the resort was not negligent. The plaintiff filed a post-trial motion, arguing that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the evidence did not support the jury’s verdict. That motion was denied, and the plaintiff appealed.

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a medical malpractice case resting on a claim that a man’s original misdiagnosis delayed his treatment and caused serious complications. According to the court’s opinion, in August 2012, the plaintiff had had a polyp surgically removed from his colon less than a week before he went to the emergency room at a Maine hospital complaining of abdominal pain. He was seen by the on-call surgeon, who ordered a CT scan. The next morning, a radiologist reviewed the results of the scan and found there were no findings that suggested an anastomotic leak. Later that night, based on the plaintiff’s condition, another surgeon decided emergency surgery had to be conducted, and in the course of that surgery, discovered a small anastomotic leak. The plaintiff was hospitalized and intubated, developed deep venous thrombosis, and had a stroke during his hospitalization.

The plaintiff and his wife filed a medical malpractice claim against the radiologist who interpreted the CT scan, the first on-call surgeon, and the hospital. They alleged that if the anastomotic leak had been identified and treated the night he went to the hospital, he could have avoided many of the resulting complications. A trial court found that the plaintiffs could not prove the claim against the hospital and the radiologist, and a jury found in the surgeon’s favor, and the plaintiffs appealed. They argued that the court should not have found in favor of the radiologist and that a jury could have found that the radiologist was negligent in reading the CT scan, and that his negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

To prove the elements of a medical malpractice claim, the court explained, a plaintiff must show that the defendant departed from a recognized standard of care, proximately causing the plaintiff’s injury. To establish proximate cause in the medical malpractice claim, the evidence must show that the defendant’s’ conduct played a substantial part in causing the injury, and the injury was either a direct result or a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conduct. The appeals court found that the record was devoid of evidence showing what role the radiologist’s reading of the CT scan played in the development of the man’s complications. Therefore, there was no evidence linking the radiologist’s conduct to the injury that related to the delay in time and the complications he suffered. For that reason, a verdict would have been based on mere speculation in finding that the radiologist’s conduct was the proximate cause of the man’s injuries.

Summer is in full swing, but lawmakers in Maine recently had their minds on the winds of winter when they debated a bill that would have penalized motorists who failed to remove ice and snow debris from the roofs of their cars before traveling at faster speeds. It’s already a requirement of motorists in numerous other states, including nearby New Hampshire with Jessica’s Law. Our injury lawyers have learned that the Maine bill, S.B. 1527, has died in committee. This is unfortunate given that the measure had bipartisan backing, and with vigilant enforcement, might have made a notable difference in Maine roadway safety this upcoming winter season.

Had S.B. 1527 passed, it would have amended Sec. 1. 29-A MRSA §2396, sub-§5 (pertaining to unsecured loads) to include a provision fining $250 to any motorist traveling 40 mph or faster on a public way with a “load of solid precipitation on the motor vehicle.” Solid precipitation was defined to include snow, ice, sleet and hail. Exceptions were to be made for “minor amounts” of solid precipitation where a reasonable effort had been made to remove the load, but otherwise, having a lump of snow on the roof of your car would be grounds for a steep fine under the act which would have doubled for second or subsequent offenses. The one major weakness in the measure was that it exempted commercial vehicles, very often the culprit in these cases.

Why Snow and Ice on Cars is So Dangerous

Car accident lawyers know public opinion on car snow and ice removal is somewhat split. Obviously, there are those who say daily snow and ice removal from one’s vehicles is a major hassle. On the flip side, those clumps of debris and shards of ice can cause serious accidents. For example, Jessica’s Law in New Hampshire is named for a teenager who was struck and killed in 1999 by another driver who lost control on the highway when a huge chunk of ice that flew from a box truck smashed his windshield. This January in Wells, Maine, a driver’s entire front windshield was shattered when a hunk of solid ice came flying off another vehicle. In another similar incident that same month in Freeport, a woman and her three daughters narrowly escaped injury when ice from a box truck hurtled their direction and shattered the windshield. In February, a New Hampshire DOT worker was hurt when ice from atop a box truck flew off the back and slammed into the windshield. Continue reading

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