The Press Herald is reporting a 58-year-old pedestrian was killed by a city-owned truck in an accident that occurred on Congress Street shortly before 4 a.m. A dump truck driven by a 49-year-old city employee was carrying a load of snow near the Maine Turnpike overpass when it struck the victim, according to the Portland Police Department. This is one of several snow-related mishaps to make news recently — our injury attorneys in Portland recently blogged about several fatal accidents involving snowmobiles and Maine ski resorts.
Maine pedestrian accidents are a growing concern in urban areas. In this case, the victim’s family may look to either the city or their own auto insurance policy to make a recovery if the victim carried uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
The involvement of a city employee will complicate the victim’s family’s ability to make a recovery. A law firm with significant experience handling cases against municipalities and school boards should always be consulted as soon as possible after a serious or fatal accident involving a government entity.
In some cases, a municipality recognizes its liability and balances making a fair settlement to a citizen against the publicity and financial cost of litigation. But lawsuits against municipalities face additional legal hurdles and time constraints.
Municipalities in Maine are protected from legal liability via both the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity and the Maine Tort Claims Act of 1978. Exemptions to the MTCA include § 8104- A, which provides an exception to governmental immunity for a government entity’s “negligent acts or omissions arising out of and occurring during the performance of construction, street cleaning or repair operations on any highway, townway, sidewalk, parking area … including appurtenances necessary for the control of those ways ….”
The Municipal Risk Manager, a publication of the Maine Municipal Association, urges municipalities to take steps every winter to keep employees and citizens safe from injury. While these are just a few of the added protections enjoyed by municipal governments, agencies recognize winter weather often exposes cities and towns to legal liability.
Other types of injuries may be actionable under Local Highway Law § 3655, which governs recovery for injuries based on sidewalk defects.
In general, pedestrians and other victims attempting to make a claim against a local government entity will also face shorter time limits. The statute of limitations for claims under § 3655 is one year, while MTCA claims have a two-year statute of limitations. Damages for wrongful death claims are capped at $300,000 and $400,000 per occurrence, respectively.
States and towns are required under 23 MRS §1001 to remove snow from public roads. There are no state statutes that require property owners to remove snow from sidewalks, and 23 MRS §3658 provides legal immunity to towns for injuries caused by snow or ice on any sidewalk.
Nor are motorists required to remove snow from their vehicles as a matter of law. However, drivers with obstructed views caused by snow that are a hazard to other motorists can be cited under the state’s unsecured load laws or another relevant statute.
The reality is winter weather requires all of us to use due care and increases both our accident and liability risks. This is particularly true for business owners, schools, municipalities, and government entities.
Contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.