The families of Maine children injured in a van crash across state lines on I-95 in New Hampshire have filed notice they intend to sue a town government for negligence to recover compensation. Although this case has been filed outside of the state, it’s worth discussing because not only does it involve residents of this state, van crashes are not isolated incidents, and nor is the failure of employers to properly vet employee drivers (as is alleged to be the case here). If you have questions about a vehicle accident, reach out to a Maine personal injury attorney to discuss your options.
According to the Portland Press Herald, eleven summer campers were aboard the passenger van owned by the town, operated by a town employee and headed to Candia Springs Adventure Park in mid-August when the driver crashed into a large tree alongside the highway. Several of the children, ages 7 to 9, were injured and transported to a children’s hospital for treatment. They were ultimately released. Traffic investigators say the driver, a 21-year-old, suffered a medical emergency just before the wreck. Police investigators haven’t elaborated, but journalists reported the driver disclosed in a prior unrelated court case that he suffers from epilepsy and had experienced grand mal seizures in the past. He also had a long history of previous traffic violations as well as a long criminal record.
Maine Traffic Accidents – Sudden Emergency Doctrine
Families have since filed a notice of claim to inform the town of a pending lawsuit and preserve their right to sue the government entity and/or its employees. That doesn’t necessarily mean injury lawsuits will follow. It’s possible the town’s insurer may opt to settle the case out-of-court before such a case is ever filed. This is particularly true when, as in a case like this, plaintiffs have strong evidence of negligence by the public employee (and thus vicarious liability of the employer) and/ or the town (in this case, negligent hiring and negligent supervision).
This case is somewhat unique because behind-the-wheel medical emergencies aren’t typically considered negligence. As outlined in the 1993 Maine Supreme Judicial Court case of Smith v. Joe’s Sanitary Market, the sudden emergency doctrine holds one must act as an ordinarily prudent person would in the same or similar circumstances. However, there is scant legal precedent in Maine for using the sudden emergency defense for a medical emergency.
Further, the term “emergency” implies it was not a situation or scenario one anticipated. If the driver knew of a medical condition that could pose a danger to others while he was behind the wheel, our injury attorneys in Portland surmise claimants will argue the driver/ employee’s negligence for either failing to disclose it (if that is proven), or in continuing to drive despite it, regardless of what the employer knew. Vicarious liability of the employer, as explained in Maine Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 29-A sec. 9-2-904, could be established this way, though it could potentially be refuted if either he’d been cleared by a qualified medical doctor to drive OR he was an independent contractor for whose actions the town would not be liable. Direct negligence could be established if there is evidence the town failed to properly vet the driver, allowing him to drive children long distances despite knowing about his poor driving record and/ or medical condition or failing to use reasonable care in finding out whether either was an issue.
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.
Families of children hurt in van crash preparing to sue Kittery for financial damages, Sept. 4, 2018, By Megan Doyle, Portland Press Herald
More Blog Entries:
Maine Distracted Driving Leaves Pregnant Mother, Child in Critical Condition, Sept. 12, 2018, Portland Maine Injury Lawyer Blog