Maine has its fair share of accidents. More than 32,000 motor vehicle accidents occurred in 2021, growing by over 13% more than in 2020. At least 130 of the crashes resulted in fatalities. Another troubling concern is workers’ compensation claims. The state has a higher injury rate than other states.
In the wake of an accident, working with healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies, and insurers cannot be avoided as part of recovering compensation for your injuries. At times, the damages you will likely receive fall short of helping you get back on your feet. Personal injury claims are, therefore, necessary to obtain a fair amount of damages for your recovery. Filing a legal claim might seem daunting, but know that others share your experience. In 2022, 589 personal injury lawsuits were filed in Superior Courts and 23 claims in District Courts.
This article offers guidance on your legal rights as a plaintiff. It also educates you on Maine’s caps regarding the damages you can receive and the statute of limitations when filing your claim. It also contains legal resources that enable you to pursue the compensation you deserve.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance Laws in Maine
Over 670,000 people work in Maine, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At least one-sixth of all employees in the Pine Tree State are part of the education and healthcare sectors. The medical profession is particularly known for its hazardous working conditions due to factors like chemical exposure and workplace violence.
The federal labor bureau cited Maine as the state with the highest workplace injury rate in 2021. For every 100 full-time workers, 4.7 cases involving workplace injuries would arise.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim is needed to deal with the costs of recovering from injuries caused by on-the-job accidents. Employees seeking damages from their employers should know the process of claiming benefits.
For instance, workers should report their injuries within 30 days of the accident. The report goes to the employer’s insurance company, which then decides whether to honor or deny benefits claims. In denial cases, the claim goes to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board, which will send a troubleshooter to attempt a resolution between the disputing parties. Unresolved cases would undergo mediation.
If the claim remains disputed despite mediation proceedings, it goes through a formal hearing. By this stage, both parties will exchange information like medical reports. Scheduled depositions involving medical witnesses are also sometimes scheduled. After the hearing, an Administrative Law Judge issues a decision.
In some cases, a claimant is unsatisfied with the outcome. As such, they may file an appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Board through its Appellate Division. Decisions by the division that the claimant does not accept may be appealed to the Maine Supreme Court. However, the court maintains its discretion to deny or accept the appeal.
Attorneys representing their clients as they go through the claims process are allowed to charge fees. Under state law, legal practitioners may obtain 10% of a $50,000 lump sum settlement. Awards over $50,000 are subject to different percentages. To illustrate, attorneys can charge 9% for the first $10,000 over $50,000, 8% for the next $10,000 over $50,000, and so on until the settlement amount reaches over $90,000. In that case, the legal practitioner may obtain 5% over any amount greater than $90,000.
Maine Premises Liability Laws
More than 15 million tourists visited Maine in 2022. Around 35% traveled to the state’s MidCoast region for its museums and beaches. However, accidents, especially preventable ones, could occur. For example, based on CDC data from 2018 to 2021, Maine had a rate of 1.45 unintentional drowning deaths per 100,000 people. This number was higher than the national average of 1.31 deaths.
Another cause of preventable deaths is falling. As per the National Safety Council, falls were the second highest reason for preventable fatalities in Maine in 2021. Victims or their families may file personal injury claims against property owners in such cases. Under state law, these owners are not liable in some situations. An example is accidents on properties where visitors come to perform recreational activities like fishing, hunting, swimming, camping, boating, and hiking. Those who own, manage, or occupy the land where these activities can be done are not legally required to keep the premises safe for visitors.
Maine does not exempt other individuals, though. For instance, property owners who — through malice or intention — do not warn visitors of the dangerous property conditions are liable. Another example is those paid by individuals seeking to use the property for recreational purposes exclusively.
There are other areas of the state’s premises liability law that plaintiffs should be aware of. One of these is the open and obvious doctrine. This concept means that plaintiffs cannot recover damages for accidents caused by visible hazards. The doctrine does not apply to situations involving trespassers drawn to an attractive nuisance. For example, children who get injured in a swimming pool despite entering it without permission may be grounds for a lawsuit.
Laws about Personal Injury Claims against Maine Governmental Entities
The majority of roads in Maine are townways, which are maintained by counties or municipalities. According to the Maine DOT, at least 14,000 miles of townways traverse the state.
These roads, as well as those managed by the state, have improved over the years. A 2023 report from Consumer Affairs ranks Maine 33rd on the list of states with the worst road systems in the country. This number is better than in 2022, when the Pine Tree State was listed as 19th in the nation. Regardless, accidents remain a possibility for motorists in the state.
Maine allows claims against governmental entities in various situations. Through the Maine Tort Claims Act, these agencies are liable for bodily injury or property damage if they are negligent in using or maintaining motor vehicles and snowmobiles. They can also face lawsuits involving negligent handling of watercraft. These claims, though, are only valid if defendants performed their actions in bad faith. The personal liability of a negligent government employee is $10,000.
Other situations where governmental entities may face negligence claims involve accidents caused by street cleaning and road construction or repair. Over 16,800 accidents occurred on local roads from 2019 to 2021. Under the Local Highway Law, plaintiffs may recover a maximum of $6,000 in damages for their accident-related injuries from liable municipalities. In cases involving wrongful death, the cap increases by $25,000 for one victim. Municipalities are limited to compensating plaintiffs $300,000 for all wrongful death claims related to a single accident.
Maine Medical Malpractice Laws
Sometimes, healthcare professionals like nurses, physical therapists, and doctors commit mistakes in their practice. In these cases, the state’s medical malpractice laws allow victims to pursue claims for their healthcare-related injuries.
Before a trial, Maine requires involved parties to participate in a pre-litigation screening. Plaintiffs must submit a notice of claim to the relevant courts. The notice should contain details about the injuries suffered by the victim and the circumstances surrounding it. Mediation hearings would then occur, where a panel would review evidence like testimonies from medical experts.
If the panel finds the defendant liable, they should work with the plaintiff to negotiate the value of their damages. Healthcare providers seeking to challenge the panel’s decision must know their findings are admissible in other trial proceedings.
In cases where the panel reaches a decision unfavorable to the plaintiff, they can either drop their claim or challenge the decision. Like defendants, plaintiffs will have to concern themselves with the panel’s findings, which can be used as evidence in litigation proceedings.
Maine Dram Shop Laws
According to the Maine DOT, 2.64% of accidents from 2017 to 2021 were caused by intoxicated drivers. The insurance comparison site The Zebra has recognized the state as 5th on the list of the most dangerous states for drunk driving.
To curb this troubling trend, the Pine Tree State has enforced laws that penalize servers of liquor to individuals. The Maine Liquor Liability Act places responsibility on businesses or employees for negligently providing liquor to individuals. One of the ways state law defines negligence is by serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals.
The act also allows plaintiffs to recover damages from liable servers for recklessness in offering liquor to defendants. The evidence of this recklessness can be seen in specific ways, such as actively encouraging individuals to drink a lot. Another way is to serve alcohol constantly, to the point that the customer experiences alcohol poisoning.
Under state law, plaintiffs seeking damages for their injuries must give the defendants notice as part of the claims process. Maine provides a 180-day limit for submitting these notices. The document should contain numerous details. These include the place, circumstances, and time related to the server’s conduct.
Maine Business Liability Insurance Requirements
Maine businesses are mandated by state law to carry workers’ compensation insurance. These policies allow employees to receive compensation for their accident-related medical treatments and lost wages. The state’s minimum limits for such policies are $100,000 per accident involving bodily injury. The same limit applies in cases where an employee suffers a bodily disease.
Some companies are exempt from obtaining workers’ compensation insurance. These include aquacultural or agricultural businesses with six or fewer employees, as long as the company maintains at least $100,000 of employers’ liability insurance.
Another requirement is auto insurance. Businesses that own vehicles have to comply with state laws. At a minimum, they should possess policies that cover the following:
$50,000 for the bodily injury of one person.
$100,000 per accident.
$25,000 for property damage.
Businesses can also opt for a policy with a combined limit of $125,000. The number does not apply to all vehicles, though. For example, vehicles designed to transport more than 31 passengers should maintain liability insurance of at least $2 million.
An additional requirement is underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. Companies need to obtain policies that help them manage costs related to accidents caused by motorists without insurance. The state-set minimum limits are $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.
Likewise, Maine joins New Hampshire in making it compulsory for drivers to possess policies with MedPay, or medical payments coverage. These policies should cover at least $2,000 in medical payments.
Is Maine a No-fault State?
No. Maine is an at-fault state. Motorists involved in an accident may seek compensation for their medical expenses from liable parties.
Victims can also obtain damages for injuries from their insurance company. Under state law, Mainers should have policies with medical payment coverage. This add-on allows them to cover costs related to their medical expenses or those of their passengers.
Another required add-on is underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. As the name implies, this add-on compensates accident-related expenses if the at-fault driver is uninsured. Mainers should be aware that 4.9% of motorists throughout the state have no insurance.
Is Maine a Modified Comparative Fault State?
Yes. Under the modified comparative fault system, plaintiffs in Maine can recover compensation from defendants. Maine and nine other states follow the 50% bar rule. This rule means that a plaintiff may obtain damages for their injuries as long as their fault does not exceed the defendant's. In other words, individuals may seek compensation if they are 49% or less responsible for the accident. In turn, the recoverable amount that plaintiffs can receive from defendants decreases in proportion to how responsible the victim is in the accident.
To illustrate this, let’s say you were involved in an accident that resulted in damages worth $100,000. If the court determines you are 30% responsible for the incident, you will only recover $70,000 from the defendant. Your final award decreased by $30,000 to account for your fault.
How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Maine?
Maine does not cap the economic and non-economic damages a plaintiff can recover from a defendant. In other words, there are no limits on the compensation an individual may obtain for their medical expenses and emotional distress.
There are caps that apply in certain situations, though. For example, punitive damages are not awarded to plaintiffs seeking damages from governmental entities.
Another situation where limits exist is wrongful death cases. Maine lawmakers have implemented new changes that allow plaintiffs to obtain higher damages. Starting in 2024, the cap for economic damages will be adjusted for inflation. The limit on punitive damages is likewise increased from $250,000 to $500,000.
The Statute of Limitations in Maine
Plaintiffs have six years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against the defendants. The six-year window does not apply in other cases, though.
For instance, in medical malpractice cases, plaintiffs are provided three years to press legal action against liable healthcare providers. The time frame exists in cases involving wrongful death. Before 2023, surviving family members only had two years to file a wrongful death claim.
Those seeking damages from negligent governmental entities face a different timeline. Under the Maine Tort Claims Act, plaintiffs must press legal action against defendants within the 365-day limit. In cases where the minor is the claimant, the 365 days start after they reach 18.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Maine
The agency is the state’s major and largest law enforcement organization. It oversees the safety of residents and visitors through more than 300 personnel. It operates multiple units, including the Crash Reconstruction Unit. Its staff uses various physical and digital tools to obtain various crash information, from vehicle speed to damage.
An additional responsibility of the Maine State Police is crash reports. Individuals involved in an accident may request these reports online. These documents might include different pieces of evidence, including photographs and witness statements. Individuals should note that if the accident happened before 2003, they should request the agency to perform a manual search.
The association has been promoting the fair and effective practice of law throughout the state for more than a century. As part of its mission of supporting the public interest, it operates the Speakers Bureau, which allows schools, civic groups, and businesses to request volunteer attorneys to discuss various topics. These range from dram shop laws to consumer rights. Another program that the association oversees is its Lawyer Referral Service. Since 1972, the service has been helping Mainers with their legal concerns. Individuals can submit a request through a call at 800-860-1460. Referral requests may also be submitted online.
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