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Maine is known for its delicious seafood and rugged coastline. The Pine Tree State is also home to a diverse economy driven by a range of industries, from timber to agriculture. For instance, the state produces 90% of the country’s lobster supply and 100% of its wild blueberries. Maine businesses also export $500 million worth of forest products to nations like Canada and China.

The state’s status as one of the export hubs on the Northeastern Seaboard means that it sees significant truck traffic. Although trucking companies focus on safety, accidents can happen. The Maine Department of Transportation (Maine DOT) recorded a 12.5% increase in truck-related crashes from 2020 to 2021. Fatalities, though, only account for 0.88% of 2021 accidents. Cumberland County—home to the state’s most populous city, Portland—was the site of a quarter of all truck accidents from 2017 to 2021. Most of these incidents were caused by various negligent behaviors, including failing to yield the right-of-way, backing up improperly, and following too closely. In addition, many such crashes happen across the length of the Maine Turnpike.

As these cases continue to grow, Mainers need to know their state’s specific laws and how to leverage them for legal claims. This article will examine the state's trucking rules, the minimum insurance coverage required, and the deadline for suing erring drivers. Readers can also find resources related to pursuing lawsuits against those at fault.

Truck Weight and Size Limits

Maine has weight restrictions for different types of trucks. These limits vary depending on the number of axles a vehicle has. For example, two-axle trucks have a weight limit of 34,000 pounds. Three-axle vehicles are required to weigh at most 54,000 pounds. The weight restrictions for four-axle and five-axle commercial vehicles are 69,000 pounds. Companies that operate 3-axle tractors that pull a tri-axle trailer can carry a maximum weight of 100,000 pounds.

There are certain exceptions, though:

  • Farm trucks that transport potatoes with at least 8,000 pounds on the steering axle. Nonetheless, these vehicles are prohibited from operating on the Maine Turnpike and other roadways that are part of the Interstate Highway System.

  •  Six-axle trucks carrying forest products can weigh more than 2,000 pounds over the permitted gross weight of 85,000 pounds.

  • Three-axle truck tractors that haul three-axle semi-trailers can traverse the border between Maine and Canada at specific crossings if they have a gross vehicle weight of 108,9000 pounds.

The fines a trucking company incurs can increase depending on how much their vehicle exceeds the weight limits. For instance, drivers must pay $100 and an additional $65 for each percentage over 10% of their truck weight exceeding 11% to 20%. In cases where the vehicle exceeds the limit by more than 50%, the fines grow drastically: $180 per percentage point over 50% and an additional $3,950 are the consequences a violator faces.

Truck drivers can also face fines if they knowingly go over a bridge with new weight restrictions that account for its need for structural repairs. In one instance, a truck weighing over 40 tons was fined $1,000 for crossing a bridge that connects Topsham and Brunswick, which has a weight limit of only 10 tons. TRIP, a national nonprofit organization, ranks Maine sixth on the list of states with the worst rural bridges in 2022.

Individuals are advised to contact Maine DOT’s phone number, 207-624-3000, or fill out a form on their website to report truck-related violations. 

Maine Engine Retarder Brake Laws

Engine retarder brakes are additional components that offer drivers a way toreduce wear on tires and avoid jackknife incidents. These brakes tend to produce a distinct sound. 

According to manufacturer Jacob Vehicle Systems, the brake's loud noises do not come from its regular operation. Rather, these unwanted sounds are the result of defective or illegally modified exhaust systems. Using these components, or “Jake Brakes,” is prohibited on state highways. Truck drivers also shouldn’t use these parts on the Maine Turnpike between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

An operator violating state law regarding the use of Jake Brakes can face a fine of $50 for the first offense. Second-time offenders must pay $200, while those who violate the law three or more times have to pay a $500 fine. The primary exception to these penalties is using Jake Brakes in emergencies.

Some towns, like Houlton, have ordinances that bar truck drivers from using engine retarder brakes within the town’s vicinity.

Maine Hours of Service Laws

The Pine Tree State’s hours of service regulations follow those set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Maine truck drivers carrying goods have to adhere to the following restrictions:

  •  A 30-minute driving break. Vehicle operators must complete the break after eight consecutive hours of traveling. A vehicle operator can comply with this regulation by not traveling while on duty or resting in their vehicle’s sleeper berth.

  •  Truckers can drive 11 hours consecutively after spending 10 succeeding hours off-duty. They, however, are limited to traveling for up to 14 uninterrupted hours after beginning their shift. They must take a 10-hour break before starting their next shift.

  • Drivers can split their 10-hour off-duty period. Drivers need to allocate at least seven hours for the sleeper berth, and the other rest period should be a minimum of two hours. These periods, when used together, are not counted against the maximum 14-hour driving window.

  • Two hours can be added to the 11-hour and 14-hour driving limits if the trucker encounters adverse driving conditions.

All these regulations help Maine truckers stay alert and awake. With the same aim, the Maine State Police also conducted almost 400 hours of speaking engagements. The initiative aims to educate vehicle operators about state and federal standards. It has worked with high schools, driving schools, hazardous material hauling businesses, and organizations like the Professional Loggers Association of Maine.

Maine Drug and Alcohol Testing Laws

Maine truck operators must adhere to state and federal laws and regulations about alcohol and submit to drug testing. Individuals with a commercial driver’s license should submit to tests in various scenarios, including random tests as part of the pre-employment process, after an accident, or before returning to duty.

Truckers operating vehicles with a combined weight of over 26,001 pounds and drivers transporting hazardous materials are especially subject to alcohol and drug testing laws.

Drivers are also prohibited from consuming alcohol within four hours before returning to duty. If they need to take certain medications, they must prove that such prescriptions do not affect their driving ability. Drivers can obtain proof through certification from their physician.

Around 0.16% of all truck-related accidents from 2017 to 2021 in Maine involved an impaired vehicle operator. Those caught drunk while driving will be immediately removed from duty for 24 hours. Disciplinary actions, like termination of employment, might be imposed on the impaired trucker.

Should drivers get positive drug test results, they can choose to join a six-month rehabilitation program. Subsequent violations can result in termination in any case.

However, drivers who admit to having an alcohol or drug problem will not incur a violation. If they do not disclose it during their on-duty time or as a way to avoid a drug test, truckers can qualify for Maine’s Employee Assistance Program. Once the program is finished, drivers who test negative on their chemical tests can resume their jobs.

Maine joins nearby states like Vermont, where recreational and medical marijuana is legal. But federal laws still place the drug on the list of prohibited substances. Drivers who admit to using marijuana or test positive for it will be removed from duty. They cannot return to their job unless later tests show negative results.

Maine Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements

The minimum insurance coverage required for for-hire truckers that operate within the state is $350,000. However, those transporting freight across state lines have to comply with the liability insurance requirements set by the FMCSA. These include:

  • $125,000 combined single limit (CSL) for short-term rental trucks.

  • $300,000 for non-hazardous goods for trucks that weigh under 10,001 pounds.

  • Between $750,000 and $5,000,000 for non-hazardous and hazardous goods (typically applicable for trucks that carry cargo and portable tanks)

Truckers that did not opt for a $125,000 CSL policy will need to purchase plans containing the following minimum limits:

  •  $50,000 for the death or injury of one person in a crash caused by the truck operator.

  •  $100,000 aggregate coverage per accident.

  •  $25,000 for property damage.

Maine is also part of the ten states nationwide—a list that includes neighboring New Hampshire—that require drivers to purchase insurance policies that cover damages related to underinsured and uninsured motorists. The minimum limit is currently set at $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

In addition, the Pine Tree State and New Hampshire are the only states across the country that make it mandatory for truckers to have MedPay or medical payment coverage. They must obtain a policy with at least $2,000 for MedPay.

Mainers must always carry their insurance documents as evidence of their financial responsibility. They can use electronic devices to show that they have liability insurance. Those who cannot provide proof upon the inquiry of law enforcement personnel can face various consequences, such as fines of $100 to $500. Violators might also face a suspension of their license and their vehicle registration.

Maine truckers pay between $9,535 and $13,763annually on average for commercial auto insurance, according to a study by the online platform CoverWallet. The final amount depends on whether vehicle operators purchase additional coverage like collision, loading and unloading, and bobtail insurance.

Maine Is a Fault State for Insurance Claims

Mainers that have sustained truck accident-related injuries have the option of obtaining damages from the responsible trucker’s insurance provider under the state’s at-fault system. These damages include compensation for the victim’s vehicle damage and lost income. 

The victim may also file a claim with their insurance carrier in cases where their losses fall under their policy’s coverage.

Maine Is a Modified Comparative Fault State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits

Under a modified comparative fault system, the amount that Mainers can recover from liable parties depends on the victim’s level of fault.

Maine joins 10 other states following the 50% bar rule, wherein a plaintiff cannot acquire compensation if their fault percentage exceeds the defendant's. They may obtain damages from responsible parties if they are less than 49% at fault. However, the final amount that they can receive will diminish based on their fault percentage.

To illustrate this example, suppose you were in a truck accident that resulted in over $100,000 in losses. If a court finds you to be 40% at fault for the crash, the amount you can recover would be diminished by $40,000. The final recoverable compensation you will receive is $60,000.

Maine Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents

The statute of limitations in the Pine Tree State is six years. A truck accident victim must file a claim to recover damages for their injuries within six years of the accident. The clock starts ticking on the date of the crash. The six-year window applies to affected drivers, pedestrians, passengers, and motorcycle riders.

There are some exceptions, however. Families whose loved ones passed away in truck-related crashes are given only two years to file a claim against responsible parties. The timeline begins on the date of the victim’s death. In some cases involving claims against government entities, the victim can press legal action within 365 days of the accident. The one-year rule applies to lawsuits that accrue beginning on January 1, 2020.

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Truck Accident in Maine?

No specific limits exist on the economic and non-economic damages a Mainer can receive in personal injury cases. The situation is different, however, in wrongful death cases.

Before 2019, families whose loved ones died because of negligence could obtain a maximum of $500,000 in non-economic damages. They can also receive $250,000 in punitive damages. The cap has since been lifted to $750,000 in non-economic damages.

There is also a provision under state law about damages for conscious suffering. The compensation that surviving family members receive could potentially be higher to account for the victim’s loss of enjoyment of life.

Average Settlement for Maine Trucking Accident Lawsuits

The average settlement lies between$10,000 and $30,000. However, note that some truck accident victims receive more than $90,000 in verdicts. In some cases where the plaintiff suffered severe injuries, a jury might elect to provide them with million-dollar awards. Individuals are highly advised to hire a qualified attorney to help them determine their case’s value and obtain fair compensation from responsible truckers and companies.

Individuals should know that attorney contingency fees could impact the final amount of recoverable damages a Mainer can receive. According to state law, attorneys will take:

  •  33 and 1⁄3 % for the first $100,000 recovered by the plaintiff.

  •  25% for the succeeding $100,000 awarded to the victim.

  • 25% for subsequent amounts over $200,000 of the monetary award.

Legal Resources for Maine Trucking Accident Victims

Maine Department of Transportation

Since 1972, the organization has been constructing and maintaining public infrastructure like bridges, highways, ports, and railways. It provides information ranging from high-crash locations to accident maps to help the public determine the areas with significant collision risk. The agency website also lists major ongoing projects.

Maine State Police

Through its Troop K Commercial Vehicle Unit, the agency enforces weight regulations from state and federal agencies. Its team is composed of civilian inspectors and sworn state troopers. Truck accident victims face state police personnel in severe vehicular crashes. Organization members also participate in activities managed by specialty departments like the Crash Reconstruction Unit. 

Bureau of Insurance

The agency licenses insurance companies, educates consumers regarding their financial rights, and reviews policy rates as part of its official duties. It also investigates complaints, especially improper claim denials and alleged unreasonable policy cancellations. Mainers injured in truck accidents can submit a complaint form online to the bureau here or send mail to their address at 34 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333. 

Pine Tree Legal Assistance

The nonprofit organization represents low-income individuals throughout the state through multiple offices in areas like Bangor, Machias, Portland, and Lewiston. It handles cases involving divorce, health benefits, and indigenous affairs. It also assists Mainers through the process of filing legal action against liable parties in the state’s small claims courts.

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The state’s status as one of the export hubs on the Northeastern Seaboard means that it sees significant truck traffic. Although trucking companies focus on safety, accidents can happen. The Maine Department of Transportation (Maine DOT) recorded a 12.5% increase in truck-related crashes from 2020 to 2021. Fatalities, though, only account for 0.88% of 2021 accidents. This article will examine the state's trucking rules, the minimum insurance coverage required, and the deadline for suing erring drivers. Readers can also find resources related to pursuing lawsuits against those at fault.