Whether your family has been in Bar Harbor for generations or you’re just unpacking for a long weekend in Portland, there’s a lot to love about Maine. The Pine Tree State is home to some of the best mountain hiking, sandy beaches, and craft beer on the planet. Oh yeah, and there’s lobster, too.
Still, accidents and injuries happen, and they can leave you with a lot of questions. Who was at fault? How do I get repaid for my medical bills or lost wages? Do I need to file a lawsuit? Every injury case is different, but here is some basic information about Maine personal injury law and additional resources to help answer your questions.
The first step after any serious accident is to make sure everyone is OK. You and anyone else injured in an accident should receive any necessary medical attention immediately. After that, you can begin documenting what happened.
Photographs of the scene and damage, interviews with witnesses, and even your own notes regarding what happened might be helpful later. You should also request any police reports or official summaries of the accident and maintain records of your medical treatment.
For example, if you slip and fall while shopping in Augusta, make sure to have any injuries checked out first. Then take some pictures of where you fell, recording any dangerous conditions. And you may be able to request any report the store creates about the incident.
What happens next will depend on how you were hurt. For on-the-job injuries, you’ll need to follow state workers’ compensation guidelines after notifying your employer. If you’re rear-ended in Rumford, you’ll want to contact your personal auto insurance company or the rental car agency if you’re on vacation. And if your injuries occur on a hiking trail or at a public beach park, there could be special filing rules requiring you to provide notice to the appropriate government entity or municipality.
Almost all injury claims are settled without the need to file a lawsuit. Private insurance, workers’ compensation, or settlement offers from responsible parties will normally compensate you for your harm. Be aware that any settlement offer will usually require you to forgo your right to file a personal injury lawsuit later. So, you should always consult with an experienced Maine personal injury lawyer before agreeing to any injury settlement.
Injury claims that don’t settle will usually begin a pre-trial phase called “discovery.” This is when all the parties will try to gather as much information about the incident as possible, using oral interviews, written requests for documents, and consultations with doctors and other experts. If what is learned during discovery doesn’t lead to a settlement, the case will move to trial, where courts will attempt to figure out who, if anyone, is at fault.
Figuring out whether someone is responsible for accidents and injuries — and who — will also depend on the specifics of how, where, and why your injuries occurred. The vast majority of personal injury claims are based on negligence. But some claims have special rules and burdens of proof.
Claiming someone was negligent seems like just saying someone wasn’t careful enough. But proving negligence in a personal injury case can be tricky. Negligence claims come down to four essential elements:
Additionally, courts in Maine use a “modified comparative negligence” system, so each party’s negligence is an issue in most injury claims. For instance, if you were in a Portland bar when you slipped and fell, how much you had to drink could be a factor in reducing how much money you could recover.
Maine’s comparative negligence scheme uses percentages to determine fault and damages. So, if a judge or jury determines you were only slightly buzzed at the time and that was 25 percent of the reason you slipped, and the other 75 percent was the bar’s wet floor, you could still recover for your injuries, but only 75 percent of your total loss. However, if your inebriation was 51 percent to blame or more, courts would bar any recovery.
Maine also has specific rules when it comes to workplace injuries. Under state law, you cannot receive compensation for the first week that you miss due to injury unless your disability lasts more than 14 days. You have 60 days to notify your employer of an injury on the job and one year to file a claim. And there are limits on both the amount of workers’ comp benefits you can receive and for how long.
However, workers’ comp covers mental injuries in Maine, and state law protects your job whether you are a claimant or a witness, meaning your employer can’t fire you for filing a workers’ comp claim.
There are also special liability rules for manufacturers, in regard to the safety of their products. Under the so-called “strict liability” legal theory, you don’t need to prove the manufacturer was negligent like in other cases. You only need to demonstrate that a product contained a defect in its design, manufacture, or labeling, and the defect caused your injuries.
Maine law also allows you to file a product liability lawsuit against the designers, manufacturers, and even retailers of defective products.
Damages are how courts compensate someone for personal injuries, and they can come in several different forms. Economic damages repay someone for their out-of-pocket expenses:
Non-economic damages address other consequences of injuries: pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. And in some special cases, courts may award punitive damages to punish bad actors and deter future bad behavior.
Some states limit or “cap” the amount someone can receive for their injuries. Maine does not have damages caps, except for limits on pain-and-suffering damages in wrongful death claims to $500,000.
Maine has laws that limit the amount of time after an injury occurs to file a lawsuit, known as “statutes of limitations,” and they are some of the longest in the country. Maine gives you six years to file a personal injury in most negligence cases, two years if you claim injuries from an intentional tort like assault, battery, false imprisonment, or defamation.
And while the clock starts ticking from the date of the accident or when the injury occurs, it can be suspended, or “tolled,” until you could have reasonably discovered the harm. For instance, in medical malpractice cases, we may not know that a doctor, surgeon, or other medical professional did something wrong until long after our surgery or treatment. In that case, the statute of limitations would begin when you learned of your injury.
If you don’t get a response to your requests for compensation, or if a settlement offer doesn’t fully compensate you for your losses, you might consider hiring a personal injury attorney.
Not all lawyers are expensive — most personal injury attorneys will offer free initial consultations to assess your claim, and some lawyers will take your case on a “contingency fee” basis, under which they only get paid if you do.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills, and other complications. Before taking legal action or trying to negotiate a settlement on your own, you should talk to an attorney about your case. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local personal injury attorney to discuss the merits of your case. This one step can level the playing field, help you protect your rights, and put you in the best position for recovering the compensation that you deserve.