After a Maine traffic accident, if you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged, you may want to consider your options for getting compensation for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Maine laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting an accident to law enforcement.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.
In Maine, you can find the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all lawsuits arising from a car accident at Maine Revised Statutes Title 14 Section 752. This law gives you six years to turn to the state’s civil court system for a remedy after any kind of personal injury or property damage caused by someone else.
So, in the context of a motor vehicle accident, any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this six-year filing deadline, as will any lawsuit for damage done to a vehicle or other personal property, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
The deadline is different if someone died as a result of the vehicle accident, and the family or the representative of the estate of the deceased person wishes to file a wrongful death claim against the person who caused the crash. Specifically, Maine Revised Statutes Title 18, Section 2-804 requires that a wrongful death lawsuit be filed in the state's court system no later than two years after the date of the deceased person's death.
(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
If you try to file your lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it’s crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.
Even if you’re confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you’ll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Maine car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a Maine car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?
According to Maine Revised Statutes Title 14 section 156, Maine is a "modified comparative fault" state. This means that the amount of damages you can recover in a car-accident-related lawsuit is reduced by the same percentage as your level of fault in causing the crash, but only up to a point.
For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000. But if you're found to be "equally at fault" (or moreso), you cannot recover anything at all from other at-fault parties.
The comparative negligence rule binds Maine judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
Maine Revised Statutes Title 29-A section 2251 sets out the requirements for reporting a so-called "reportable accident," which the code defines as "an accident on a public way or a place where public traffic may reasonably be anticipated, resulting in bodily injury or death to a person or apparent property damage of $1,000 or more."
A qualifying accident must be reported -- by the quickest means of communication (usually that means a phone call) -- to any one of the following public officials or offices:
Knowing failure to report a reportable accident is a crime in Maine, punishable by up to six months in jail. The same goes for failing to give a correct name and address when requested by an officer at the scene of the accident.
In almost every Maine car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Maine's car insurance rules.