Personal Injury in Maine
In general, "personal injury" refers to any harm you suffer to your body that is caused by someone else. This can be physical harm as well as the emotional harm that the injury causes you; together they make up the proverbial "pain and suffering" you often hear about in court cases. One of the most common causes of personal injury is auto accidents.
When you are injured in a car accident, usually your insurance company will offer you a settlement to cover your medical expenses. Beyond that, you might want to consider consulting an attorney to make sure you receive all the damages you deserve. You might be entitled to more money under the law, either from the insurer or from the person who injured you.
Maine follows a "modified comparative fault" rule, which says that you are not entitled to receive damages if you were 50 percent or more at fault in the accident. If you were 49 percent or less at fault, you may recover damages, though your recovery will be reduced by your degree of fault. For example, if you were 25 percent at fault, your ability to recover is reduced by 25 percent.
In Maine, if more than one person is negligent toward you, each person who has been found negligent to you is responsible for a proportional amount of the total damages. Under Maine law, the person who injured you is responsible for:
- Past, current, and future estimated medical expenses.
- Time lost from work, including time spent going to medical appointments or therapy.
- Any property that was damaged, such as your vehicle.
- The cost of hiring someone to do household chores when you could not do them.
- Any permanent disfigurement or disability.
- Your emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, and interference with your family relationships.
- A change in your future earning ability due to the injury.
In order to collect on a personal injury claim in Maine, you must prove the person who caused the injury was "negligent"―that is, they failed to use reasonable care when driving. In legal terms, you must also prove the following:
- That the person who injured you owes you a duty. For example, that they need to compensate you for wages you lost because of an accident they caused.
- The other person failed to carry out that duty. Following the same example, that person didn't pay you.
- You suffered damages. In this example, you lost out on those wages.
- The other person's failure caused you to have the injury. And in this example, because of the injury you were unable to work.
If you've just been in an auto-related accident, chances are you're shaken. Assuming you don't have major injuries and can pull yourself together, you need to do some quick thinking to protect your rights later:
- Gather the names and addresses of the other drivers and passengers who were involved in the accident.
- Collect the names and addresses of anyone who witnessed the accident.
- Take down the insurance information, including the name of the insurance company and policy number, of anyone involved in the accident.
- Document how the car accident occurred and where. Even if the police have done their own report, you need to make sure your version is recorded.
- Write down the damage to your vehicle and any other vehicles involved. If you have a camera (or if your cell phone has one), take pictures at the scene.
- Document any injuries that you, your passengers, or anyone in the other vehicles sustained in the accident.
- Never admit fault to anyone after an accident.
If you don't seem to be injured, it's important to collect this information anyway. Some injuries, especially those to your soft tissue, can take hours or days to manifest themselves.
Use your judgement when deciding whether you need to involve an attorney in the accident. After all, it's going to cost you some money to hire a lawyer. If you've been in a simple fender bender, you can probably let your insurance company handle everything. However, there are times when you need the advice of an attorney:
- A serious injury has occurred that involved broken bones, hospitalization, or potential permanent damage.
- A death has resulted from the accident.
- Fault is clearly an issue.
- The accident occurred in a construction area.
- A police report does not accurately describe the accident and puts you at fault.
- The limits of your liability insurance are low.
- You have no insurance, or your insurance company suggests that you did not pay your premium.
- Your insurer starts "acting funny."
- Your insurer involves its own attorney.
In personal injury law more than almost any other specialty, lawyers often work on a contingency basis―meaning you don't pay them unless you receive a settlement (though you might pay them a hefty percentage of what you get). Also, many attorneys routinely give free initial consultations, and it never hurts to get a little free advice.
Statute of Limitations
In Maine, you only have six years to file a lawsuit against the person who injured you. If your lawyer has not been able to come to an agreement with any involved insurance companies, you will definitely want to file a lawsuit before the six-year statute of limitations runs out.