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Wrongful Death in Maine-The Negligent Spouse Pitfall

An accident in a home, or a car, can result in serious injury, even death.  Many accidents cause only property damage, or injuries that are not fatal (for example, those in You Tube’s “Real Car Crash” (Real Car Crash on You Tube).

However, when death occurs, detailed knowledge of Maine’s Wrongful Death Act becomes important.  Maine’s Wrongful Death Act is especially problematic when a parent dies as the result of the decedent’s spouse’s negligence.

The Act, MRSA 18-A §2-804 (b) limits wrongful death benefits to the surviving spouse if there are no minor children. Surviving adult children are only entitled to wrongful death benefits if there is no spouse that survives the death of the adult child’s parent.

What does this mean in real life? Suppose, for example, you are eighteen years old, just starting college, and your parents, though still married, have been separated for years. Suppose, also, that your father, who raised you, is well paid and is your sole source of support (and tuition money). If your mother is driving your father somewhere, and crashes her car causing the death of your father, can you, the adult child, recover damages for the loss of your father’s life under Maine’s Wrongful Death Act?

Maine’s Law Court says “no”. Under the Act, the adult child cannot recover if the adult child’s parent is married at the time of death. In a 2008 case, Amica Mutual Insurance Company v. Estate of Pecci, the Court held that Maine wrongful death benefits do not go the negligent spouse, and they do not go the adult children either.

There is a helpful “but if” to all this. If the surviving spouse renounces an interest in any recovery under the Wrongful Death Act, and permits the adult child to be named as the Personal Representative of the Estate of the deceased spouse, then the surviving spouse is treated as having predeceased the decedent, and the adult child may recover wrongful death benefits.

Very sad news demands that you focus on the immediate needs of your family and yourself. The complexities of Maine law shouldn’t be an additional worry when tragedy strikes. Briggs & Wholey, LLC, will confer with you at no charge to determine whether you are eligible to maintain a claim under Maine’s Wrongful Death Statute. Every case is different, and every call is important.  Call our firm, or contact our website for a live conversation.

Alison Wholey Briggs Mynick, RN, Esq./Briggs & Wholey, LLC