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When the Proximate Cause of Your Accident Is Not Another Maine Driver

photo_16780_20100228.jpgIn Maine personal injury cases, “causation” means there is a reasonable connection between the defendant’s act or omission and the plaintiff’s damage. A plaintiff must prove the defendant’s act or omission is the “proximate cause” of his or her injury. “Proximate cause” is a substantial factor in producing the injury; it is that without which the injury would not have occurred. Sometimes the proximate cause of an accident is not the other driver, but an impediment in the road.

A recent case illustrates one of the potential difficulties of establishing proximate cause when the cause is not another driver. In the case, a man was seriously injured at an intersection after losing control of his motorcycle when trying to avoid another vehicle. A business had temporarily placed a sandwich board near the intersection for apple picking. It did not obstruct either the defendant driver’s or plaintiff’s view of the other. The issue was whether the location of that sign required the defendant driver to pull into the plaintiff’s traffic lane in order to see the sign or maneuver her car such that the plaintiff believed she was pulling into his lane.

The plaintiff argued that the sign was the proximate cause of the accident. His first argument was that all the deposition testimony of four drivers, including his own and three drivers traveling the opposite way, demonstrated that as he approached the intersection, the defendant driver’s car entered his lane and he lost control of the motorcycle. The plaintiff argued that the size and location of the apple picking sign was a proximate cause of the accident because it required the driver to move into the intersection in order to properly see the traffic.

Alternatively, the plaintiff argued, the court would have to rely on the defendant driver’s testimony. She testified that she made three stops on the road as she came to the intersection. She first stopped at a stop sign 47 feet back from the intersection. She came to intersection and stopped again because she couldn’t see partly as a result of the sign.

The plaintiff noticed a driver who stopped at the intersection and waved her forward. She moved four feet to get past the sign and stopped again to see the traffic approaching from the left. She didn’t enter the intersection, but saw the motorcyclist approaching. The passenger in her car corroborated her claim that she could see the motorcyclist only after she got past the sign.

The plaintiff argued that the sign was a proximate cause because it required the defendant driver to maneuver around it, causing him to believe she was about to pull out in front of him. The defendant driver’s expert testified that based on the plaintiff’s testimony about reacting to the small movements of the defendant driver’s vehicle, it didn’t matter whether the defendant driver actually proceeded into the intersection because her actions caused the motorcyclist to react. He testified that due to lack of information about the precise location of the sign, he couldn’t determine if the sign was a contributing factor.

The plaintiff had filed a complaint against the defendant driver and later amended it to name the business that placed the apple picking sign. The Superior Court granted the business’ summary judgment motion. A summary judgment motion is granted when the court finds that there is no triable issue of material fact or there is no way for the plaintiff to establish one element of his claim. The Superior Court later entered a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice of claims against the defendant driver. The plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment.

The Superior Court granted the summary judgment motion because the Court found the plaintiff could not establish proximate cause. Summary judgment in Maine would be appropriate if the probabilities of two different possible causes were equally likely or the causation was a mere possibility.

In this case, the Maine Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s grant of summary judgment. The Maine Supreme Court decided that even though the exact location was unknown, this evidence was not necessary for a rational jury to find the sign was a substantial factor in causing the accident. If a jury found the sign close to the intersection, it could also find the defendant needed to move forward into the intersection to clear the sign or else needed to stop and move forward in such a way that the plaintiff believed she was moving into his path.

An experienced personal injury attorney looks at all possible causes and sources of financial compensation for your injuries. Contact the Maine motorcycle injury lawyers at Briggs & Wholey, LLC by phone or via our online form for a free consultation. Our firm has reached multi-million dollar settlements on behalf of patients and their families. Our extensive experience, medical knowledge, and strong trial skills can help you receive the compensation your situation deserves.

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Study Claims Drivers in Maine and Across the U.S. Are Distracted More Than They Realize, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, June 13, 2013
One Hurt in Negligent York County Traffic Wreck, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, June 7, 2013