“Causation” in Maine Motorcycle Accident Cases

In Maine, a motorcycle accident or “negligence” case is made up of four elements: (1) a duty of care, (2) breach, (3) injury, and (4) a finding that the breach caused or partly caused the injury. Motorists in Maine owe a duty of care to others driving on the road, including motorcyclists. While duty is a question of law, the breach is a question of fact for a jury.

Causation is also a question of fact. Did the defendant’s breach of the duty cause the accident and subsequent injuries? Sometimes a defendant will bring what is called a “summary judgment motion.”

This kind of motion requires a plaintiff to bring forth evidence in the record (deposition transcript excerpts, discovery responses, declaration attested to under penalty of perjury) to support each of the four elements outlined above. A judge reviews the evidence to see if it’s sufficient to bring the question of fact before a jury.

In a recent case, the court considered whether there was enough evidence of causation for a motorcycle accident case to survive a summary judgment motion. The case arose when a sheriff’s deputy spotted a motorcycle speeding while on duty. The deputy followed and approached the vehicle, turning on emergency lights to alert the motorcycle to stop. The motorcycle didn’t stop.

Later it was discovered that the motorcyclist did not hold a certificate allowing him to operate the motorcycle. When the sheriff chased the motorcyclist, it exceeded 90 mph. The parties differed in their accounts of what happened next. The deputy said he slowed at the intersections and didn’t see the motorcycle after it turned a corner. He turned and saw the motorcycle off the pavement with the motorcyclist lying about 27 feet from the motorcycle. He radioed dispatch, but explained that he used the wrong code; the code he used indicated he had collided.

The parties agreed that there was no physical evidence of contact between the deputy’s vehicle and the motorcycle. Moreover, the physical evidence showed the motorcyclist died of blunt head trauma consistent with falling off the motorcycle and hitting his head on the road. But the motorcyclist’s estate, which brought the suit, argued that the deputy’s use of a code number indicating collision created an issue of fact for a jury as to whether the deputy’s vehicle made contact with the motorcycle. The parties agree, however, that there was no physical evidence that the cruiser made contact with the motorcycle.

The deputy’s supervisor used a reconstruction to show that the the motorcyclist was not able to make a proper turn, and as a result the motorcycle rolled and the motorcyclist was thrown. He also determined that the motorcyclist’s blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit. The supervisor believed the motorcyclist’s impairment was the legal cause of his accident and death.

The Estate was not able to present evidence that the deputy’s vehicle was near the motorcycle. The defendants moved for summary judgment, and this was granted on the basis of “discretionary function immunity.” This term refers to the idea that a governmental entity is immune when a government employee injures someone in the ordinary course of carrying out his or her job duties.

The plaintiff appealed the decision. The appellate court explained that there was insufficient evidence in the record for the element of “causation.” The evidence supported the conclusion that the motorcyclist’s own alcohol-related impairment caused his crash. The code dialed by the deputy without physical evidence was not sufficient to raise a question of fact. Accordingly, even though the discretionary function immunity argument that the lower court relied upon did not necessarily apply, the lower court’s ruling was affirmed.

If you have been hurt in a motorcycle or other motor vehicle accident, it is important to seek counsel as soon as possible. The experienced attorneys of Briggs & Wholey can help you file your personal injury claim. To schedule a free consultation, please contact Briggs & Wholey, LLC through our website today.