If you've been injured in Maine—maybe by a careless doctor, in a fall, or in a car accident—you might be thinking about filing a personal injury (PI) insurance claim or a lawsuit. Chances are, though, that you don't know much about the laws and rules that will control your case. We'll walk you through the basics of some of Maine's personal injury laws.
Maine, like all states, has time limits, called "statutes of limitations," on filing lawsuits in court. We start with Maine's six-year general rule. Then we'll turn to some special rules and exceptions that might apply in particular situations.
As a general rule, "[a]ll civil actions shall be commenced within 6 years after the cause of action accrues… ." (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 752 (2023).) Typically, a personal injury claim accrues on the date you're injured, though there are exceptions. So, as a general rule, you've got six years from the date you're injured in Maine to file a PI lawsuit in court.
When the defendant (the person or business you're suing for your injury) is "a ski area owner or operator or a tramway owner or operator or its employees" you must file your lawsuit within two years from the date your claim accrues. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 752-B (2023).)
Been injured by legal malpractice? You must file a lawsuit within two years from the date of the malpractice. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 753-B (2023).)
"Every claim against a governmental entity or its employees…is forever barred" unless a lawsuit is filed within two years after the claim accrues. There's an exception for minors, who have two years after their 18th birthday to file suit. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 8110 (2023).)
Claims against the government also are subject to a special notice requirement. Under Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 8107.1 (2023), "[w]ithin 365 days after any claim…accrues," you must send the government a written notice of your claim. The notice must be sent to the persons and offices described in Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 8107.3 (2023).
Filing this notice isn't the same thing as filing a lawsuit in court. You must provide notice of your claim before you file a lawsuit. "No claim or action shall be commenced against a governmental entity or employee in the Superior Court unless the foregoing notice provisions are substantially complied with." (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 8107.4 (2023).)
The applicable statute of limitations is "tolled," meaning temporarily stopped, during the period that an injured person is under a legal disability. For the purpose of this rule, a person is under a "legal disability" if, when the claim accrues, the person is:
(Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 853 (2023).) The statute of limitations clock starts running when the disability is removed.
If your personal injury is caused by fraud, or if the person who's responsible for your injury fraudulently conceals your injury from you, a special accrual rule applies. You have six years from the date you discover your claim to file a lawsuit in court. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 859 (2023).)
When the defendant is outside of Maine, the statute of limitations clock stops running. It starts (or resumes) when the defendant returns to the state. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 866 (2023).)
Like most states, Maine has adopted what's known as a "fault-based" motor vehicle insurance system. Let's find out what that means, then we'll have a look at the auto insurance Maine law requires.
Say you're involved in a car wreck in Maine, and you suffer serious personal injuries. The wreck was the other driver's fault. Under Maine law, you can file an insurance claim or a PI lawsuit against the other driver to collect compensation (what the law calls "damages") for your losses.
If your claim or lawsuit is successful, you can collect both your economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages cover things like your medical bills, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket losses. Noneconomic damages compensate you for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.
Maine, like pretty much every other state, has a financial responsibility law. The idea behind this law is simple: Anyone who negligently (carelessly) drives a motor vehicle and causes injuries or property damage must be able to pay for at least some of the losses they cause. (See Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 1601.1 (2023) ("Every operator or owner of a vehicle registered in this State or required to be registered in this State shall maintain the amounts of motor vehicle financial responsibility" required by Maine law.))
Most drivers comply with Maine's financial responsibility law by buying an insurance policy that satisfies the state's minimum coverage requirements.
Every auto liability insurance policy must have coverage limits of at least:
(Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 1605.1.C (2023).)
In addition, every liability policy must include medical payment coverage of at least $2,000 per person. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 1605-A (2023).) This insurance takes care of the driver's medical bills, as well as those of any passengers in the vehicle, for up to one year after the date of the wreck.
If you cause a car wreck that injures others, you're responsible for all the damages whether you have enough insurance or not. Maine's minimum coverages won't last long in an accident that causes moderate or serious injuries.
Along similar lines, Maine doesn't require other kinds of insurance coverage that you might need. For instance, suppose you're badly injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Without uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, at least some of your losses won't be compensated. Talk to your insurance agent about the kinds and amounts of insurance you need.
In a typical PI case, you must prove that the defendant was negligent in order to collect damages. Quite often, the defendant will claim that you, too, were negligent and that your negligence should reduce the damages you can recover. This legal defense, called "comparative negligence," is available in Maine. Let's find out how it works.
Maine has adopted a "modified" comparative negligence rule. If your negligence is part of the cause of an accident, you can still recover some of your damages. Your share of the blame simply reduces the amount you can recover—but only to a point. If your share of the total negligence is 50% or more, you're barred from recovering any damages. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 156 (2023).)
You're at an intersection waiting for traffic to clear so you can turn left. The last oncoming car has its right-turn signal on. Thinking this car is turning right, you begin to make your left turn. Suddenly and without warning, the oncoming car speeds into the intersection and hits your car. Both you and the other driver suffer significant injuries.
After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $100,000. The jury also finds that you're 40% to blame for the collision. The other driver's total damages, says the jury, are $200,000. But the jury assigns the other driver 60% of the blame. How much in damages can each of you collect?
Because the jury assigned 40% of the total negligence to you, you can collect 60% of your damages: $100,000 x 60% = $60,000. The other driver's insurer will write you a check for that amount.
The story doesn't end so well for the other driver. The jury assigned them 60% of the total blame for the wreck. Because they were 50% or more at fault, they collect zero damages under Maine's modified comparative negligence rule.
Your personal injury case is a kind of civil lawsuit. Where and how you file it is controlled by Maine law and by court rules called the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be complicated and difficult to understand and apply. If you aren't familiar with them—and chances are you're not—you should give serious thought to hiring an experienced PI lawyer to handle your case.
As a rule, you file your PI lawsuit in the entry-level state trial court that has the legal authority to hear all kinds of cases. In Maine, that's called the superior court. Maine superior courts are the only courts that can hold jury trials.
You must select the superior court in the proper county. Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 501 (2023) tells you that the correct "venue" for your case is in the county where any plaintiff (the party bringing the lawsuit) or any defendant lives. When the plaintiff doesn't live in Maine, the case should be filed in the county where any defendant lives.
You start a Maine personal injury lawsuit by:
(Me. R. Civ. Proc. 3 (2023).)
Your complaint should describe, in separately numbered paragraphs (Me. R. Civ. Proc 10(b) (2023)):
The caption of the complaint should include the information required by Me. R. Civ. Proc. 10(a) (2023). In most PI cases, you shouldn't ask the court to award you a specific amount of damages. Instead, you ask for "such damages as are reasonable." (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 52 (2023).)
You must serve the complaint, summons, and notice regarding electronic service as described in Me. R. Civ. Proc. 4(c-g) (2023). A defendant who isn't properly served can ask the court to dismiss them from the lawsuit.
Many states put limits, or "caps," on damages in personal injury cases. Noneconomic damages—for injuries like emotional distress and pain and suffering—are favorite targets. In some states, the caps are across the board, in all PI cases. Other states have enacted limits that apply only to certain cases, like medical malpractice suits.
Maine doesn't cap damages in PI cases generally, but it does cap damages in:
Noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases are capped at $1,000,000. That cap will be adjusted for inflation for deaths occurring in 2024 and beyond. (You'll find the Maine wrongful death damages cap statute at Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 18-C, § 2-807.2 (2023).)
Wrongful death punitive damages (damages intended to punish a wrongdoer for egregious misconduct) are also capped at $500,000.
In any case against the government (state or local) or its employees, total damages—both economic and noneconomic—are capped at $400,000. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 8105.1 (2023).) If the government has insurance coverage greater than this amount, though, the damages limit is the amount of insurance coverage. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 8116 (2023).)
If you're looking for legal advice that's tailored to your situation, talk to a personal injury lawyer in your area. You can also learn more about personal injury lawsuits, settlements, alternatives to resolving your case in court, and more:
- Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
- Determining Fault in a Personal Injury Case
- What Are Mediation and Arbitration?
- Tips for Getting the Best Personal Injury Settlement
- The Cost of Taking Your Personal Injury Case to Court
- The Deposition in a Personal Injury Case
- Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer or Handle Your Own Claim?
- Common Kinds of Personal Injury Cases