Wrongful Death Actions in Maine

If you have suffered the death of a loved one due to the fault of another person or business, you may be able to bring a legal claim for damages.

In Maine, a provision of the Probate Code sets forth who is allowed to bring a wrongful death claim, the deadline for bringing such a claim, the types of damages that may be recovered, and who receives the proceeds.

Here is an overview of some of the most frequently-asked wrongful death questions from partner Dan Stevens, one of Maine’s top wrongful death attorneys:

1. Who can bring a wrongful death claim?
The only person who can bring a wrongful death claim is the Personal Representative of your loved one’s Estate. The law refers to the deceased loved one as the “Decedent.” If the Decedent left a Will, the Will contains the name the person who is to serve as the Personal Representative. That person could be a spouse, relative, close friend or some other trusted individual. If there is no Will, then Maine’s Probate Code will govern the order of priority for who will serve as the Personal Representative. The job of the Personal Representative is to administer the Decedent’s Estate and, if the circumstances warrant it, the Personal Representative can file a wrongful death claim against the person or business causing the death.
2. is there a deadline for bringing a wrongful death claim in Maine?

Yes. The normal deadline for bringing such a claim is within two years of the Decedent’s death. There are some exceptions to this rule, including an exception for medical malpractice cases. If your loved one died as a result of medical malpractice, then the deadline for bringing a claim is three years from the date of the malpractice. These are the deadlines for the vast majority of death cases. There are always exceptions to the rules however, and some deadlines are as short as six months from the date of the incident leading up to the death. Accordingly, you should always consult an attorney as soon as you believe a loved one was seriously injured (or was killed) as a result of the fault of another person.

3. what are the types of damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death claim?

There are generally six types of damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death claim.  Those damages are:

 

1. Pecuniary Injuries.

Pecuniary Injuries are generally thought of as the economic loss that results from the Decedent’s death. When I am involved in wrongful death cases, I often work with an economist who will calculate the pecuniary loss for me.  These economists are often CPA’s or PhD’s with a specialty in forensic accounting.  There are several types of pecuniary loss.  One type relates to the money that the Decedent would have earned if they had lived to their normal work-life expectancy.  Another type of pecuniary loss relates to the value of the loss of parental guidance if the Decedent had surviving children.  This type of loss is difficult to quantify, but economists are nonetheless able to come up with a dollar figure to compensate for this type of loss. A third type of pecuniary loss relates to the loss of services of a loved one. A recent case I handled involved the accidental death of a retired husband. He did not have any lost wages, but he was active and did most of the work around the home.  Working with an economist, we were able to develop a report estimating the value of the services that the husband performed around the house.  In a different case involving the accidental death of a mother of three young children, the economist was able to calculate the amount the family would need to pay to hire people to perform all the tasks that the mom used to perform.  While no amount of money could ever compensate her husband and children for her death, this was the best approximation we were able to develop. As you might guess, that number was very substantial.

 

2.  Reasonable Medical Expenses

 

This type of damages seeks to compensate the family for the medical expenses (doctor, hospital, nursing home, etc.) that the Decedent incurred as a result of the incident that caused the death.  This element of damage is recoverable whether or not there is insurance to cover the medical bills.

 

3. Reasonable Funeral Expenses

 

These damages include a reasonable allowance for the funeral and related expenses.

 

4. Loss of Consortium and Emotional Distress

 

Loss of consortium damages attempt to compensate the family for the loss of comfort, society and companionship of the Decedent.  When I use the term “family,” I am referring to certain of the Decedent’s “statutory beneficiaries.”  Section four below describes who qualifies as a “family member/statutory beneficiary.”  In addition to damages for loss of consortium, the family is also entitled to an award of damages to compensate them for any emotional distress that they may have experienced as a result of the Decedent’s death. One of the unfortunate features of Maine’s wrongful death statute is its cap on damages for loss of consortium and emotional distress of $500,000.  This is a cap of $500,000 for all the statutory beneficiaries to split, not a cap of $500,000 per beneficiary.

 

5. Punitive Damages

 

Maine’s wrongful death statute also allows for an award for punitive damages, if the facts of the case are egregious enough to prove that the person causing the death acted with “malice.”  Maine has a tough standard for establishing malice and Maine law has also established a punitive damages cap of $250,000 in wrongful death cases.

 

6. Conscious Pain and Suffering

 

If your loved one experienced conscious pain and suffering before they died, the Estate will be entitled to an award of additional damages to compensate for that pain and suffering.  This type of damage includes both physical and mental pain and suffering.  In addition to post-incident pain and suffering, this element of damage would also include an award of damages if your loved one perceived that something bad was going to happen to them before it actually did.  For example, I have been involved in several motor vehicle death cases in which my client was sitting in a car and saw the other vehicle coming at them in my client’s lane of travel.  In those cases, we can often prove (with the assistance of an accident reconstructionist) that my client did in fact perceive that a crash was about to happen.  This type of pain and suffering is often referred to as “sense of impending doom.”  One of the best ways of proving that there was a sense of impending doom is to establish that the decedent took evasive action in an effort to avoid the crash.  We often prove evasive action through the use of eye witness testimony and/or by having an expert accident reconstructionist download the “black box” data in my client’s vehicle.

 

4. who receives the proceeds of a wrongful death claim?

As noted above, the Decedent’s “family” will receive the proceeds of any wrongful death award.  Maine’s Wrongful Death Act defines the “family” members who will actually receive the award.  If the Decedent was married at the time of his or her death, the Decedent’s spouse will receive the award, if the Decedent did not leave any minor children.  If the Decedent was not married at the time of death, then the award will go to the children.  If there was a surviving spouse and minor children, the surviving spouse receives one half of the award and the minor children split the other half.  If the Decedent was not married at the time of death and did not have any surviving children, then the proceeds of the wrongful death claim will be distributed to the “heirs” as established by Maine’s Probate Code.

This is intended to be a brief overview of Maine’s law on this matter.  Again, there are exceptions to almost every rule, so if you have a loved one who suffered a death as a result of the fault of another, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible.  In fact, in some cases the deadline for filing claims is only 180 days from the date of the incident giving rise to the death.

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one and want to discuss the possibility of pursuing a wrongful death claim, or if you are an attorney looking to refer a wrongful death case to someone with experience, please feel free to contact me at DStevens@StevensDayLaw.com or (207) 430-3288. 

 

Contact Stevens & Day, LLP

82 Winthrop St.,
Augusta, ME 04330

207-430-3288

207-624-0399

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