However, the court declined to take those on at this time because there are still pending claims before the trial court against another defendant that would inevitably inform the court’s opinion on the appeals.
Justices further held in Murdock v. Thorne that the trial court had improvidently granted the plaintiff’s motion to enter a final judgement on two of the three defendants in the case, despite plaintiff’s acknowledgement that if he could not prove the third defendant was negligent, “the entire case would go away.”
It’s an interesting case that would potentially open the doors of liability to motorists who may have given inaccurate verbal or visual cues to other drivers who are subsequently injured in a traffic accident.
According to court records, the underlying facts of the case are mostly agreed upon, though there are a few disputes.
It happened in January 2010 when a lieutenant with the Maine State Police was on duty and driving his department-issued cruiser in the city of Portland, about an hour south of the capital, Augusta. The officer stopped his vehicle in the westbound lane of a two-way road to turn into the police headquarters, located on the opposite side of the road. Meanwhile, another driver – Defendant No. 1 – was driving eastbound on that same road. He was in the innermost of two lanes in that direction.
As Defendant No. 1 approached a line of traffic stopped at a red light, he stopped short of the vehicle ahead of him so that he could leave space for the trooper to turn into the driveway of the police headquarters.
Defendant No.1 then made eye contact with the lieutenant and made a gesture with his finger, which the officer understood to mean he should wait a moment before turning. Defendant No. 1 then checked his side mirror to check for oncoming traffic in his same direction. He did not see any and then waved the officer through, indicating it was safe.
The lieutenant testified he slowly inched forward as he made the turn, looking for himself to check for oncoming traffic in the far lane, next to Defendant No 1. He didn’t see any, and, relying on his own observations, he continued to cross.
At this time, Defendant No. 1 checked his side mirror again and suddenly saw another vehicle approaching in that lane. He laid on his horn and started waving his arms at the officer to stop. However, the lieutenant apparently did not hear or see this warning. He continued across the lane of travel and his cruiser was struck by an oncoming vehicle, driven by Defendant No. 3.
It was determined that Defendant No. 3 had been traveling at or below the speed limit of 25 mph.
The officer suffered serious personal injury as a result, and was forced to retire from the force later that same year.
Nine months after the crash, he reached a “substantial” workers’ compensation settlement from the state, and was receiving weekly benefits from this.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against Defendant No. 1, Defendant No. 3 and Defendant No. 2, the auto insurance company that provides coverage to state police. He sought underinsured motorist coverage from Defendant No. 2. He alleged the other two drivers had been negligent.
But did the driver who waved the officer across the lane have a duty to make absolutely sure no other traffic was coming? Did the driver who struck him have a duty to anticipate a vehicle entering his lane in front of him as he approached a driveway to his left ahead of a line of stopped traffic?
The lower court decided Defendant No. 1 was not liable, and neither was Defendant No. 2 responsible to pay UIM coverage. The issue of Defendant No. 3 was still pending. Plaintiff appealed the partial final judgement, and Defendant No. 2 cross-appealed.
The Main Supreme Judicial Court dismissed these appeals. The court noted there was a possibility that the need for review would be mooted by the future developments in the trial court (i.e., determination on liability of Defendant No. 3). Further, even if the state high court affirmed the summary judgments in favor of defense, it wouldn’t end the case pending in trial court.
The court didn’t foreclose on the possibility of weighing the appeals against the other motorist and the officer’s insurance company – but only after liability of the other driver is determined.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Murdock v. Thorne , March 10, 2016, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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