Maine SC: Roadside sign could be cause of accident

Jessica M. Karmasek May 2, 2012, 10:35am


AUGUSTA, Maine (Legal Newsline) - The Maine Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a jury could "rationally find" that a roadside sign proximately caused a man's motorcycle accident.

Plaintiff James M. McIlroy was seriously injured when he lost control of his motorcycle near Bethel, Maine, in October 2007. He was trying to avoid a vehicle driven by former defendant Charlotte Small.

At issue is whether there is prima facie evidence that the location of defendant Gibson's Apple Orchard's sign at the intersection of U.S. Route 2 and North Road required Small to pull into McIlroy's lane of traffic to see around it, or maneuver her car in a way that made McIlroy believe she was pulling into his lane.

Gibson's had placed the square, temporary wooden sandwich-style sign, about 8 feet in size, near the intersection for the apple-picking season.

McIlroy sued Small in July 2008, and later amended his complaint to include Gibson's and others, who are no longer parties to the lawsuit for reasons unrelated to the appeal.

In October 2010, the Oxford County Superior Court entered a summary judgment in favor of Gibson's. The court later entered a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice of all claims against Small.

After the court entered a final judgment, McIlroy appealed.

The state's high court said in its eight-page ruling that the lower court was wrong, and vacated the judgment.

"The court erred when it granted a summary judgment in favor of Gibson's after concluding that there was no evidence that the location of the Gibson's sign required Small to pull out into the intersection to get around any view obstruction," Justice Warren M. Silver wrote.

"Although there is no evidence of the exact location of the sign, that evidence would not be necessary for a rational jury to make a finding of causation.

"A jury could find that the sign was close to the intersection, based on Small's testimony that she proceeded about four feet from her second stop, where the sign still obstructed her view, to her third and final stop before the intersection, where her view was unobstructed."

Silver continued, "If the jury found that the sign was close to the intersection, it could also find that Small either needed to advance some distance into the intersection to clear the sign, or she needed to stop and then advance again just short of entering the intersection in a way that made McIlroy believe she was headed into the intersection."

The Court said that is an issue of fact to be determined by the fact-finder, and remanded the case.

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