Maine Snowmobile Accidents and Your Legal Rights

Snowmobiling in Maine: Having fun and staying safe

Back in 1960, when the first Ski-doo dealer in Maine sold his first snowmobile, there were no dedicated snowmobile trails. You just went out and made your own.

More than 50 years later, snowmobiling has made its mark as a modern winter tradition in Maine. There are close to 15,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails statewide, including 4,000 miles of trails that comprise the Interconnected Trail System (ITS). There are nearly 300 snowmobile clubs from York County to the northern Canadian border.

With thousands of sleds expected on the trails again this season, public safety officials are reminding people about the risks of snowmobiling. Excessive speed, poor maintenance, and operating under the influence (OUI) are just some of the factors that cause dozens of injuries and deaths of snowmobile riders in Maine each year.

In this blog post, we take a look at some of the ways you can stay safe on Maine’s snowmobile trails. We also give you some advice on how to protect your rights and take legal action if you are injured in a snowmobile accident.

The busier the snowmobile trails, the higher the risks

Like the ski industry, Maine’s snowmobile industry rises and falls with the weather. Early snowstorms and cold temperatures in northern Maine and the mountains always give winter sports buffs reason to hope for a long and exciting season.

Although more sleds on the trails means good news for the state’s economy, it also presents a public safety challenge.

It’s no surprise that during the busiest winters for snowmobiling, Maine also recorded the highest numbers of injuries, deaths, and OUI arrests, according to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

  • For the 2001-2002 winter there were more than 96,000 registered sleds. That year, there were a record number of snowmobile injuries (330) and snowmobiling OUIs (38).
  • For 2002-2003 there were more than 107,000 registrations, an all-time high. That year, 16 people died in snowmobile accidents.
  • More recently, between 2010 and 2016, there have been about 180 to 230 snowmobile crashes in Maine each year. Fatalities in those years ranged from a low of two in 2013 to a high of 10 in 2012.

These crashes have devastating effects on the families of the victims. After a fatal snowmobile accident in 2012, Cindy Thompson spoke about the death of her son, 40-year-old Ken Henderson. Ken, along with a cousin and a friend, died while snowmobiling in Rangeley. Thompson wanted the public to know that even law-abiding riders with great knowledge of the terrain can be victims. Her son was caught off guard by a snowstorm.

“It was a very tragic accident, due to the fact that they couldn’t see in the blinding snowstorm,” Thompson told the Kennebec Journal. “You can get turned around real quick when you can’t see where you are going. When you can’t see, you can’t judge.”

Five tips for staying safe while snowmobiling in Maine

  1. Don’t ride under the influence (OUI). Snowmobiling under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal. Don’t put yourself and others at risk, and don’t tolerate this behavior from anyone in your group. You can be charged for snowmobile OUI if you are over the age of 21 and your blood alcohol content is at or above .08 percent. If you are under 21, you are not allowed to have any alcohol. Violators face a minimum $400 and possibly other consequences.
  2. Ride at the appropriate speed for the conditions. Snowmobile riders in Maine are not allowed to go faster than conditions allow. If you cannot control your snowmobile at the speed you are traveling, then you are speeding and you can be held liable for any harm you cause to other people or property.
  3. Ride to the right. Maine law requires snowmobile operators to stay to the right of center on trails, just as you would with your car on the road. When they are coming around curves, cresting hills, or even on straightaways, snowmobiler riders “Ride to the Right” and expect others to do the same.
  4. Use hand signals. Standardized hand signals allow you to communicate quickly and effectively with other riders. According to the Maine Snowmobile Association, use of hand signals is up over the past decade, and the signals have prevented countless accidents.
  5. Expect the unexpected. Even if you and the riders in your group are obeying the laws, it doesn’t mean the people you encounter will do the same. Always ride defensively and be ready to stop or take evasive action to avoid a collision or hazard.

Dan Kagan Discusses a Recent Snowmobile Failure

You’ve been hurt in a snowmobile accident in Maine. Now what?

Unfortunately, plans for winter fun and recreation don’t always turn out the way we hoped. Sometimes they end with wrecked snowmobiles and time spent in the local emergency department.

If you were in a crash involving a snowmobile, you probably have a lot of questions, especially if you believe you were hurt by someone else’s negligence or reckless riding.

  • Will law enforcement investigate the crash?
  • Can you file a lawsuit against the snowmobile rider who hit you?
  • How are you going to pay for your injuries and repairs to your sled?
  • Is there insurance coverage available to cover the costs of a crash?

The answers to these questions are different for every incident. Depending on the facts, you may be entitled to financial compensation. But you will need to prove you were harmed. That’s where we can help.

Our firm will speak with you free of charge about what happened and whether you might have a valid claim. We support your right to ride and we understand Maine’s snowmobile culture. The legal team at Berman & Simmons has the most experience in Maine handling personal injury claims, including cases involving snowmobile injuries.

If we accept you as a client, our lawyers and their teams will investigate. We will interview witnesses, preserve physical evidence or photographs, and if necessary, we can even reconstruct the crash to show exactly what happened and why. These legal steps help us prove negligence and win a settlement or jury verdict.

Arm yourself with knowledge

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