BIDDEFORD — A lawsuit filed against Cumberland County and one of its deputies in the death of a motorcyclist from Standish should go to a jury, the lawyer for the man’s estate told the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday.

Harry Center, the lawyer for Patrick Smith’s estate, argued that the deputy’s initial observation – that Smith was going 47 mph in a 30 mph zone – did not justify the high-speed chase that ensued. The chase ended when Smith crashed and suffered fatal injuries.

The deputy could have backed off, looked for Smith later or done other things besides chasing him, Center told the justices, who heard oral arguments at Biddeford High School in one of their annual fall visits to schools around Maine.

Justice Donald Alexander challenged Center’s assertion.

“You just sort of take off and they won’t catch you? Is that the message you want to send today?” Alexander asked, eliciting laughs from some students.

Smith was riding his Harley-Davidson on Cape Road in Standish on July 12, 2008, when Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Feeney saw him going 17 mph over the speed limit.
The deputy followed Smith before turning on his cruiser’s blue lights. Smith slowed, turned onto another road and accelerated.

The chase went on for about six miles, sometimes reaching speeds of 90 mph.

When Feeney rounded a curve on Warren Road in Buxton, he saw that Smith had crashed. Smith, 47, died eight days later from head injuries.

Smith’s estate sued Feeney and Cumberland County for negligence, claiming that the chase caused Smith’s death. A Superior Court justice found in favor of the deputy and the county on summary judgment – a pretrial decision based on court filings and documents – citing the immunity that government employees have while doing their work.

Center argued that a jury must decide on some of the questions that justices posed during Tuesday’s proceeding.

In an exchange about when negligence may have come into play, Alexander pressed Peter Marchesi, the lawyer arguing for the county and Feeney, about the purpose of a county policy that generally discourages chases for minor traffic violations but allows judgment in some cases.

“Mr. Smith took it to another level,” Marchesi said, noting that Smith was at times riding at 90 mph in the wrong lane.

“You’ve got a policy that says don’t chase. That’s the problem,” Alexander said.

The justices did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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