Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

Before you call a medical malpractice lawyer, get an understanding of Rhode Island's relevant time limits and laws.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University

If you've suffered an injury as a result of a health care provider's substandard care in Rhode Island, you might be considering your options. One of those options could be filing a medical malpractice claim. It's important to point out that these cases are almost always extremely complicated—making the help of a good medical malpractice attorney a must—but it can be useful to understand the basics of the process before you decide to move forward. Read on to learn some of the key details of Rhode Island medical malpractice law, including:

  • the deadline on filing the case in the state's civil court system
  • what you'll need to prove in order to hold a health care provider liable for medical malpractice, and
  • the state's rules on the compensation you can receive if your case succeeds.

Time Limits on Filing a Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

All states, including Rhode Island, have specific deadlines (called "statutes of limitations") for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. These statutes can get pretty complicated, as they can contain as many as three or four separate deadlines, depending on the circumstances of the malpractice. No matter which deadline applies to your claim, these time limits are always strictly enforced. In other words, if you try to file a medical malpractice lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired, your claim will almost certainly be tossed from court and you will have lost the chance for the court to hear your claim—even if you were seriously injured by a health care provider's negligence. That's why it's so important to adhere to the statute of limitations that applies to your case.

Rhode Island's standard medical malpractice statute of limitations gives an injured patient (the plaintiff) three years from the date of the alleged malpractice to get the case filed in court. But, like many states, Rhode Island applies what's called the "discovery rule" to medical malpractice cases. The discovery rule is an exception to the standard deadline in situations where injured patients could not reasonably have learned that they even had a medical malpractice case. In Rhode Island, the discovery rule states that a medical malpractice plaintiff has three years from the date that the alleged malpractice should, "in the exercise of reasonable diligence," have been discovered. But note that if you are relying on the discovery rule to extend the statute of limitations, you have the burden of proving that you didn't discover—and couldn't have discovered—the malpractice any sooner than you did.

Finally, there are special filing deadlines for patients who are minors (younger than 18 years of age) or "under disability by reason of mental incompetence" at the time of the alleged malpractice. In those situations, if no one files a lawsuit on the patient's behalf within three years of the date the medical error was committed, the patient has three years from the date the patient turns 18 or is deemed mentally competent to file the claim.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-14.1 (2022).)

The Burden of Proof in Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Cases

Many states have passed laws requiring medical malpractice plaintiffs to submit some type of proof of the health care provider's negligence at the beginning of the case, often in the form of a document called a "certificate of merit." Rhode Island has no such law.

But if you do take your medical malpractice case to court, you'll have the burden of proving that your injuries resulted from the defendant health care provider's negligence or willful misconduct. While there's no Rhode Island law that specifically sets out what an injured patient must prove in a medical malpractice case, the state's courts have held that a plaintiff must establish the following in order to meet the burden of proof in the case:

  • the degree of diligence, knowledge, or skill that a health care provider practicing in the same field or specialty, under the circumstances that led to the lawsuit, would ordinarily have and exercise (this is what's referred to as the "medical standard of care")
  • that the health care provider either lacked the appropriate knowledge or skill or failed to exercise the appropriate level of care, and
  • that the patient sustained injuries that would not have occurred except for the health care provider's negligence.

In almost all cases, the testimony of a qualified medical expert will be required to help prove the above elements of medical malpractice—especially when it comes to the question of whether the defendant health care provider has deviated from the applicable standard of care. Under Rhode Island law, only "those persons who by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education qualify as experts in the field of the alleged malpractice" will be permitted to testify in a medical malpractice lawsuit. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-19-41 (2022).)

No Caps on Damages in Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Cases

Some states have laws on the books that limit the amount of compensation that can be awarded in successful medical malpractice cases, especially when it comes to noneconomic damages. These limits are known as "damages caps." Rhode Island, though, has no such statutory cap on damages in medical malpractice cases, so a judge or jury is free to award any amount they see fit when a health care provider is found liable for malpractice.

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