If you think you may have a viable medical malpractice case in Rhode Island, you are probably wondering about the different state laws that could affect your case. In the sections below, we'll discuss Rhode Island laws that set deadlines for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, and a few more state laws that might come into play.
All states have very specific deadlines (called statutes of limitations) for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. These statutes may contain as many as three or four separate deadlines, which we'll discuss in the following sections.
The first part of the statute of limitations is the standard deadline, which gives victims of medical malpractice three years to get the case started (by filing the initial complaint) in the proper branch of Rhode Island's state civil court system. So, if you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within three years after the malpractice occurred, you lose your right to sue for medical malpractice relating to the incident in question unless you fall within one of the exceptions created by the other parts of the statute of limitations (discussed below).
The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule. The discovery rule is an exception to the standard deadline in situations where the victim could not reasonably have learned that he/she even had a medical malpractice case. In Rhode Island, the discovery rule states that the malpractice victim shall have three years from the date that the alleged malpractice should, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, have been discovered.
The third part of the statute of limitations is the deadline for minors (children under age eighteen) or their parents or legal guardians to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In Rhode Island, a minor child has until his/her 21stbirthday to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice.
Rhode Island has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case, depending on the circumstances. For example, in many cases, the statute of limitations may be extended if the defendant fraudulently concealed the malpractice, or left the state after committing the malpractice, or if the victim of malpractice was mentally incompetent. The Rhode Island statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at Rhode Island General Laws section 9-1-14.1.
Some states have damage caps or limits in the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice in a civil lawsuit. In Rhode Island, there is no cap, so the amount of appropriate damages award is up to the jury.
In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least in part liable for causing your own injuries by, for example, failing to follow the doctor's instructions in terms of after-care and follow up appointments. If you go to trial and are found to be partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damage award, depending on state law.
Rhode Island follows a "pure comparative negligence" rule. This means, if you are found partially negligent with respect to your injury, illness, or medical condition, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000. Even if you were found 60% at fault, you would still receive $40,000.
Many states have passed laws requiring plaintiffs' lawyers in medical malpractice cases to submit some proof of the health care provider's negligence at the beginning of the case before they will be allowed to proceed with the lawsuit.
This proof is usually in the form of a report containing the opinion of a physician that the defendant was negligent. Rhode Island has no such requirement at the outset of the case, but the state does have a special rule about expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases. In Rhode Island, expert medical witnesses must be qualified as experts in the field of the alleged malpractice. This law can be found at Rhode Island General Laws section 9-19-41.