This article explores some key points of Rhode Island personal injury law. If you're involved in an injury case in Rhode Island -- whether a personal injury lawsuit in court or an insurance claim -- these laws may come into play.
Rhode Island's set of laws include a statute of limitations that sets a time limit on filing a personal injury case in the state's civil court system. Generally speaking, you have three years after the date of an accident to get your lawsuit filed. If you don't file your lawsuit before the three year window closes, your case will very likely be thrown out as being time-barred under the statute of limitations. So it's important to keep track of the statute of limitations as it applies to your case. You can read the full text of this law in Title 9, Ch. 1, Sec. 9-1-14 of the Rhode Island statutes.
If you file an insurance claim or a lawsuit after an injury, don't be surprised if the person you're seeking to hold liable responds by saying you are at least partly at fault for the accident.
Rhode Island has a "comparative fault" rule that reduces the amount of damages an injured person can recover if he or she is at fault for the accident. Damages are reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person.
Here's an illustration. Suppose that you drive through an intersection one day, going a few miles per hour above the posted speed limit, through a green light. Another driver runs the red light on the cross street and hits your car, injuring you. At trial, it is determined that you were 10 percent at fault, and the other driver was 90 percent at fault. Your total damages are calculated at $10,000.
Because you share some of the fault, Rhode Island's comparative fault rule applies to reduce your damages award by an amount equal to your percentage of the fault. Here, that's 10 percent, so you can receive $9,000, which is the $10,000 total minus $1,000.
This rule applies in Rhode Island no matter how much of the fault is assigned to you. For instance, if you were found to be 99 percent at fault in the example above, technically you would still be allowed to collect 1 percent of the damages award, or $100.
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Rhode Island however, a specific statute (R.I. Gen. Laws § 4-13-16) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. Specifically, the statute reads:
[If any dog] "assaults, bites, or otherwise injures any person while traveling the highway or out of the enclosure of the owner or keeper of that dog, the owner or keeper of the dog shall be liable to the person aggrieved, for all damage sustained, to be recovered in a civil action, with costs of suit."
Damages in personal injury cases are sometimes "capped," or limited, by state law. Caps may affect different types of damages, like non-economic (sometimes called "pain and suffering") damages.
Rhode Island does not cap damages in personal injury or medical malpractice cases. However, plaintiffs in wrongful death cases may not recover punitive damages in Rhode Island.
When an injury or accident involves the potential liability of a state-level government employee or government agency in Rhode Island, a different set of rules applies to the case. You have three years after an injury to file a formal claim (not a lawsuit), which must be filed in writing with the state Attorney General.
You can read the full text of some Rhode Island laws that apply to personal injury claims online. You may wish to start with Title 9: Civil Procedure (General), Title 10: Civil Procedure (Particular Actions), or Title 31: Motor Vehicles.