Below is an outline summarizing some critical points of law related to personal injury cases in Rhode Island, such as the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit and how much money a plaintiff can get in a successful case. We also provide summaries of recent settlements and verdicts in Rhode Island injury cases.
Rhode Island Injury Verdicts and Settlements
- 2021, Rhode Island: $7,000,000 Settlement. A 41-year-old man suffered severe abdominal pain. He presented to the ER. The man received pain medication injections. His pain failed to resolve. The man was admitted. He was discharged after nine days. The following evening, the man continued to experience severe abdominal pain. He also vomited fecal matter. The man presented to another hospital. He was diagnosed with superior mesentery artery thrombosis and bowel ischemia. The man underwent an emergency thrombectomy. He was diagnosed with bowel necrosis. The man underwent four additional surgeries. He was discharged after four days. The man developed short gut syndrome (something we have become very familiar with from the NEC litigation). He required total parenteral nutrition. The man underwent two bowel transplants. He alleged negligence against the initial treating hospital. The man claimed its staff failed to properly diagnose his condition and order additional tests. This case settled for $7,000,000.
- 2020, Rhode Island: $1,000,000 Settlement. A 73-year-old woman suffered from multiple urologic complications. She underwent multiple procedures, including ureteral stent placements. The urologist suspected that kidney stones caused the woman’s urethral obstruction. He referred her to a surgeon, who recommended surgery. The woman declined. During a routine stent placement, the urologist performed a brush biopsy. She was diagnosed with retroperitoneal fibrosis. The urologist recommended surgery. The woman declined again. A CT scan eventually revealed urothelial carcinoma. The woman died shortly after being diagnosed. Her family alleged negligence against the urologist. They claimed he failed to rule out urothelial carcinoma and regularly monitor the woman’s condition. This case settled for a compensation payout of $1 million.
- 2020, Rhode Island: $52,500,000 Settlement. Eight acrobats performed at a Providence arena. They performed an aerial act on an apparatus over 20 feet off the ground. A carabiner secured the apparatus. It failed, causing the acrobats to fall. The apparatus also struck them. The acrobats sustained severe life-changing injuries. They alleged negligence against the arena’s operator. The performers claimed it failed to ensure that the apparatus was safely secured. Following mediation, this case was resolved for a settlement amount of $52,500,000.
- 2020, Rhode Island: $20,906 Verdict. A 24-year-old man visited his friend’s apartment in Providence. Upon leaving, he slipped and fell on ice. The man suffered a buttock contusion and the aggravation of his pre-existing lower back injury. He underwent chiropractic care. The man continued to suffer from lower back pain. He alleged negligence against the apartment owner. The man claimed he failed to maintain safe premises. A Providence jury awarded $20,906.
- 2019, Rhode Island: $6,000,000 Settlement. A 21-year-old expectant mother presented to the hospital. She received Misoprostol to ripen her cervix. The woman’s contractions became more regular and intense. Despite this, she received a second Misoprostol dose five hours later. The woman experienced severe contractions. Fetal bradycardia occurred. The woman suffered cervical and uterine tears during the delivery. The hospital staff successfully resuscitated her child. However, the woman sustained severe postpartum hemorrhaging. She developed multi-organ failure and shock. The woman died hours later. Her son survived without residual injuries. The woman’s family alleged negligence against the hospital. They claimed its resident negligently administered a second Misoprostol dose. Following mediation, the parties settled for $6,000,000.
- 2019, Rhode Island: $36,330,000 Verdict. A 58-year-old woman suffered back pain and MRSA. She presented to the physician. An MRI revealed a pelvic infection. The radiologist interpreted it as normal. The woman returned two days later. She was diagnosed with severe sepsis. The woman was hospitalized for an extended period. She suffered respiratory failure, kidney failure, and a heart attack. The woman underwent bilateral below-the-knee amputations. She also lost eight fingers. The woman alleged negligence against the radiologist. She claimed he failed to timely diagnose her infection and order additional tests. A Providence jury awarded $36,330,000.
- 2018, Rhode Island: $31,500,000 Verdict. A man attended his brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner at a conference center. He and others decided to swim in the conference center’s pond. The man jumped into the pond. His head hit a submerged rock. The man suffered an awful C5-6 injury that left him with quadriplegia. The man alleged negligence against the conference center. He claimed its staff failed to warn of unseen hazards and maintain safe premises. The Bristol County jury awarded $31,500,000.
- 2018, Rhode Island: $650,000 Verdict. A man walked along landscaped area outside of a Lowe’s. The landscape gave way, causing the man’s foot to sink into it. He twisted his knee. The man suffered permanent back and knee injuries. He alleged negligence against Lowe’s. The man claimed its employees failed to maintain safe premises or warn of hazardous conditions. He received a $650,000 settlement.
Rhode Island Personal Injury Law
3-Year Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that creates a time deadline for how long a plaintiff can wait before filing a lawsuit. If a plaintiff fails to file their case before the statute of limitations expires, they will lose the right to bring a lawsuit. Rhode Island has a 3-year statute of limitations for all personal injury cases (except medical malpractice and sexual abuse). The Rhode Island statute of limitations states that all personal injury claims must be filed within three years after “the cause of action accrues.” RI ST § 9-1-14
The critical question is when the cause of action accrues because that is when the 3-year period begins. Like most other jurisdictions, Rhode Island follows the “discovery rule” to determine when a cause of action occurs (and the SOL period begins to run). Under this doctrine, a claim “accrues” when the plaintiff first discovered or reasonably should have discovered that they suffered an injury caused by another person’s negligence. In other words, the 3-year period begins to run as soon as you should have known that you had grounds for a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in Rhode Island is also three years, although the SOL for malpractice cases is outlined in a separate statutory section. RI ST § 9-1-14.1
Wrongful death cases in Rhode Island can be filed up to 3 years after the date of death (RI ST § 10-7-2). Rhode Island allows the discovery rule to extend the SOL in wrongful death cases. This means that if the wrongful act that caused the decedent’s death was not known or reasonably discoverable at the time of death, then the 3-year SOL does not begin to run until that discovery is made.
Extended Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
In 2019, the Rhode Island legislature passed a new law making it easier for the victims of child sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits by significantly extending the statute of limitations for these claims. Under this new law (RI ST § 9-1-51) lawsuits involving child sex abuse are subject to a 35-year statute of limitation. Moreover, the 35-year SOL period does not begin to run until the victim turns 18. This means that child sex abuse victims have until their 53rd birthday to file a civil lawsuit against a church, school organization or individual abuser.
Comparative Fault Rule in Rhode Island
In cases where the plaintiff’s own negligent conduct may have partly contributed to the accident or their injuries, Rhode Island applies the traditional rule of pure comparative fault. Rhode Island’s comparative fault rule can be used to reduce or lower the damages that a plaintiff can get. The plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault in the accident. So if the plaintiff is found to have been 20% at fault for the accident, his or her damages will get reduced by 20%.
Here is an example of how the comparative fault rule could work in a typical auto accident case. Jack sues Jill in a personal injury case. The jury finds in favor of Jack and awards $100,000 in damages. However, the jury determines that Jill was 80% at-fault for the accident and Jack himself was 20% at-fault. Under comparative fault, Jack’s damages will be reduced by his 20% fault share so he will only get $80,000.
No Cap on Damages in Rhode Island
Many states have enacted laws that impose a maximum cap on the amount of money that plaintiffs can get in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Rhode Island is among the minority of states with no statutory caps on monetary damages in tort cases. This means that there is no maximum limit to the amount of money that a plaintiff can be awarded in an injury case. The only restriction Rhode Island has on damages is that plaintiffs in wrongful death cases are not able to recover punitive damages.
Rhode Island Dog Bite Law
A dog bite victim in Rhode Island can recover compensation under a Rhode Island statute and the common law doctrines of negligence. The dog bite statute has two unusual features: it applies only to accidents outside the owner’s enclosed area for the dog (or any pet), and it doubles the victim’s compensation if the dog previously injured someone.
Rhode Island Product Liability Law
Rhode Island’s product liability law holds manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of defective products liable for any harm caused by the product. The law is based on the principle that those who profit from the sale of a product should be responsible for the harm it causes.
To prove a product liability claim in Rhode Island, the plaintiff must show that the product was defective in design, manufacturing, or labeling, and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injury. Rhode Island recognizes three types of product defects:
- Design Defect: A design defect occurs when the product is inherently dangerous due to a flaw in its design. To prove a design defect, the plaintiff must show that the product was unreasonably dangerous even when it was manufactured and used as intended.
- Manufacturing Defect: A manufacturing defect occurs when a product is flawed or dangerous because of an error or problem that occurred during the manufacturing process. To prove a manufacturing defect, the plaintiff must show that the product was made improperly or did not conform to the intended design.
- Marketing Defect: A marketing defect occurs when a product is sold with inadequate warnings or instructions. Most mass tort cases fall under this category of failing to warn doctors or end users of the product of all the risks associated with its use. Hair relaxers, Tylenol, Elmiron, hernia mesh, Paraquat, 3M earplug, and many other mass torts in 2023 are failure to warn cases.
Rhode Island follows the doctrine of strict liability for product liability claims. This means that a plaintiff does not need to prove that the manufacturer or seller was negligent in order to recover damages. Instead, the plaintiff must only show that the product was defective and that the defect caused the injury.
Medical Malpractice Law in Rhode Island
In order to prove a medical malpractice claim in Rhode Island, the plaintiff is required to support their case with testimony from a qualified medical expert. The qualifications for expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases are set forth in RI ST § 9-19-41. These requirements require the trial judge to weigh a number of factors in evaluating an expert’s qualifications, including professional education, practice and experience, and medical specialty. Rhode Island’s rules for qualified experts in medical malpractice cases are much less strict compared to other states.
Rhode Island Malpractice Statute of Limitations
In Rhode Island, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is three years from the date of the alleged act of malpractice or from the date that the alleged act of malpractice was discovered or should have been discovered. However, in no event may a medical malpractice claim be filed more than seven years after the alleged act of malpractice occurred.
There are some exceptions to this statute of limitations. For example, if the malpractice involves a foreign object left inside the body during surgery, the statute of limitations may be extended. Additionally, if the malpractice involves a minor child, the statute of limitations may be extended until the child reaches the age of 18.
Bear in mind that statutes of limitations can be complex. Forests have been burned documenting the exceptions and nuances that apply to your specific case. Call a Rhode Island medical malpractice lawyer and confirm your statute of limitations.
Birth Injury Statute of Limitations
RI ST § 9-1-19 is in place to protect minors and allows for a lawsuit to be filed on behalf of a minor in a personal injury case until the minor turns 18 years old. After turning 18, the minor has three years to file a lawsuit on their own.
Rhode Island courts have also found that § 9-1-41(d) exhibits an intent to apply the statute of limitations for the underlying injury to derivative claims, including loss of consortium.
Contact Miller & Zois About Rhode Island Injury Cases
Contact Miller & Zois today for a free consultation about potential personal injury cases in Rhode Island. We work with local partner firms in Rhode Island to give you the best legal representation and there is no additional cost or fee for the client. Call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.