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RHODE ISLAND Primerus

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					               RHODE ISLAND

                                 Table of Contents




Compiled and Edited by:

Ogden & Sullivan, P.A.
113 South Armenia Avenue
Tampa, Florida 33609
Contact: Tim V. Sullivan, Esq.
Phone: (813) 223-5111
Fax: (813) 229-2336
http://www.ogdensullivan.com
                       Table of Contents

                         TORT REFORM

      A Compendium of Tort Reform Enactments in All 50 States

1.   Introduction – History of Tort Reform in RHODE
     ISLAND*
2.   Joint and Several Liability
3.   Damage Caps
4.   Punitive Damages
5.   Medical Malpractice Reform
6.   Products Liability Reform
7.   Attorneys Fees
8.   Practice Pointers
9.   Special Issues
* The entries set forth in this section were edited and compiled by attorneys not admitted
or licensed to practice law in the State of Rhode Island. The attorneys relied in part on
tort reforms listed by the American Tort Reform Association on their website, which can
be found at www.atra.org/reforms/. Where possible, these tort reforms have been
confirmed, and additional statutes and case law have been provided.
1. Introduction: History of Tort Reform in Rhode Island

       Although other states have seen an explosion of tort litigation, Rhode Island
appears not to have been significantly affected and Rhode Island’s General Assembly has
not made a significant effort to reform the state’s traditional liability system.

2. Joint and Several Liability

       Rhode Island has not enacted any changes to the common law doctrine of joint
and several liability.

       However, in 2003, the state did enact legislation to repeal vicarious liability in the
context of auto leasing. R.I. Gen. Laws 31-33-6. The statute was initially passed with a
sunset date of July 1, 2004. The sunset date was later extended to June 2, 2006. It is
unclear if the General Assembly has extended the deadline further or if the repeal is no
longer effective.

3. Damage Caps/Punitive Damages

         To date, Rhode Island has not enacted significant limitations on the amount of
damages that may be awarded in a tort case. However, the General Assembly has
attempted to address the manner of payment for settlements in tort cases. Section 9-21-
13, R.I. Gen. Laws, requires parties to “consider the use of periodic payments as means
of settlement.”

        Rhode Island also has a longstanding pre-judgment interest statute that is
favorable to plaintiffs. Section 9-21-10, which provides for the payment of prejudgment
interest in any civil action at the rate of twelve percent (12%) to be paid from the date the
cause of action accrues. Since 1987, the only exception to this rule is that pre-judgment
interest in medical malpractice actions is to be paid from the date that a plaintiff gives
written notice of the claim to a provider or the provider’s malpractice insurer.

4. Medical Malpractice Reform

        In 1986, Rhode Island enacted legislation permitting a jury to be advised of
payments by collateral sources to a Plaintiff seeking medical malpractice damages. The
statute, effective January 1, 1987, provides that a defendant in a medical malpractice
action may introduce evidence of “any amount payable as a benefit to the plaintiff as a
result of the personal injury” under any state disability or workers compensation plans,
health or disability insurance, or “any contract or agreement of any group, organization,
partnership, or corporation to provide, pay for, or reimburse the cost of medical, hospital,
dental, or other health care services.” R.I. Gen. Laws 9-19-34.1. Plaintiff is then
allowed to introduce evidence of premium payments made for insurance benefits. The
statute further requires that the jury be instructed to calculate the difference between the
premiums paid and the benefits received. The jury can then reduce any award by that
amount or the judge can reduce the award after the verdict. If an award is reduced in this
manner, the plaintiff has no obligation to reimburse the provider for benefits paid and any
lien held by the provider is foreclosed.
5. Products Liability Reform

         In 1971, in Ritter v. Narragansett Electric Co., 283 A.2d 255, 263 (1971), the
Supreme Court of Rhode Island adopted the doctrine of strict liability of tort in products
liability cases as set forth in the Restatement (Second) Torts § 402A (1965). Oshansky v.
Rehrig Int’l, 872 A.2d 282, 287 (R.I.2005). Rhode Island’s General Assembly has not
enacted any reform legislation in this area.

6. Attorneys Fees

        Rhode Island “staunchly” adheres to the American Rule regarding attorney’s fees
that “requires each litigant to pay its own attorney’s fees absent statutory authority or
contractual liability.” Moore v. Ballard, 914 A.2d 487, 489 (R.I. 2007) (citing Eleazer v.
Ted Reed Thermal, Inc., 576 A.2d 1217, 1221 (R.I. 1990)). Although some Rhode Island
statutes authorize the recovery of attorneys fees, Rhode Island has not enacted a specific
fee-shifting provision in the general tort areas of personal injury and medical malpractice.

				
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