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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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