To bring a successful claim for negligence in Rhode Island, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty to refrain from negligent activities; that the defendant breached that duty; the breach of duty was the proximate cause of harm to the plaintiff; and the plaintiff sustained an actual loss or damages as a result.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Per R.I.G.L. § 9-20-4, Rhode Island follows a pure comparative negligence standard. Under this standard, a plaintiff’s contributory negligence does not bar his or her recovery altogether, but does serve to reduce his damages in proportion to his apportioned fault. Thus, while the doctrine of comparative fault considers the plaintiff’s negligence when determining the liability arising from an injury, it abandons the all-or-nothing approach of contributory negligence.
For example, if a jury finds that a plaintiff’s negligence was even as high as 99% and a defendant’s fault was found to have been 1%, the plaintiff will still be able to recover 1% of the total damage award.
Joint & Several Liability
R.I.G.L. § 10-6-2 states that Rhode Island holds joint tortfeasors in a negligence action jointly and severally liable for the damages claimed. This means that in an action where multiple defendants are found to have been liable for a plaintiff’s injury, all parties are potentially fully responsible for paying the damages awarded. For example, if a jury found that Defendant A was 1% responsible for the plaintiff’s injury and Defendant B was 99% responsible, the plaintiff has the right to collect the full amount of damages from Defendant A, despite the fact that they were found to have only been 1% responsible. This method of recovery protects the plaintiff in the event that one or more parties to the lawsuit are found to be insolvent.
Defendants are able to seek contribution from joint tortfeasors if one defendant pays more than their assigned percentage of fault.
Compensatory damages are awarded by a trier of fact to compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of the defendant(s). The award is meant to restore the plaintiff – as much as possible – to the condition they were in prior to the injury occurring.
Compensatory damages include reasonable expenses necessary for medical care; hospitalization and treatment; economic loss from loss of income (both past and future); and pain and suffering; disability; disfigurement; and mental anguish.
In Rhode Island punitive damages are recoverable but are considered an extreme sanction against a defendant and thus are only allowed in narrow circumstances involving particularly egregious conduct. The plaintiff will be required to put forth evidence of willfulness, recklessness or wickedness, on the part of the defendant, which rises to the level of criminality, and which is deserving of punishment. Thus, while punitive damages are recoverable under Rhode Island law, they are very rare.
Rhode Island does not limit the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded.
The law firm of Walker Morgan is located at 135 E Main St., Lexington, SC 29072. All lawyers at Walker Morgan are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. Should you wish to retain our firm for legal representation regarding a potential case in any other jurisdiction we are required to associate local counsel in that foreign jurisdiction and seek permission from a court of the foreign jurisdiction to temporarily engage in the practice of law therein for purposes of pursuing your potential claim only.
By offering the following information the lawyers at Walker Morgan are not offering legal advice or legal guidance. The lawyers at Walker Morgan are not licensed to practice law in Rhode Island. Should you have a question/concern specific to Rhode Island law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Rhode Island.