Rhode Island Car Accident Laws & Resources

The “Ocean State” is known for its sandy shores and bucolic seaside towns. Rhode Island also features several large cities such as Newport and Providence. The state offers nearly 13,000 miles of roadways packed into 1,214 square miles. 

Yet Rhode Island’s roadways can prove dangerous and even deadly. In 2019, there were 59 highway deaths in the state. As of October 2020, 45 people in the state had died while another 200 were seriously injured. 

If you live in or plan on visiting Rhode Island, it is a good idea to become familiar with Rhode Island auto accident laws. Rhode Island auto accident laws give car accident victims important rights. Yet Rhode Island auto accident laws are complex. Those that do not have a lawyer often do not know what their options are.

This guide will cover some important Rhode Island auto accident laws. The guide provides a brief overview of laws that will likely be important to your case. For more information, discuss your case with an experienced Rhode Island car accident lawyer.

Rhode Island is a Fault-Based State 

Under Rhode Island auto accident laws, the driver that causes a car accident must pay for damages. If the “at-fault” driver has liability insurance, his insurance company will cover damages. They will pay for damages up to the policy limits. 

A car accident victim has several options under Rhode Island auto accident laws. First, she can file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. Second, she can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver and/or his insurance company. If she is at-fault for the car accident, she may still recover. But her damages could be reduced under the Rhode Island comparative negligence standard. 

Comparative Negligence in Rhode Island Auto Accident Cases 

Rhode Island auto accident laws follow a comparative negligence standard. Rhode Island General Laws Section 9-20-4 provides the standard. Under the statute, you can collect for damages that you incur in a car accident. But your award will be reduced based on your share of fault for the accident. 

For example, suppose you get into a car accident on Interstate 95 in Rhode Island. You suffer serious injuries. You attempt to settle with the insurance company but are unsuccessful. You hire a Rhode Island car accident lawyer. You go to trial and the jury finds in your favor. 

The court determines that your total damages are $150,000. This includes medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. But the jury also finds that you were 20% at-fault for the car accident. Under Rhode Island auto accident laws, the court will take this amount off your award. Your total damage award is $120,000 (20% x $150,000). 

The comparative negligence standard does not apply to insurance settlements. But the insurance adjuster will still make a fault determination. They do this to calculate a reasonable settlement offer. 

Rhode Island Auto Accident Laws Statute of Limitations 

The Rhode Island statute of limitations sets the deadline for filing a lawsuit. You risk forfeiting your claim if you do not file by the deadline. There are three relevant statutes. The first is Rhode Island General Laws Section 9-1-14. This statute applies to personal injury claims. The deadline is 3 years from the date of the car accident.

The second is Rhode Island General Laws Section 9-1-13. This statute applies to property damage claims. The deadline under this statute is 10 years. The third is Rhode Island General Laws Section 10-7-2. This statute applies to wrongful death claims. The surviving family members or the victim’s estate can file this claim. They have 3 years from the date that the victim died. 

If you do not file your lawsuit by the deadline, the defendant will likely object. Unless an exception applies, the court will dismiss your case. Missing the deadline set by the statute of limitations can have devastating consequences. Consult with an experienced Rhode Island car accident lawyer to protect your rights. 

Car Accident Reporting Requirements in Rhode Island

Under Rhode Island General Laws Section 31-26-3.2, you must report an accident if:

  • The accident results in bodily injury or death to any person, or
  • The accident results in damages to any vehicle that renders it incapable of “normal and safe operation.” 

You should report the accident to law enforcement. There are some additional requirements if the accident: 

  • Results in injury or death, or 
  • Results in property damages of more than $1,000. 

You can find these requirements in Rhode Island General Laws Section 31-26-6. The statute provides that you must report the accident within 21 days. You report the accident to the Rhode Island DMV by filing a written report. 

Car Insurance Requirements in Rhode Island

Liability insurance protects you from liability if you are at-fault for an accident. Liability coverage will pay the damages that other drivers incur. This can include medical bills, lost wages, and property damages. The minimum amounts of liability coverage are: 

  • $25,000 for property damage caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle. 
  • $25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle. 
  • $50,000 for total bodily injury or death liability caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle. 

Many drivers choose to buy policies with even higher limits. The insurance company will only pay for other parties’ damages up to the policy limits. Higher coverage limits can protect you from liability if you cause a serious accident. 

Liability insurance does not cover damages that you incur. If you are at-fault for an accident, you will need to rely on other coverage. For example, you may have bought collision coverage. Collision coverage will pay for the costs of repairing or replacing your vehicle. This is the case even if you are at-fault. 

As a practical matter, many drivers carry uninsured motorist coverage (UM). UM will cover your damages if another driver is at-fault and lacks adequate insurance. UM is not required in Rhode Island. But you will still need to decline UM in writing if you do not wish to buy it. 

Driving Without Car Insurance in Rhode Island

The penalties for driving without car insurance in Rhode Island can be severe. The applicable statute is Rhode Island General Laws Section 31-47-9. Under the statute, driving without insurance can result in the following: 

  • 1st Offense. A fine between $100 and $500. License and/or registration suspension of up to 3 months. 
  • 2nd Offense. A fine up to $500. License and/or registration suspension of up to 6 months. 
  • 3rd or Subsequent Offense. A fine up to $1,000. License and/or registration suspension up to 1 year. 

Driving without insurance can also result in significant financial liability. You can be personally liable for any damages that you cause if you are at-fault for a car accident. 

Types of Damages in Rhode Island Car Accident Cases

There are several types of damages that car accident victims can recover. Economic damages are easy to document. For example, you can provide copies of medical bills to document damages. Or you can provide copies of pay stubs to document lost wages. 

Non-economic damages are those that are not easy to document. This category of damages includes pain and suffering. Pain and suffering includes mental anguish and emotional distress. There is no clear-cut rule for determining pain and suffering damages. The award must reasonably compensate the victim for his losses. When determining damages the court considers several factors. For instance, the type of injury and how that injury impacts the victim. 

Punitive damages are another type of damages. The court rarely awards them. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim. Rather, they are meant to punish the defendant and deter others. For example, the court may award punitive damages if the defendant was driving while intoxicated. 

In some states, there are caps on damages that a car accident victim can recover. Rhode Island does not cap damages in car accident cases. But there is one exception. Plaintiffs in a wrongful death case cannot collect punitive damages. A Rhode Island auto accident lawyer can help you to prove the full extent of your damages.

Recovering Damages in a Rhode Island Car Accident Case 

There are several different ways injured drivers can recover damages in Rhode Island. First, contact your insurance company to report the accident. Your insurance company will contact the other driver’s insurance company. They will work together to determine fault for the accident. 

If the other driver at-fault, her insurance company will pay for your damages. Once a fault determination is made, the insurance company will usually try to settle. They usually communicate a settlement offer in writing. This initial offer is often low. The insurance company attempts to limit its liability by getting you to accept a low offer. This is especially true if their insured was largely at-fault for the accident. 

You can also reach out to the insurance company to settle. This involves sending the insurance company a written demand letter. A demand letter is a formal document that details your damages. The letter will request a specific amount to settle your case. Unrepresented parties often undervalue their claims. An experienced Rhode Island auto accident lawyer can help you value your claim. 

You may also choose to file a lawsuit. The lawsuit is usually filed against the other driver and his insurance company. But in some cases you may need to list a third-party defendant. For example, a manufacturer’s defect may have contributed to the accident. 

Filing a lawsuit may be necessary if the insurance company is refusing to settle. By going to trial you can attempt to prove your case to the jury. It is also often necessary to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations has expired. 

Even though you have 3 years to file, the settlement process can take a long time. Moreover, some accident victims wait to start the settlement process. Even if you are confident of settling, filing a lawsuit preserves your right to go to trial. If you reach a settlement, you can always withdraw your lawsuit. Again, filing a lawsuit after the deadline can have disastrous consequences. An experienced Rhode Island car accident lawyer can help protect your rights. Your attorney can also help move the settlement process along. And she can help you prove your case at trial. 

To recover damages at trial, you must prove that the other driver was negligent. This means that the other driver failed to exercise a reasonable standard of care. And his failure must have caused the accident. If you contributed to the accident the comparative negligence rule will come into play.  

Rhode Island Car Accident Settlement Income Taxes

If you receive an insurance settlement, portions of it may be taxable as income. According to the IRS, most compensation related to a physical injury is not taxable. But if you receive compensation only for pain and suffering, this is taxable as income.  

Moreover, if you receive punitive damages they are taxable. The reason is that punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant. They are not related to any damages that you suffered. Thus, punitive damages are income. Lost wages may also be taxable. You would have been taxed on the income if you had been working. 

Rhode Island Car Accident Settlement Calculator 

Did you or someone that you know suffer an injury in a car accident in Rhode Island? Use our free online Injury Settlement Calculator to see what your case might be worth.