Rhode Island Car Accident Laws

Statutory time limits for filing a car accident lawsuit in Rhode Island, the state's "pure comparative negligence" rule, and drivers' obligation to report an accident to Rhode Island authorities.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged in any kind of traffic accident in Rhode Island, there are a few state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, including:

  • the three-year deadline for filing most car accident injury lawsuits
  • the ten-year time limit on the filing of most lawsuits over vehicle or other property damage caused by a car accident, and
  • Rhode Island's claimant-friendly "pure comparative fault" rule, which allows financial recovery when the claimant was partly (even mostly) responsible for causing the car accident.

That's the big picture in Rhode Island. Now, let's look at the details.

The Rhode Island Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.

(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

Now, what does Rhode Island law have to say? Almost all injury lawsuits arising from a vehicle accident are governed by the statute of limitations found at Rhode Island General Laws section 9-1-14. This law gives you three years to ask Rhode Island's civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else.

So, in the context of a car accident, that means any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this three-year filing deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.

If anyone was killed as a result of the car accident, Rhode Island General Laws section 10-7-2 also sets a three-year statute of limitations deadline for any wrongful death claim that might be brought by the deceased person's family. The main difference is that, for these kinds of claims, the three-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident victim's death (as opposed to the date of the accident itself).

Finally, if your vehicle was damaged—or you had other personal property damaged—as a result of the car accident, the catch-all statute of limitations found at Rhode Island General Laws section 9-1-13 gives you a very generous ten years to get your case filed.

Whichever deadline applies, if you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it's crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.

Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Rhode Island car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Rhode Island Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a Rhode Island car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident—but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?

According to Rhode Island General Laws section 9-20-4, Rhode Island is a "pure comparative negligence" state. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000.

Even if you are deemed more at fault than any other party, you can still collect damages, but keep in mind that you (or at least your car insurance company) will likely also be on the financial hook for the other parties' losses.

The comparative negligence rule binds Rhode Island judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.

Reporting a Car Accident in Rhode Island

According to Rhode Island General Laws section 31-26-3.2, any driver involved in an accident in the state must immediately report the crash to the nearest law enforcement agency if it:

  • results in bodily injury to or death of any person, or
  • results in damage rendering one or more vehicles incapable of "normal and safe operation."

What's more, if the accident resulted in injury or death, or if anyone involved incurred property in excess of $1000, Rhode Island General Laws section 31-26-6 requires you to, within 21 days after the accident, forward a written report of the crash to the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles, on forms provided by the agency.

Rhode Island Car Insurance Requirements

In almost every Rhode Island car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Rhode Island's car insurance rules.

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