Rhode Island Car Insurance Requirements

Learn about Rhode Island's minimum car insurance requirements, how to collect compensation after a wreck, the penalties for driving without insurance, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

If you're like most people, you don't pay much attention to your auto insurance—until you've been in a car wreck and need it. But you should understand the basics of your state's auto insurance system, including what you're expected to do to comply with it, before the worst happens. We'll get you up to speed in no time.

We start with a quick overview of Rhode Island's fault-based auto insurance system. From there, we'll detail the coverages mandated by Rhode Island law, what people and vehicles are protected, other auto insurance coverages you should think about, how costly it can be if you drive without insurance, and more.

Rhode Island's Fault-Based Insurance System

Rhode Island has adopted a traditional fault-based auto insurance system. This means that the person whose fault caused a car accident must pay compensation (what the law calls "damages") to those who were injured, or whose property was damaged or destroyed.

To make sure that at-fault drivers can pay for (at least some of) the damages they cause, Rhode Island requires that drivers maintain "proof of financial responsibility." (See R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-32-2 (2023).) There are several ways to comply with Rhode Island's financial responsibility law. (See R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-32-20 (2023).) Most drivers simply buy an auto insurance policy with coverage limits that meet the state-required minimums (discussed below).

If you're hurt in a Rhode Island car accident that's not your fault, you can bring an auto insurance claim or file a lawsuit against the driver who caused it. To recover your damages, you'll need to prove that the other driver was negligent—didn't drive with reasonable care—and that their negligence caused your injuries. An insured driver's auto liability insurance will pay for your damages up to their coverage limit.

Rhode Island's Car Insurance Requirements

If you own or drive a motor vehicle that must be registered under Rhode Island law, you're required to maintain proof of financial responsibility. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-32-19 (2023).) For most Rhode Islanders, that means buying an auto liability insurance policy.

Minimum Insurance Coverages

Every Rhode Island auto liability policy must have at least these minimum coverages:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury to, or the death of, one person in one accident
  • $50,000 for bodily injuries to, or the deaths of, two or more people in one accident, and
  • $25,000 for property damage in one accident.

Rhode Island law gives you the option to instead buy a "combined single limit" policy with coverage of at least $75,000. Under a combined single limit policy in that amount, the insurance company will pay for any combination of personal injuries and property damages to a maximum of $75,000. For instance, if another driver has medical bills of $60,000 and auto repair costs of $12,000 after an accident that's your fault, and if you have a $75,000 combined single limit policy, it will pay for all those medical bills and car repairs.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-32-24(b)(2) (2023).)

What Drivers and Vehicles Does My Liability Insurance Cover?

Your auto liability insurance covers (meaning it will pay others for injuries and damages negligently caused by) all persons who are named insureds under the policy. Most policies will also cover your spouse and other family members who live with you. If you give someone permission to use your car (what the law calls a "permissive user"), they're usually insured, too.

Each auto listed in your policy is covered. If you rent a car or need a loaner vehicle (say, while yours is in the shop for repairs), your policy probably insures those vehicles as well. Finally, if you trade your car for a new one—sometimes called a "replacement vehicle"—your liability insurance will cover the new car for a short time. Be sure to notify your insurance company that you got a new car as soon as possible.

What Does My Liability Insurance Pay For?

Your liability insurance pays, up to your policy limits, for personal injuries and property damage you cause to other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians in a car wreck that's your fault. Here are some of the common injuries and losses that are covered:

  • doctor, hospital, therapy, pharmacy, and other medical bills
  • lost wages and employment benefits
  • amounts paid for replacement household and child care services
  • costs to repair or replace damaged property
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional distress, and
  • loss of enjoyment of life.

Your liability coverage doesn't pay for your own injuries or vehicle damage after an accident, whether you cause it or not. You'll need other insurance (discussed below) to pay those bills.

Are Rhode Island's Minimum Insurance Coverages Enough?

For a minor accident that causes only minimal injuries and property damage, perhaps so. But if you cause a wreck that results in moderate or severe injuries, Rhode Island's minimum coverages won't go very far.

Keep in mind that after an accident that's your fault, you're on the hook for all resulting personal injuries and property damage, regardless of whether you have enough insurance. Your auto liability coverage might be the only thing standing between you and financial disaster. Talk to your insurance agent about the policy limits that are right for you.

What Other Auto Insurance Coverages Should I Consider?

The answer to this question depends on your financial circumstances, including how much insurance protection you can afford. Again, talk to your insurance agent about your coverage options. Here are some insurance coverages that Rhode Island law makes optional, but that you might consider.

Collision insurance. Collision insurance will pay to repair or replace your vehicle after an auto accident, even one that's your fault. If your vehicle is a total loss, most policies will pay (after your deductible) its "actual cash value" (ACV). This means your insurer will write you a check for the depreciated value of a typical vehicle of the same make and model year—not necessarily the amount it will cost you to go buy a brand new replacement vehicle.

Note that the actual cash value of your auto might be less than what you owe on it. If so, consider buying "gap insurance" to pay for the difference. Most gap insurance pays the difference between what you owe your lender and the ACV of your car.

Comprehensive insurance. This insurance will pay to repair or replace your car if it's damaged or destroyed by something other than a collision with another vehicle. For example, if your garage catches fire and your auto is burned up, or it's totaled by a hail storm or a flood, comprehensive coverage will pay you (after your deductible and up to your policy limit) the car's actual cash value.

Note that if your auto was financed through a loan or a lease, your lender will require that you have comprehensive (and collision) coverages.

Uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance. If you're hurt in an accident caused by an uninsured driver, UM insurance pays for your injuries. If the responsible driver doesn't have enough liability insurance to pay all your damages, your UIM insurance will pick up the difference.

If you can afford them, UM and UIM coverages are almost always a smart policy choice. In many states, they'll also cover your injuries in a hit-and-run collision. Typically, UM won't pay for property damages unless it's specifically designated as property damage coverage. You'll need to make a claim under your collision insurance to be paid for your vehicle damage.

Medical payments insurance (Med Pay). The name pretty much says it all. Med Pay will pay your medical bills (and those of your passengers) up to the per-person coverage limit, which is usually a few thousand dollars. It's a cheap form of health insurance that you should add to your coverages if you can.

Speaking of health insurance, if you have a health plan that will take care of accident-related medical costs, you can use Med Pay to pay your deductible or copays.

How Do I Collect Damages for My Injuries After an Accident?

In general, there are two ways you can collect for your injuries after an accident:

  • by filing a claim with your own auto insurer, or
  • by filing an insurance claim or a lawsuit against the other driver.

Which of these options you choose (you might do both) will depend on several factors, including the kinds of auto insurance coverage you have and whether the other driver was insured.

Filing a Claim With Your Own Auto Insurer

There will be times when it will make sense to file a claim—called a "first-party claim"—with your own auto insurance company. Of course, this only works if you have the necessary insurance coverages. Here are a couple of examples.

When the at-fault driver is uninsured. Filing a first-party claim will be your only option if you're hit by an uninsured driver. Med Pay will cover your medical expenses, alone or in conjunction with your health insurance. Your collision insurance will pay for your auto damage. And your UM coverage will pay for losses like medical bills in excess of your Med Pay limit, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

When you're to blame for the wreck. If you caused the wreck, you won't have the option to look to another driver's insurance to cover your costs. Your collision coverage will repair or replace your car. Again, Med Pay will take care of at least some of your medical costs.

Filing a Claim or a Lawsuit Against the Other Driver

When another driver's negligence caused the wreck you can file an insurance claim—called a "third-party claim"—or a lawsuit against them. That driver's liability coverage will pay for your medical expenses, lost wages, other out-of-pocket costs, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Most auto insurance claims settle without a lawsuit or a trial, and yours probably will, too. If not, you can file a lawsuit against the other driver. Lawsuits can be time consuming, expensive, and stressful, so you should be confident that the additional damages you can collect via a lawsuit are worth the time and expense involved. A car accident lawyer can help you make this decision.

If you decide to file a lawsuit, you must do so within Rhode Island's car accident lawsuit deadline, called a "statute of limitations." Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-14(b) (2023), you typically have three years, usually from the date you were injured, to file a lawsuit in court.

What happens if you miss the deadline? Absent an exception to the statute, the court will have no choice but to dismiss your case. You won't be able to collect any damages for your injuries.

Driving Without Insurance in Rhode Island

If you get caught driving without insurance in Rhode Island, you can be fined, lose your driving privileges, and have your vehicle registration suspended. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-47-9(a) (2023) imposes these penalties for driving without the required financial security:

  • first offense: mandatory license and registration suspension of up to three months and a fine of $100 to $500
  • second offense: mandatory license and registration suspension of six months and a $500 fine, and
  • third and subsequent offense: mandatory license and registration suspension of up to one year and a fine of $1,000.

These fines will pale in comparison to the financial hit you'll take if you cause a wreck while driving without insurance. In addition to being responsible for the damages you cause, you'll end up paying much more for auto insurance—once you get your license and vehicle registration back.

Get Help With Your Auto Accident Claim

Can you handle a car accident claim on your own, without a lawyer's help? If the facts are simple, there aren't any complex legal issues, and your injuries are minor, maybe so. Truth be told, though, very few car accident claims fit that description.

If there are difficult legal issues involved, or if your injuries or damages are moderate or severe, your best bet for a fair resolution will come from having experienced legal counsel on your side. You can bet that the insurance company (and the driver who injured you) will have lawyers and insurance adjusters working to defend them. Without an attorney to represent you, it won't be a fair fight.

If you're ready to move forward with your auto accident case, here's how you can find a lawyer who's right for you.

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