In Rhode Island, as in every state, car insurance is sure to play a big part in any claim brought after a traffic accident. And Rhode Island, like most states, requires vehicle owners and drivers to maintain certain levels of financial responsibility in case of an accident (in other words, to purchase liability insurance coverage). Read on for the details of Rhode Island's auto insurance rules, how coverage is likely to affect a car accident case, and the kinds of penalties you can expect if you drive without insurance in the state.
Rhode Island follows a traditional "fault"-based system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a car accident: injuries, lost income, vehicle damage, and so on. This means that the person who was at fault for causing the car accident is also responsible for any resulting harm (from a practical standpoint, the at-fault driver's insurance carrier will absorb these losses, up to policy limits).
In Rhode Island, a person who suffers any kind of injury or damage due to an auto accident usually can proceed in one of three ways:
Note: In no-fault car insurance states, a claimant doesn't usually have this same range of options. After a car accident in a no-fault state, you must turn to the personal injury protection coverage of your own car insurance policy for payment of medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries reach a certain threshold can you step outside of no-fault and make a claim directly against the at-fault driver. But Rhode Island drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.
Rhode Island Law requires every driver and vehicle owner to be financially responsible in the event of a car accident. That makes the purchase of liability car insurance coverage all but mandatory. The required minimum amounts of financial responsibility in Rhode Island are:
Liability coverage pays the medical bills, property damage bills, and other costs of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who are injured or have their vehicle damaged in a car accident you cause, up to coverage limits. You can (and in some situations should) carry more coverage to protect you in case a serious crash results in significant car accident injuries and vehicle damage. Once policy limits are exhausted, you are personally on the financial hook, so higher insurance limits can help protect your personal assets in the event of a serious crash.
Your liability coverage will kick in if any family member is driving your vehicle, or if you've given someone else permission to use it. It will likely also cover you if you get into an accident in a rental car.
Remember that liability coverage doesn't apply to your own injuries or vehicle damage after a Rhode Island car accident. You'll need different (additional) coverage for that if you're involved in a car accident and no one else's coverage applies to your losses. For example, collision coverage (optional in Rhode Island) can pay for repairs to (or replacement of) your damaged vehicle after a car accident. Note that collision or comprehensive might be required under the terms of a vehicle lease or financing agreement.
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is not required in Rhode Island if you choose liability insurance that meets only the minimum requirements described above. Even then, you'll need to decline UIM in writing. But UIM is almost always a smart policy choice, since it protects you and your passengers if the at-fault driver has no insurance, or if you're injured in a hit and run accident. Keep in mind that UM coverage will not apply to vehicle damage.
If you get caught driving without insurance in Rhode Island, you could be fined and lose your driving privileges and/or vehicle registration.
According to Rhode Island General Laws section 31-47-9, for a first offense, you'll face a license/registration suspension of up to three months, and you may be fined $100 to $500. For a second offense, penalties include six months' license/registration suspension, and a $500 fine. For a third or subsequent offense, your license/registration may be suspended up to one year, and you may be fined $1,000.
Of course, these penalties will likely pale in comparison to the financial hit you could take if you're in a car accident and you don't have car insurance.