Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Summary

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Statutes of Limitations

In Rhode Island, any medical malpractice action for either personal injury or wrongful death must be brought within three years of the date of the incident, the date of death, or the date when the claimant knew or should have known of the wrongful act. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 9-1-14.1 and 10-7-2 (1997). With respect to minors and mentally incompetent persons, Rhode Island provides a three-year limitation period following removal of the disability. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-14.1(b) (1997).

Contributory or Comparative Negligence

Rhode Island adheres to the pure form of comparative negligence. A claimant’s award is diminished in proportion to the claimant’s negligence, but the claimant’s negligence, no matter how great, will not act as a bar to recovery. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-20-4 (1997).

Joint and Several Liability

R.I. Gen. Laws § 10-6-2 (1997) defines joint tortfeasors as persons who are jointly and severally liable.

Contribution

Rhode Island affords joint tortfeasors a right of contribution in medical malpractice actions. R.I. Gen. Laws § 10-6-3 (1997). When there is a disproportion of fault, the tortfeasors’ relative degrees of fault must be considered to determine their shares of contribution. Id.

Vicarious Liability

In order to sustain a medical malpractice action against a hospital based on apparent agency, a plaintiff must prove (a) that the hospital acted in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the treating physician was an employee or agent, (b) that the patient actually believed the physician was an employee or agent, and (c) that the patient relied to his detriment on the physician’s care and skill. Rodrigues v. Miriam Hospital, 623 A.2d 456 (R.I. 1993).

Expert Testimony

In any cause of action arising on or after January 1, 1987, “only those persons who by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education qualify as experts in the field of the alleged malpractice shall be permitted to give expert testimony as to the alleged malpractice.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-19-41 (1997).

Damage Caps

Punitive damages are not recoverable in any action brought by or against the executor or administrator of an estate. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-8 (1997). There is a $100,000 minimum recovery in any wrongful death action. R.I. Gen. Laws § 10-7-2 (1997).

Statutory Cap on Attorneys’ Fees

Rhode Island does not place a limit on fees an attorney may recover in a medical malpractice action.

Periodic Payments

Rhode Island does not mandate the use of periodic payments in medical malpractice actions. However, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-21-13 (1997), in any action in which damages are likely to be in excess of $150,000, the parties must consider the use of periodic payments as a means of settlement.

Collateral Source Rule

In Rhode Island, a medical malpractice defendant may offer evidence of a claimant’s receipt of collateral payments. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-19-34.1 (1997). If the defendant elects to introduce such evidence, the plaintiff may offer evidence of contributions or payments made to secure such benefits. Id. The jury must be instructed to reduce the award by the difference between the benefits received and payments made. Id.

Pre-Judgment Interest

Rhode Island law allows pre-judgment interest at a rate of twelve percent. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-21-10 (1997). In medical malpractice cases, interest accrues not from the date of the incident, but from the earliest of the following: the date the insurer was notified of the claim, the date the health care provider was notified, or the date the lawsuit was filed. Id.

Patient Compensation Funds and Physician Insurance

Rhode Island does not have a patient compensation fund, and it does not require its licensed physicians to carry professional liability insurance.

Immunities

Rhode Island has generally waived its sovereign immunity and that of its political subdivisions. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-31-1 (1997). The liability of the state and its cities and towns shall not exceed $100,000. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 9-31-2 and 9-31-3 (1997). The limitation of liability does not apply to occurrences during which the state or political subdivision was engaged in a proprietary or business function. Id. Further, the general assembly may, by special act, authorize actions against cities and towns for damages in excess of $100,000. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-31-4 (1997). R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-25 (1997) provides a three-year period of limitations for any action brought against the state or its political subdivisions.

Arbitration

Rhode Island does not mandate the reference of a medical malpractice action to binding arbitration.

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Revision Date: February 6, 1998