Comparative Negligence in Rhode Island

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Rhode Island is a pure comparative negligence state. That means if you’re in an accident, you can recover damages based on your percentage of fault as long as you were less than 100% responsible for the collision.
Have you ever wondered why people are so quick to start placing blame after an accident? It’s not just because they’re upset—it’s because the amount of fault assigned to each party can determine how much they can collect in damages. The laws regarding fault can differ from state to state, so it’s essential to know the exact laws where you drive.
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What is comparative negligence?

Comparative negligence sounds complicated, but it just means that if you’re in an accident, you can collect damages proportionate to your fault in the accident. Here’s how it works:
If you get into an accident with someone else and you’re found to be 25% at fault, you’re only going to be held responsible for 25% of the other party’s damages. In turn, the other driver will be responsible for 75% of your damages—assuming they’re assigned the remainder of the fault for the crash.
Comparative negligence can be applied to personal injury lawsuits and claims sent to an insurance company. In a personal injury suit, a judge or jury decides on the proportion of responsibility for an accident. If you file a third-party insurance claim, the insurance company assigns responsibility. They’ll then pay out based on the proportion of fault—or comparative negligence.

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

There are three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, partial or modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Each state falls into one of these three categories, and here’s what each one means:
  • Pure comparative negligence: You can collect damages based on their percentage of fault. If you are 99% at fault and the other driver is 1% responsible, you can still collect 1% of your damages from their insurance company.
  • Partial/modified comparative negligence: You may collect damages according to your percentage of fault, as long as your fault is less than 50 or 51% (depending on the state). 
  • Contributory negligence: You can not collect damages if you are found to be any percentage at fault for an accident. 
Only 12 states recognize pure comparative negligence, and 5 states recognize pure contributory negligence. 

What is Rhode Island’s comparative negligence law? 

Rhode Island is one of the few states that recognize pure comparative negligence. According to
Rhode Island General Law Section 9-20-4
, you can collect damages based on your percentage of fault as long as you’re found less than 100% at fault.
That means if you’re 90% at fault in an accident, you can still collect 10% of your damages from the other driver. However, you (or your insurance) will have to pay 90% of the other driver’s damages, like vehicle repairs or medical costs due to injury. 
MORE: How to negotiate with automobile insurance adjusters

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

If there are more than two defendants in your accident case, they will have to split the damages based on their proportion of fault. So if one person was found 75% responsible for an accident and the other person was found 25% responsible, you can collect 75% of your damages from the first person (or their insurance) and 25% from the other.

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

Insurance companies typically decide the fault in a comparative negligence case. This decision is based on the evidence submitted with the claims and police reports taken at the time of the accident.
To make sure your case is decided accurately, be sure to carefully document the following while you’re still at the accident scene:
  • Description of the cars involved, including make, model, and license plate numbers
  • Time and date of the accident
  • Weather conditions at the time of the accident
  • Witness statements
  • Photographs of any damage
Also, if you need to call the police, double-check to be sure that the police report is filed afterward.

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

Because Rhode Island is a pure comparative negligence state, you can collect damages from the other party’s insurance company as long as they were found any percentage at fault for the accident.
Let’s say you’re late for work and you’re driving a bit too fast. As you approach an intersection, another vehicle blows through the red light, but since you were going 10 miles over the speed limit, you cannot stop in time, and the two of you collide.
Because the other driver committed the greater offense—running a red light—they’re found to be 80% at fault. However, you’re assigned 20% of the responsibility since you were speeding. That means you can collect 80% of your damages from the other driver, and they can collect 20% of their damages from you. 

How to find affordable car insurance

You may have seen your insurance go up after an accident, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying a sky-high premium.
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Yes, unfortunately, your insurance will go up if you’re found to be at fault. Your insurer will calculate your new rate based on factors like your demographics, driving history, amount of fault, and the circumstances of the accident. In general, you can expect your insurance to go up by at least 20% if you were found at fault.

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