There have been some recent, dramatic changes in Rhode Island’s General Laws, benefitting plaintiffs, which relate to the defenses, claims allowed, and allocation of contribution among joint tortfeasors for many tort claims. The revised statutes are outlined below.
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- Sections 10-6-3, 10-6-4 and 10-6-7 of the General Laws in Chapter 10-6 1 entitled, “Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors,” were amended.
This act now limits the credit received by a joint tortfeasor to the amount paid by the released tortfeasor without regard to finding of fault. Previously, this section of the law provided that a joint tortfeasor would receive the greater benefit of the sum paid by a released tortfeasor or the percentage of fault attributed to the released tortfeasor. This act applies to all claims pending at the time of passage or asserted thereafter; but it does not apply to, affect, or impair releases executed before the passage date. The change creates extra considerations in the resolution of a claim in multi-defendant cases given that Rhode Island is a pure joint and several liability jurisdiction and co-defendant fault is no longer a consideration for apportionment. This act was signed by the Governor on July 14, 2021.
- Section 9-1-32 of the General Laws, “Effect of Alteration of Product after Sale,” was amended.
This amendment eliminates the defense of immunity for a manufacturer or seller due to a subsequent alteration or modification of a product in a products liability case. Rather, a defense that a substantial cause of the injury, death, or damage was a subsequent alteration or modification of the product would be determined by comparative negligence.
Any defense claimed by the manufacturer or seller that the person injured made a subsequent alteration or modification to the product that is found to be a significant contributing factor to the injury, death, or property damage shall be controlled by the comparative negligence provisions of § 9-20-4.
The statutory amendment applies to causes of action and claims arising after the effective date of passage. The change to the scheme is significant for product liability claims and repeals existing and longstanding common law, in addition to the statutory change. At a minimum, the question of a successful dispositive motion alleging this immunity is called into doubt. This act was signed by the Governor on July 13, 2021.
- Section 10-7-1.2 of the General Laws in Chapter 10-7, “Death By Wrongful Act,” was also amended.
This act now allows for recovery of damages for the emotional distress, grief, and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the wrongful death of a spouse, a parent or a son or daughter. The amendment applies only to claims resulting from injuries occurring after the effective date. Loss of consortium and loss of society were previously components of the wrongful death statutes but there was no specific reference for the recovery of the above. Now, there is clear statutory authority for such a damage assessment and award. This act was signed by the Governor on July 12, 2021.