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Rhode Island Court Records

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What is a Tort Case and What does it Involve in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, a tort case is filed by an individual to obtain compensation for a civil wrong such as assault, medical malpractice, trespass, and any other injury, loss, or damage caused by someone else (person, business, or the government). Although suing parties are entitled to receive monetary relief for the wrong or harm, Rhode Island law recognizes comparative negligence in personal injuries or property damages under R. I. G.L § 9–20–4. This means that damages are reduced when it is discovered that any plaintiff contributed to their injury or loss.

Within the court system, the District Courts and Superior Courts settle these cases. The District Courts accept cases where the amount sought for damages is up to $5,000 and above, but not over $10,000, while the Superior Courts handle cases above the $10,000 threshold. However, the two courts have concurrent jurisdiction for claims between $5,000 and $10,000.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What is Rhode Island Tort Law?

Rhode Island’s tort law is a set of regulations describing the legal rights and liabilities of persons involved in tort claims. A considerable part of this law is established under Title 9 and Title 10 of the Rhode Island General Laws.

What Kinds of Cases are Covered by Tort Law in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island District and Superior Courts hear several cases for intentional (deliberate actions) or unintentional (careless/reckless actions) torts under the tort law. These cases include:

  • Legal malpractice
  • False imprisonment
  • Wrongful death
  • Health care or medical malpractice
  • Birth injury
  • Assault and battery
  • Emotional distress
  • Product liability (defective products)
  • Premises liability (dog bites, slips and falls, etc.)
  • Work injury/accident
  • Car accident
  • Trespass
  • Civil conspiracy

What are the Differences Between Criminal Law and Tort Law in Rhode Island?

The major difference between a tort and a crime is that torts are unlawful but noncriminal acts that are resolved by financial compensation while crimes are illegal acts against the society that are disposed through criminal prosecution. As such, these legal actions are handled under separate laws. However, as explained by R. I. G.L § 9–1–2, an individual may be accused of a tort and a crime, and whether being prosecuted for that crime or not, a victim may still be able to recover damages in a civil action. Cases that are categorized as torts and crime often include intentional and malicious actions such as assault, battery, larceny, and wrongful death.

The rights and liabilities of perpetrators and victims under the tort and criminal laws also differ. For example, while expungement is authorized for certain criminal offender records, it is not possible to expunge the court record of a tort claim, as these claims are neither felonies nor misdemeanors. Another example is the right to counsel which is compulsory in criminal cases where jail time is a possible consequence but not at all in tort claims. Furthermore, criminal offenders are subject to fines, incarceration, community service, and more, but at-fault parties in tort claims are liable only to an amount comparable to the damages incurred because of their actions.

What is the Purpose of Tort Law in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island tort law outlines the rights, protections, and liabilities of individuals who committed tortious acts or were injured because of those acts. The law also establishes limitations of actions and immunities of parties. All of this, to compensate injured parties and prevent others from performing injurious acts.

What is a Tort Claim in Rhode Island?

Based on the provisions of the Rhode Island General Laws, a tort claim originates when one person’s malicious or careless action(s) causes injury, loss, or damage to one or more parties. As a result, the injured party may commence an action in court when unable to resolve the case without judicial intervention.

How Do You File a Tort Claim in Rhode Island?

An injured or aggrieved person may begin a tort claim in Rhode Island by filing a complaint with the District or Superior Court and paying the filing fee (Superior Court fees; District Court fees).. The regular District Court, not its small claims division, handles civil claims where damages are up to $5,000 (R. I. G. L. § 8–8–3).. As stated before, when the amount in controversy is above $10,000, the Superior Court has jurisdiction (R. I. G. L. § 8–8–3).. Civil forms can be obtained from the Rhode Island Judiciary’s forms page, or by contacting the relevant court.

It is important to note that, as like the other U.S. States, Rhode Island has a statute of limitations guiding the filings of tort claims in the courts. According to R. I. G. L. § 9–1–14 and § 9–1–25, the cap for personal injury claims is 3 years from the cause of action, whether for a government or private claim. Whereas, a personal injury claim for real or personal property, such as product defects, must be filed within 10 years after the use or consumption of the product (R. I. G. L. § 9–1–13).. There are several other provisions (exemptions and limitations) based on the nature of the case and health/age of the plaintiff. Therefore, it is best to consult a lawyer to know the state’s deadlines for filing a tort case.

In certain cases, it may be possible to file a claim with Rhode Island state agencies such as the Rhode Island Department of Transportation for claims including vehicle, pothole, or mailbox damages, and other property or vehicle damages.

What Does a Tort Claim Contain in Rhode Island?

As stated earlier, to begin a tort claim in the Rhode Island District or Superior Court, an individual must file a complaint with the court. This claim will typically contain the following information:

  • Personal details of parties involved (names, address, phone numbers, and email addresses)
  • The sum of money claimed for an injury
  • The name and location of the filing court
  • A concise description of the cause of action (including location, date, time, people present, and more)
  • The plaintiff’s signature and date of filing

What Happens after a Tort Claim is Filed in Rhode Island?

The post-filing procedure of a tort claim in Rhode Island is similar regardless of the court where the claim began. Following the filing of a complaint, a defendant will be served with a summons and complaint. The service is typically carried out by the Sheriff or constable of the county where the defendant lives or the injury occurred, or another authorized party. The purpose of this service is to notify the sued party of the complaint and the deadline to inform the court that the service was received. The defendant’s pleading (answer) will either admit or deny the complaint.

Generally, the timeframe to answer a summons and complaint is 20 days from receipt of the service. Otherwise, the plaintiff may file a motion against the defendant to obtain a default judgment. If such judgment is entered, the defendant will be liable for the total amount claimed for an injury or accident.

The next stage after filing and service is discovery, where parties (plaintiffs, defendants, or their attorneys) exchange documents and evidence that will be presented at trial. After completion of the discovery process, the case may be resolved by bench (judge) or jury trial. However, at any stage before the trial hearing date, parties may decide to settle using alternative dispute resolution methods such as arbitration or mediation.

Why Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Tort Claim?

Rhode Islanders can resolve tort claims on their own (pro se) or with the help of a lawyer. However, hiring a lawyer for a personal injury case can be beneficial for several reasons, such as:

  • Expertise in resolving a legal matter
  • Explaining the law relevant to a case and legal rights of a client
  • Resolving a tort claim speedily
  • Negotiating a full settlement
  • Explaining and informing the client of judicial processes
  • Communicating with the defendant or defendant’s attorney, as well as other parties such as an insurance company
  • Gathering essential evidence to support a case and presenting it
  • Defending a client in court
  • Providing legal advice
  • Building a strong case

How Can I Find a Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me?

Personal injury lawyers in Rhode Island can be found with the Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). The Rhode Island Bar Association offers this online service at no cost. Members of the public are required to enter their personal information, address, and case details (type and location) into an online form and submit it to be referred to a lawyer. This free consultation cannot exceed 30 minutes. An interested party may call (401) 421–7799 to inquire about the service. Individuals who are eligible for reduced fee/pro attorney services, or are elderly, may call (401)521–5040 or (401) 421–7799 from 9:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Residents who qualify for pro bono services may call (401) 421–7758.

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