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Rhode Island Wrongful Death Statute | RI Fatal Accident Lawyer

CHAPTER 10-7

Death By Wrongful Act

Index Of Sections

§ 10-7-1. Liability for damages for causing death.

Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another, and the act, neglect, or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, the person who, or the corporation which, would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount in law to a felony.

History of Section.
C.P.A. 1905, § 234; G.L. 1909, ch. 283, § 14; G.L. 1923, ch. 333, § 14; P.L. 1932, ch. 1912, § 1; G.L. 1938, ch. 477, § 1; P.L. 1949, ch. 2332, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-1.

§ 10-7-1.1. Pecuniary damages — How determined.

Pecuniary damages to the beneficiaries described under § 10-7-2 and recoverable by the beneficiaries shall be ascertained as follows:

(1) Determine the gross amount of the decedent’s prospective income or earnings over the remainder of his or her life expectancy, including all estimated income he or she would probably have earned by his or her own exertions, both physical and mental. Pecuniary damages shall include the value of homemaker services lost as a result of the death of a homemaker. The fair value of homemaker services shall not be limited to moneys actually expended to replace the services usually provided by the homemaker. In such a suit, the value of homemaker services may be shown by expert testimony, but expert testimony is not required.

(2) Deduct from the amount determined in subdivision (1) the estimated personal expenses that the decedent would probably have incurred for himself or herself, exclusive of any of his dependents, over the course of his or her life expectancy.

(3) Reduce the remainder thus ascertained to its present value as of the date of the award. In determining the award, evidence shall be admissible concerning economic trends, including but not limited to projected purchasing power of money, inflation, and projected increase or decrease in the costs of living.

History of Section.
P.L. 1971, ch. 46, § 1; P.L. 1987, ch. 81, § 2; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 77.

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

§ 10-7-1.2. Liability for loss of consortium — Liability for loss of society and companionship.

(a) Whenever the death of a married person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person, the decedent’s spouse may recover damages against the person for loss of consortium and for the emotional distress, grief, and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the death.

(b) Whenever the death of a parent or parents of a son or daughter shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person, the son or daughter may recover damages against the person for the loss of parental society and companionship and for the emotional distress, grief, and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the death.

(c) Whenever the death of a son or daughter shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person, the parent or parents of the son or daughter may recover damages against the person for the loss of the son’s or daughter’s society and companionship and for the emotional distress, grief, and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the death.

History of Section.
P.L. 1982, ch. 217, § 1; P.L. 1984, ch. 64, § 2; P.L. 2010, ch. 232, § 1; P.L. 2010, ch. 240, § 1; P.L. 2021, ch. 341, § 1, effective July 12, 2021; P.L. 2021, ch. 342, § 1, effective July 12, 2021.

§ 10-7-2. Persons who may bring actions — Limitation of actions — Minimum recovery period. [Effective until January 1, 2024.]

Every action under this chapter, other than one brought under § 10-7-1.2, shall be brought by and in the name of the executor or administrator of the deceased person, whether appointed or qualified within or without the state, and of the amount recovered in every action under this chapter one-half (½) shall go to the husband or widow, and one-half (½) shall go to the children of the deceased, and if there are no children, the whole shall go to the husband or widow, and, if there is no husband or widow, to the next of kin, in the proportion provided by law in relation to the distribution of personal property left by persons dying intestate; except that no person who is adjudged to be in willful contempt of being in excess of six (6) months in arrears of an order to pay child support for the deceased individual shall be allowed recovery pursuant to this chapter and a person so adjudged shall be deemed to have predeceased the child for the purpose of determining distribution under the intestacy statute. Every action brought under § 10-7-1.2 shall be brought by and in the name of the person or persons sustaining the loss of society, companionship and/or consortium and the amount recovered shall go to the person or persons who sustained the loss. Except as otherwise provided, every action brought pursuant to this chapter shall be commenced within three (3) years after the death of the person. With respect to any death caused by any wrongful act, neglect or default which is not known at the time of death, the action shall be commenced within three (3) years of the time that the wrongful act, neglect or default is discovered or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have been discovered. Whenever any person or corporation is found liable under §§ 10-7-1 — 10-7-4 he or she or it shall be liable in damages in the sum of not less than two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000).

History of Section.
C.P.A. 1905, § 234; G.L. 1909, ch. 283, § 14; G.L. 1923, ch. 333, § 14; P.L. 1932, ch. 1912, § 1; G.L. 1938, ch. 477, § 1; P.L. 1949, ch. 2332, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-2; P.L. 1958, ch. 151, § 1; P.L. 1980, ch. 198, § 1; P.L. 1981, ch. 101, § 1; P.L. 1982, ch. 435, § 1; P.L. 1984, ch. 237, § 1; P.L. 1989, ch. 124, § 1; P.L. 1989, ch. 525, § 1; P.L. 1994, ch. 180, § 1; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30; P.L. 1998, ch. 123, § 1; P.L. 2002, ch. 320, § 1; P.L. 2002, ch. 345, § 1.

§ 10-7-2. Persons who may bring actions — Limitation of actions — Minimum recovery period. [Effective January 1, 2024.]

(a) Every action under this chapter, other than one brought under § 10-7-1.2, shall be brought by and in the name of the executor or administrator of the deceased person, whether appointed or qualified within or without the state, and of the amount recovered in every action under this chapter one-half (½) shall go to the husband or widow, and one-half (½) shall go to the children of the deceased, and if there are no children, the whole shall go to the husband or widow, and, if there is no husband or widow, to the next of kin, in the proportion provided by law in relation to the distribution of personal property left by persons dying intestate; except that no person who is adjudged to be in willful contempt of being in excess of six (6) months in arrears of an order to pay child support for the deceased individual shall be allowed recovery pursuant to this chapter and a person so adjudged shall be deemed to have predeceased the child for the purpose of determining distribution under the intestacy statute.

(b) Every action brought under § 10-7-1.2 shall be brought by and in the name of the person or persons sustaining the loss of society, companionship and/or consortium and the amount recovered shall go to the person or persons who sustained the loss.

(c) Except as otherwise provided, every action brought pursuant to this chapter shall be commenced within three (3) years after the death of the person. With respect to any death caused by any wrongful act, neglect, or default that is not known at the time of death, the action shall be commenced within three (3) years of the time that the wrongful act, neglect, or default is discovered or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have been discovered. Whenever any person or corporation is found liable under §§ 10-7-1 — 10-7-4 the person or corporation shall be liable in damages in the sum of not less than three hundred fifty thousand dollars ($350,000).

History of Section.
C.P.A. 1905, § 234; G.L. 1909, ch. 283, § 14; G.L. 1923, ch. 333, § 14; P.L. 1932, ch. 1912, § 1; G.L. 1938, ch. 477, § 1; P.L. 1949, ch. 2332, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-2; P.L. 1958, ch. 151, § 1; P.L. 1980, ch. 198, § 1; P.L. 1981, ch. 101, § 1; P.L. 1982, ch. 435, § 1; P.L. 1984, ch. 237, § 1; P.L. 1989, ch. 124, § 1; P.L. 1989, ch. 525, § 1; P.L. 1994, ch. 180, § 1; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30; P.L. 1998, ch. 123, § 1; P.L. 2002, ch. 320, § 1; P.L. 2002, ch. 345, § 1; P.L. 2023, ch. 196, § 1, effective January 1, 2024; P.L. 2023, ch. 256, § 1, effective January 1, 2024.

§ 10-7-3. Action by beneficiaries.

If there is no executor or administrator, or if, there being one, no action is brought in his or her name within six (6) months after the death, one action may be brought in the names of all the beneficiaries, either by all, or by part stating that they sue for the benefit of all, and stating their respective relations to the deceased; provided, that if all do not bring suit, only those bringing it shall be responsible for costs; but judgment shall be for the benefit of all and shall be entered as several judgments for each in his or her proportion, and executions thereon shall issue in favor of each respectively; provided, further, that if action is brought by the beneficiaries, no action shall thereafter be brought by the executor or administrator. There shall be but one bill of costs in favor of the plaintiffs, which shall enure equally for the benefit of those bringing the suit, and of them only.

History of Section.
C.P.A. 1905, § 234; G.L. 1909, ch. 283, § 14; G.L. 1923, ch. 333, § 14; P.L. 1932, ch. 1912, § 1; G.L. 1938, ch. 477, § 1; P.L. 1949, ch. 2332, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-3.

§ 10-7-4. Cause surviving death of person liable.

Any cause of action arising under §§ 10-7-1 — 10-7-4 and any action authorized by this chapter shall survive the death of any person liable for damages under this chapter, and may be originally brought against his or her executor or administrator or, if brought against the liable person in his or her lifetime, may in the event of his or her death be defended by his or her executor or administrator.

History of Section.
G.L. 1923, ch. 333, § 14; P.L. 1932, ch. 1912, § 1; G.L. 1938, ch. 477, § 1; P.L. 1949, ch. 2332, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-4; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30.

§ 10-7-5. Liability for medical expense and diminution of earning power.

Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another, and the act, neglect, or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, the person who, or the corporation which, would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable to an action for damages, in addition to the one provided for under §§ 10-7-1 — 10-7-4 for the hospital, medical, and other expenses incurred, including diminution of earning power until time of death, by or in behalf of the party injured by reason of the wrongful act, neglect or default, notwithstanding the death of the person injured and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount in law to a felony.

History of Section.
G.L. 1923, ch. 477, § 1A; P.L. 1953, ch. 3215, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-5.

§ 10-7-6. Executor or administrator to bring § 10-7-5 action — Amount recovered to estate.

Every action under § 10-7-5 shall be brought by and in the name of the executor or administrator of the deceased person, whether appointed or qualified within or without the state, and the amount recovered in every action under § 10-7-5 shall go to the decedent’s estate and become part of the estate.

History of Section.
G.L. 1923, ch. 477, § 1A; P.L. 1953, ch. 3215, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-6; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30.

§ 10-7-7. Pain and suffering recoverable — Limitation of action.

In an action under § 10-7-5, recovery may be had for pain and suffering. Except as otherwise provided, every action under § 10-7-5 shall be commenced within three (3) years after the death of the person. With respect to any death caused by any wrongful act, neglect or default which is not known at the time of death, the action shall be commenced within three (3) years of the time that the wrongful act, neglect or default is discovered or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have been discovered.

History of Section.
G.L. 1923, ch. 477, § 1A; P.L. 1953, ch. 3215, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-7; P.L. 1972, ch. 246, § 1; P.L. 1981, ch. 101, § 1; P.L. 1982, ch. 435, § 1; P.L. 1984, ch. 237, § 1; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30.

§ 10-7-7.1. Punitive damages.

In an action commenced under § 10-7-5, recovery may be had for punitive damages if such damages would have been recoverable had the decedent survived.

History of Section.
P.L. 2009, ch. 382, § 2.

§ 10-7-8. Cause surviving death of person liable.

Any cause of action arising under §§ 10-7-5 — 10-7-8 and any action authorized by this chapter shall survive the death of any person liable for damages under the cause of action and may be originally brought against his or her executor or administrator or if brought against the person in his or her lifetime may, in the event of his or her death, be defended by his or her executor or administrator.

History of Section.
G.L. 1923, ch. 477, § 1A; P.L. 1953, ch. 3215, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-8; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30.

§ 10-7-9. Criminal proceedings not prerequisite.

In order to maintain any action given in and by this chapter, it shall not be necessary to first institute criminal proceedings against the defendant.

History of Section.
C.P.A. 1905, § 235; G.L. 1909, ch. 283, § 15; G.L. 1923, ch. 333, § 15; G.L. 1938, ch. 477, § 2; P.L. 1953, ch. 3215, § 2; G.L. 1956, § 10-7-9.

§ 10-7-10. Damages not to estate or asset of estate.

All damages recoverable under §§ 10-7-1 — 10-7-4 and under 10-7-7.1 shall be recoverable by and awarded to those beneficiaries as specified in § 10-7-2 and shall not be deemed or considered damages to the estate of the decedent, nor shall they be considered in any way an asset of the estate of the decedent, nor liable to any claims against the estate of the decedent.

History of Section.
P.L. 1971, ch. 46, § 1; P.L. 2009, ch. 382, § 1.

§ 10-7-11. Applicability to pending actions.

The provisions of this chapter shall apply to all actions for death by wrongful act pending on May 26, 1971.

History of Section.
P.L. 1971, ch. 46, § 1.

§ 10-7-12. Applicability to actions commenced after passage.

The provisions of this chapter shall also apply to all actions for death by wrongful act commenced after May 26, 1971.

History of Section.
P.L. 1971, ch. 46, § 1.

§ 10-7-13. Severability.

If a court of competent jurisdiction shall adjudge to be invalid or unconstitutional any clause, sentence, paragraph, section or part of this chapter, the judgment or decree shall not affect, impair, invalidate or nullify the remainder of this chapter, but the effect of the court’s adjudication shall be confined to the clause, sentence, paragraph, section or part of this chapter so adjudged to be invalid or unconstitutional.

History of Section.
P.L. 1971, ch. 46, § 1; P.L. 1997, ch. 326, § 30.

§ 10-7-14. “Homemaker” defined.

A homemaker as used in this chapter is a person who has primary responsibility for the care of a home and family and who receives no direct monetary compensation for their duties.

History of Section.
P.L. 1987, ch. 81, § 3.

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