What Are the Minimum Damages Available in a Rhode Island Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim enables the estate or family of a person killed because of negligence the ability to recover damages from the responsible parties. Wrongful death lawsuits are a function of state law. In Rhode Island, for instance, the law states that when a wrongful death claim succeeds against “any person or corporation,” the defendant is liable for no less than $250,000 in damages.
Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules Parents of Accident Victim Entitled to $250,000 From All Defendants
But how does this statutory minimum work when there are multiple defendants, some of whom previously settled with the victim’s estate? The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently addressed such a case. The justices essentially held that the $250,000 minimum is “per death,” not “per defendant.”
This case began with two cars drag-racing down the New London Turnpike. One driver lost control of his vehicle and drifted into the opposite lane. A third driver traveling in that lane then struck the out-of-control vehicle, killing one of its passengers.
The victim’s parents filed a wrongful death claim against numerous parties, including the driver of the third vehicle. The other defendants – the owners and insurers of the drag-racing cars – settled with the parents for more than $250,000. The driver of the third vehicle elected to try the case before a jury.
The jury ultimately found the driver 3 percent liable for the victim’s death. Following extended post-trial proceedings, the parents asked the judge to enter a judgment of $250,000 against the defendant, notwithstanding his share of the fault or the prior settlements with the other defendants. The defendant opposed this motion, arguing that the “plaintiffs had already received aggregated damages in excess of $250,000.”
The trial judge, and later the state Supreme Court, agreed with the defendant’s reading of the law. While the Supreme Court acknowledged that a “strict reading” of Rhode Island’s wrongful death statute “might arguably suggest a minimum-damages amount of $250,000 per defendant,” that would defy “common sense.” The law is designed to compensate families for their loss, and that loss is not greater when their loved one’s death “was caused by ten defendants rather than one.”
Speak with a Connecticut and Rhode Island Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Wrongful death cases are often complex and can take several years to resolve, as illustrated by the lawsuit above, which started with an accident that took place 14 years ago. An experienced Waterford–New London, Connecticut, and Rhode Island wrongful death lawyer can help you through every step of the process and help you hold the negligent parties responsible.