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An article from a medical journal defines medical malpractice in the U.S. as a failure by a healthcare provider to follow the standards of care, resulting in a patient’s injury or death. It may happen during the course of routine or emergency medical procedures. 

In Rhode Island, a study of medical malpractice claims from 2008 to 2018 reported that there were 460 cases over the 10-year period in the state. Of these cases, 88% involved male physicians, while 48% involved surgical specialists. The study also stated that 17.6% of the medical malpractice payments were over $1 million. 

When medical malpractice in Rhode Island results in serious injuries, permanent disability,  or even death, it does not only negatively impact patients and their families emotionally but also presents a financial burden on them. Those who are victims of a doctor or a medical provider’s negligence often face long-lasting health consequences, losing their ability to work and income. They may need extensive medical care for the remainder of their lives, leading to recurring hospital bills, rehabilitation costs, and out-of-pocket expenses. 

Medical malpractice laws in Rhode Island are put in place to help injured parties obtain the financial compensation they deserve. If a plaintiff proves that the defendant healthcare provider was negligent, they may collect damages to assist them with their recovery. This article aims to help people in Rhode Island understand what constitutes medical malpractice in the state and who may be held liable; the process, time limits, and costs of filing claims; the damages injured parties are entitled to recover; and legal resources that provide support to those with financial challenges. 

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider violates their standard of care through a negligent act or omission, causing injury to a patient. Violating standards of care means that a doctor or a hospital makes a mistake that another qualified medical professional would not have made under similar circumstances. 

In Schenck v. Roger Williams General Hospital, the court repeatedly held that a physician’s duty is not to cure but to exercise the same degree of diligence and skill that other medical professionals in good standing and engaged in the same practice have. In this case, an expert witness provided an opinion that the defendant physician failed to use the tools of their profession in the same manner as other healthcare providers and that is required of them by law, such as failing to consult a report, conduct a test, or perform an examination to properly diagnose their patient’s heart condition. The Court established that the doctor’s misdiagnosis caused the victim’s injuries and set aside the prior verdict in favor of the defendant. 

Medical malpractice may result from various errors, such as the following:

  • Anesthesia error

  • Delayed diagnosis

  • Disregarding or not taking an appropriate patient history

  • Failure to diagnose

  • Failure to monitor drug reaction

  • Failure to order proper testing

  • Failure to recognize symptoms

  • Lack of informed consent

  • Misdiagnosis

  • Misreading or ignoring laboratory results

  • Nursing home abuse

  • Poor follow-up care 

  • Prescribing or administering the wrong medication or dosage 

  • Premature discharge

  • Prescription error

  • Sepsis or other serious infection

  • Surgical mistake.

Who Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Rhode Island?

A medical professional or a facility may be held responsible for medical malpractice in Rhode Island. R.I. Gen. Laws § 27-81-3 defines a medical professional as any physician or practitioner licensed, accredited, or certified to perform healthcare services. A medical facility, on the other hand, is an institution providing healthcare services or a healthcare setting. 

A hospital may be held liable for medical malpractice if it is due to the hiring of unqualified medical personnel or a failure to properly manage patient records. Supervisors may also be responsible for a medical professional’s actions. For example, if a nurse prescribes or administers the wrong medication, a patient may file a claim against the attending doctor or facility. 

Healthcare providers that may be held liable for medical malpractice include: 

  • Ambulatory surgical or treatment centers 

  • Blood centers

  • Chiropractors

  • Dentists

  • Diagnostic, laboratory, and imaging centers 

  • Health clinics

  • Home health entities

  • Hospitals

  • In-patient centers

  • Long-term care facilities

  • Nurse practitioners

  • Pharmaceutical companies 

  • Pharmacies

  • Pharmacists

  • Physicians

  • Rehabilitation and other therapeutic health centers 

  • Residential treatment centers

  • Skilled nursing centers

  • Therapists. 


Rhode Island has a Good Samaritan Law, which provides immunity from liability and civil damages for those who voluntarily render emergency care to people in need. However, this immunity does not apply if the act or omission constitutes gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct. It is up to the jury to determine whether a person’s conduct constitutes ordinary or gross negligence. 

The state does not have an “I’m Sorry” law. As a result, a medical professional’s expressions of apology may be admitted as evidence against them. However, there are other state laws providing some degree of protection to healthcare providers. Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-19-35, a healthcare provider’s failure to bill a patient for their services is not admissible as evidence of liability. Similarly, advanced payments for medical bills by a healthcare provider or their insurer may not be admitted as evidence. 

Many states implement sovereign immunity in medical malpractice cases, which means that they may not be held liable in a tort action. However, Rhode Island has waived this immunity. Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-31-1, the state may be sued in the same manner as any private individual or corporation in a tort action. The damage award that may be recovered by a plaintiff is limited to $100,000 per occurrence. 

Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Requirements

Most hospitals in Rhode Island require physicians to carry malpractice insurance before being granted admitting privileges. The limits of liability are $1 million for claims that arise from the same professional service, while the annual aggregate cap is $3 million. 

A healthcare provider must also be insured for damage or loss related to death or bodily injury claims arising from their medical malpractice. Meanwhile, medical professionals with high-risk specialties, such as cardiovascular or plastic surgery, gynecology, urology, or obstetrics, may opt to carry more than the minimum coverage. The rate is also influenced by the healthcare provider’s location and claim history. If the medical professional has dealt with many medical malpractice claims, their rate could be higher. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations in Rhode Island for Medical Malpractice Cases?

In Rhode Island, a victim must file their claim within three years of the date of medical malpractice or the date on which the malpractice was or should reasonably have been discovered. If a plaintiff misses the deadline to file their claim, they may lose their chance to recover the compensation they deserve. 

A plaintiff may still file a claim after the initial three-year period has passed if they can prove that, even through the exercise of reasonable diligence, their injury was not discoverable at the time the medical malpractice occurred. 

In some instances, the time limit may be extended. Exemptions to the three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in Rhode Island are outlined in R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-14.1. If the plaintiff is under disability due to age, they may still bring an action at any time until they reach the age of 21. If they have a disability due to mental incompetence, they may file a claim within three years of the removal of their disability. 

What Do You Need to Prove in a Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Case?

In Rhode Island, a medical malpractice victim must prove the following to obtain compensation: 

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed. This means that the defendant physician owed a duty of care, i.e., they must have treated the patient. 

  • The medical professional violated their duty of care. 

  • The healthcare provider’s negligence caused the patient’s injury. If the medical procedure does not result in the desired outcome, it does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice. Likewise, if a patient has an underlying illness, it does not necessarily mean that the doctor directly caused the harm. A medical expert may be used to testify and prove that the doctor caused the patient’s injury. 

  • The victim suffered damages due to their injury, such as disability, loss of income, and pain and suffering. 

A healthcare provider may also be held liable for failing to obtain informed consent from the patient. Informed consent is the doctor’s ethical duty to keep patients involved in healthcare decisions. It is also the patient’s legal right to decide what is done to their body. 

This process involves three phases. First, the physician must inform the patient about the details of the proposed medical procedure, its potential benefits and risks, and alternative courses of treatment. Second, the physician must evaluate whether the patient understood what they said and gave their knowing consent. Finally, the patient must sign the consent form. 

In the case of Wilkinson v. Vesey, the Rhode Island Supreme Court established this five-part test, allowing a plaintiff to establish a medical malpractice claim on the grounds of lack of informed consent. The injured party must prove that: 

  • The doctor inadequately explained the risks of a medical procedure.

  • The physician knew and withheld the risks.

  • The undisclosed risks occurred.

  • The patient would not have undergone the medical treatment had they known the risks.

  • When the risks occurred, it caused the patient’s injuries.

How Much Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Rhode Island?

There is no specific calculator or formula for determining the precise amount of damages a medical malpractice victim in Rhode Island may recover. The amount depends on the extent of their losses and the details of their case. This means that patients who sustain injuries that leave them unable to enjoy life or work, cause permanent impairments, or require extensive treatments, follow-up care, or rehabilitative therapies may obtain additional claims for compensation. 

The state does not impose a cap or statutory limit on economic, non-economic, or punitive damages that a victim may receive in medical malpractice cases. 

The following factors influence how much damages a plaintiff can get: 

  • Extent of injuries sustained: A victim who has sustained injuries resulting in permanent impairments may obtain higher compensation.

  • Earnings prior to sustaining injuries: Injured parties with higher income who lost their earning capacity as a result of medical malpractice may receive higher compensation than those with lower income levels.

  • Share of fault: If a plaintiff is partially at fault for their injuries, they may still recover compensation. However, the amount may be reduced in proportion to their share of fault. 

  • Quality of legal representation: The amount of compensation an injured party may receive also depends on the quality of their legal team. For example, if a plaintiff has a legal team with an extensive network of medical expert witnesses, their lawyer may consult them to testify regarding medical issues. Furthermore, an attorney who has a medical background may also know the statutory requirements governing the healthcare profession and the standards of care required of them under the law. This helps establish the liability of the negligent healthcare provider. 

Types of Damages

In Rhode Island, a plaintiff pursuing a medical malpractice claim may receive general, special, and/or punitive damages. 

General damages compensate plaintiffs for their suffering caused by medical malpractice. These include: 

  • Disability

  • Emotional distress

  • Loss of consortium

  • Loss of enjoyment of life

  • Loss of future earning potential

  • Mental anguish

  • Scarring and disfigurement. 

Special damages reimburse plaintiffs for expenses they have incurred due to medical malpractice. These include: 

  • Attendant care costs

  • Income loss

  • Medical bills

  • Nursing costs 

  • Out-of-pocket expenses 

  • Prescription fees

  • Physical therapy costs

  • Rehabilitative care costs.

Punitive damages are designed to punish healthcare providers who intentionally or knowingly violate their standards of care and to discourage similar behavior in the future. 

Negligence System

Rhode Island follows the pure comparative negligence rule, which allows an injured party to recover damages in a medical malpractice case even if they are partially at fault for their injury. The awarded damages will be reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault assigned by the court. For example, if the court determines that the victim is 60% at fault for their injury and the total damage award is $100,000, the plaintiff’s monetary recovery will be reduced by 60%. The injured party is only entitled to 40% of the amount, or $40,000. 

Methods of Obtaining Compensation

Rhode Island allows the plaintiff and defendant healthcare provider to undergo arbitration, which can either be binding or non-binding. In this method, the parties present their cases to a neutral arbitrator or panel of arbitrators. In binding arbitration, the parties agree to abide by the decision of the panel and cannot appeal. In non-binding arbitration, they may reject the decision and move forward to trial. 

To obtain compensation for medical malpractice, the claimants have the following options or steps: 

  • File a lawsuit against the negligent healthcare provider: The victim’s legal team drafts and files a comprehensive complaint outlining the details of their case and the compensation sought. 

  • Negotiate: The plaintiff’s legal team may negotiate with at-fault parties to secure a settlement that adequately compensates their losses. 

  • Go to trial: If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the victim may take the case to trial. Their legal team may present their case to a judge or jury using evidence and expert testimony. The expert witnesses from both sides will explain the medical aspects of the case. 

  • Appeal: In some cases, the losing side in a medical malpractice case may opt to appeal the decision of the lower court. An appeal is a legal proceeding allowing the higher court to review the decision made by the lower court. During this process, the court decides whether the trial court made an error in rendering the verdict. 

In Rhode Island, the injured party must present testimony from a medical expert to prove that a healthcare provider breached their duty of care. A medical expert can support a plaintiff’s claims by establishing that the defendant party either lacked or failed to exercise the required knowledge, skill, or degree of care, causing injuries to the patient that would not have otherwise occurred. Under the law, only those who have the knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education in the field of the alleged malpractice may qualify as medical experts and may be permitted to give testimony. 

How Much Does It Cost to Pursue a Medical Malpractice Case in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, it is common for attorneys to handle medical malpractice cases on a contingency fee basis. In this arrangement, the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage of the damage award in lieu of an hourly fee arrangement. 

There are other costs that are separate from the attorney’s legal fees. These include fees for:

  • Depositions

  • Filing

  • Expert witnesses

  • Medical records

  • Police reports

  • Trial exhibits.

Resources for Medical Malpractice Victims in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Program

The Rhode Island Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Program provides legal assistance in different areas of law to low-income people in the state. Its assistance ranges from giving legal advice and writing a letter on clients’ behalf to representing them in court. The participating volunteer attorneys handle various types of cases, including those involving torts and public benefits. It also has a pro bono program for the elderly through its lawyer referral service. For more information about this program, clients may call (401) 421-7758 or 1-800-339-7758 or email

Disability Rights Rhode Island

Disability Rights Rhode Island is a federally mandated protection and advocacy system. Through legal advocacy and representation, it aims to protect the rights of people with disabilities in the state. It helps clients apply for or receive independent living and vocational rehabilitation services. DRRI also assists beneficiaries of the Social Security program in obtaining disability benefits and regaining employment. To request legal help, one may call their intake staff at 401-831-3150.

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