Recently in Rhode Island Legislature Category

December 18, 2014

RI Lawmakers Look to Crackdown on Uninsured Drivers

Welcome news this morning as I was reading the Turn to 10 webpage. It appears that RI Lawmakers have put in place mechanisms to check and ensure that Rhode Island drivers have active automobile insurance coverage. Failure to maintain active auto insurance can result in suspension of your driver's license. A link to the story can be found here.

This is certainly welcome news since 1 in 5 vehicles on the road in Rhode Island is currently uninsured. Every week I have to give the extremely upsetting news to a car accident client that the at fault driver did not have auto insurance at the time of the accident. That means that despite thousands of dollars in vehicle damage and serious bodily injury, the at fault driver will not be able to compensate the victim. Luckily, on many occasions my clients have uninsured motorist coverage on their policy and they are able to receive compensation through their own insurance company. Many clients, however, do not have this coverage and are out of luck.

Theoretically, you can sue the at fault driver for damages with or without insurance. Unfortunately, this is a time consuming and complex process. There are also quite a few costs associated with a lawsuit. Drivers who do not possess auto insurance on their vehicle are also very unlikely to have any money or assets since a person of wealth would never risk driving their vehicle without insurance. So, you have a time consuming and complex lawsuit against a defendant with no money. That is why a personal injury attorney is unlikely to help you if there is no insurance.

One thing you can do to avoid being in this position is to call your insurance company or agent and make certain that you have uninsured motorist on your policy for BOTH property damage and personal injury. You may be very surprised to see that this can cost as little as $100/year. While uninsured motorist is not required by law in the State of Rhode Island, an extra $100/year might just save you tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid property damage, medical bills and lost wages.

That said, it is good to see Rhode Island taking proactive steps to reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the road. Other states also have similar programs. In some states the insurance company is required to notify the DMV when a policy is cancelled, not renewed, etc. The DMV will investigate and if the person does not have a policy with a different company, the license will be suspended.

License suspension is a much more serious harm than the $500 fine currently given to those in Rhode Island caught driving without insurance. If you are caught driving on a suspended license, you will be arrested! It is a misdemeanor. Furthermore, Rhode Island does not have any hardship provision for license suspensions. It does not matter to a Judge in RI if you have four kids and drive 100 miles a day to work. No matter what, your license will remain suspended. The threat of a night in jail and criminal record is much more scary than a fine and I hope it will be enough to encourage more people to drive with proper auto insurance on their vehicle.

We should continue to encourage our lawmakers to push for better laws and stricter punishments against uninsured drivers. Their negligence can destroy lives without the means to help put the pieces back together.

March 21, 2011

Rhode Island to Consider Tougher Seatbelt Laws

Although similar attempts have been made in the past, the Rhode Island legislature is once again considering a bill to toughen state seatbelt laws. It goes without saying that seatbelts can save lives and reduce the severity of injuries in serious auto accidents, yet thousands still fail to buckle up every time they get in their car.

Under the current laws, the police can issue a citation for failure to wear a seatbelt, but only if they stopped you for another moving violation. In other words, the police can not pull over an adult driver (the laws are different for drivers under 18) if the only law he or she is breaking is failure to wear a seatbelt.

Under the new proposal, police would be allowed to make a traffic stop solely for seat belt use and issue a $75 citation if caught operating without a seatbelt. Thirty States already have similar laws, but previous attempts to pass such a law in Rhode Island have failed. This time around, however, there is $4 million dollars in federal money available if the State should pass such a law.

What I like about this newly proposed law is that it prevents the police from conducting a search of the vehicle unless a violation other than the seatbelt was also committed. In other words, police will not be able to use lack of a seat belt to conduct random unwarranted searches of vehicles and persons, unless additional probable cause exists.

November 2, 2010

Get Out And Vote!

Just want to remind everybody today to take ten minutes and go to their local polling place to cast their vote. One of the greatest influences to our Rhode Island law is the people that we elect to put into office. Don't let your opportunity to be heard pass.

January 6, 2010

Wrongful Death Statute Now Allows for Recovery of Punitive Damages

A bill introduced by Representatives Caprio, Petrarca, Silva, Edwards, and Lally has now become law. Rhode Island General Law, Chapter 10-7 "Death by Wrongful Act" now includes the following:

R.I.G.L. 10-7-7.1. Punitive Damages. In an action commenced under section 10-7-5, recovery may be had for punitive damages if such damages would have been recoverable had the decedent survived.

Punitive damages are damages in addition to compensatory damages (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc) that are intended to deter the defendant from acting in a certain way. Punitive damages are typically awarded in cases where the defendant's negligence was egregious or his behavior reckless. The most well-known examples have come from lawsuits against the tobacco industry.


Rhode Island joins the growing number of States (now the majority of States) to allow for punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. I want to thank our State Representatives who fought diligently to pass this bill and who continue to look out for the well-being and civil rights of our State citizens.

Continue reading "Wrongful Death Statute Now Allows for Recovery of Punitive Damages" »

November 29, 2009

Rhode Island Officially Bans Texting While Driving

By now we have all seen the electronic traffic message signs telling us that there is a new law in Rhode Island banning texting while driving. It is true that Rhode Island has joined the growing number of States to make illegal this dangerous activity.

One might ask, how dangerous is texting while driving? It turns out, according to a Car & Driver report, that it may be more dangerous than drunk driving.

In a safe test environment they tested the reaction and stopping times of individuals who were texting, emailing, or legally drunk (over .08). The results were startling.

  • an unimpaired driver: .54 seconds to brake
  • legally drunk : an additional 4 feet
  • reading email: an additional 36 feet
  • sending a text: an additional 70 feet

So the results suggest that a person distracted by their cell phone is even more dangerous than a mildly drunk driver.

June 3, 2009

RI Legislature Passes Law Allowing Domestic Partners to Make Funeral Arrangements - Is This Progress?

The Rhode Island State Senate unanimously approved a bill granting "domestic partners" the right to claim the bodies of, and make funeral arrangements for their loved ones.  The bill defines "domestic partner" as someone who had been in "an exclusive, intimate and committed relationship'' with the deceased and had cohabited for at least a year before the death.

The law rises from a tragic story of a man who desperately tried to obtain the body of his deceased lover in order to cremate him according to his wishes.  The story becomes secondary to a much larger picture here in Rhode Island.  Rhode Island is the only State in New England that fails to recognize any legal relationship between homosexual couples.  Our Court and legislature have previously refused to expand the rights of homosexuals in this State, yet today, the legislature agrees to let a domestic partner claim a body and make funeral arrangements?

I find this decision curious, to put it mildly.  While it can be argued that any progress is beneficial progress, I can't escape the irony that our State refuses to recognize any legal relationship for same sex couples during their life and yet acknowledges the validity and strength of same sex relationships in death.

I encourage any comments as I would like to open this question up for debate - Is this law progress for Rhode Island or a slap in the face?