Understanding Rhode Island’s Pure Comparative Liability Laws

I’m gonna take everyone back to my first day at Boston College Law School and torts class because it is important to understand how a determination of fault will affect your ability to collect damages following an accident. These rules of comparative liability are most commonly used in auto accident cases but may also apply to slip and fall, construction accidents, motorcycle accidents, etc. Interestingly, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have very different laws in this regard.

This article is not concerned with rear-end accidents because in rear-end accidents the person in the back is 100% at fault with very few exceptions. This article is concerned with auto accidents at intersections, or in which one party is turning in front of the other. In these cases, one person might be the majority at fault but not 100% at fault for the accident.

For instance, Driver “A” is turning left out of a parking lot and does not see Driver “B” coming from the left. Driver “B” is speeding and strikes Driver “A” very hard. Driver “A” is the majority at fault because he was turning left and failed to yield the right of way to Driver “B”. Driver “B”, however, was speeding and caused a potentially minor accident to become a major accident.

In this above scenario (assuming you followed me) the insurance company, or jury, might find Driver “A” 80% at fault (for failing to yield the right of way) and Driver “B” 20% at fault for speeding. This is where comparative liability laws become important.

In Rhode Island, Driver “A”, even though majority at fault, would still be able to collect 20% from Driver “B” for damages. This includes property damage to his vehicle and damages for personal injury. If the injury sustained is very serious, or fatal, 20% may still be a lot of money to help the injured person get back on their feet.

In Massachusetts, which adheres to a modified comparative negligence system, Driver “A” would not be able to collect anything. This is because, in Massachusetts, a driver who is majority at fault can not collect ANY damages. In Massachusetts, a driver must be 50% or less at fault in order to recover any damages.

It is also worth noting that these laws do not apply to passengers. Because passengers are not behind the wheel and do not contribute to accidents, they are not punished by the fact that “their driver” was at fault for the accident. Passengers can collect all of their damages from either at-fault driver.


As a former insurance adjuster and claims investigator I am uniquely talented at assessing liability and fault in auto accidents. I will fight for everything you are entitled to even if it is not 100% because of comparative negligence. If you have been involved in a complex auto accident, it is imperative that you contact an attorney with the skill and experience to ensure you receive all that you are entitled to. Contact my office today.