Representative Morgan Calls Attention to Tort Reform Legislation Being Heard in House Judiciary Committee

The legislation would limit the amount juries can award plaintiffs for non-economic damages to $500,000.


Imagine you are driving along and the car in front of you stops suddenly.  Luckily, you slam on your brakes and come within inches of his bumper, but the car behind you is not so fortunate.  It hits you and pushes you into the first car.

Unfortunately, even though the courts decide you are only 5% liable because you were following too closely, you end up paying for the entire accident, because the car behind you doesn't have the money.  That's Rhode Island’s current approach to personal injury and property damage.  It drives up insurance costs on all Rhode Islanders, individuals and businesses alike, by holding all potential defendants jointly and severally liable. 

Under Rhode Island’s current liability system, a party who may only be responsible for causing 1% of the damage could be forced to pay for 100% of the costs to make the injured party whole.  A bill that would correct this unfair practice is scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 14, 2012, at the Rise of the House in the House Lounge.

Representative Laurence Ehrhardt (R-Dist.32 North Kingstown) has introduced legislation (2012-H7756) that would abolish joint and several liability in any action for personal injury, property damage, accompanying personal injury, and wrongful death.  This legislation would instead only allow for several liability, which would render each defendant liable only for the share of the damages they have caused.

“This legislation removes one of Rhode Island’s many impediments to job growth and economic development,” said Representative Patricia Morgan (R-Dist. 26 West Warwick, Warwick, Coventry).  “While this legislation alone will not cure our failing economy, it is an important step in this long journey back to prosperity.”

Representative Joseph A. Trillo (R-Dist. 24 Warwick) has introduced legislation that would limit the amount juries can award plaintiffs for non-economic damages to $500,000.  This legislation is to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at the Rise of the House in the House Lounge.

There are three types of damages that juries can award in a suit.  They are economic, non-economic and punitive damages.  In this case, a plaintiff would receive all their verifiable monetary damages, such as lost wages, medical bills and lost property.  A defendant could also be charged punitive damages which are intended to punish for negligence.  However, non-economic damages would be limited to a maximum of $500,000.

"Doctors are routinely practicing defensive medicine and causing all of us to spend precious healthcare dollars on tests that are not vital to our health because they fear being sued and possibly paying huge awards.  In turn these unnecessary tests are inflating our insurance premiums.  Neither our employers nor individual consumers can continue to absorb the skyrocketing increases.  While we want every injured person to be made whole for losses, this shouldn't be looked at as a way to hit the Powerball," said Rep. Morgan.

“At every meeting on healthcare reform, medical malpractice is mentioned as a problem area.  Twenty-seven states have already passed reform.  Rep. Trillo’s legislation limiting the amounts plaintiffs can receive for non-economic damages is another sound proposal that would lower the costs of insurance and products and services alike,” said Rep. Morgan.  “Like many problems, there is no simple cure all.  However, the only way we are going to create jobs and get people back to work is to embrace incremental changes that taken together will make Rhode Island more competitive.”

These proposals are part of the Pro-Growth Agenda advanced by the House Republican Caucus in February of 2012.

The full text of Rep. Trillo’s legislation is available at http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText12/HouseText12/H7745.pdf.

The full text of Rep. Ehrhardt’s legislation is available at    http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText12/HouseText12/H7756.pdf.  


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