10 Critical Steps After a Rhode Island Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after a Rhode Island car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Rhode Island Car Accident

Despite great strides in automotive safety, the number of car accidents is rising, with more than 2.3 million crash injuries reported annually throughout the U.S.¹

From coast to coast, American roadways are busier than ever. With so many more cars on the road, it’s no surprise the average driver can expect to be in three or four accidents during their lifetime.²

Rhode Island has its share of car accidents with over 6,000 people injured in crashes each year.³

Sooner or later, an accident is bound to happen. One minute you’re minding your own business traveling a familiar route to work, and the next minute you’re on the roadside, stunned by an unexpected collision.

Recovering from personal injuries and property damage after a car accident can be challenging and expensive. Your financial recovery depends on the success of your auto accident claim.

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Rhode Island Car Accident

Here are 10 steps toward building a successful auto insurance claim. We’ve also answered the most frequently asked questions after a car accident in Rhode Island.

Step 1. Stop, Check for Injuries, Call 911

Rhode Island stop help call

What should I do first?

Rhode Island law requires drivers in car accidents with injuries, fatalities, or property damage to stop as close to the accident scene as is safely possible.

Immediately call 911 to notify law enforcement and emergency services of the accident. Offer reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured.

As soon as is practical, you must exchange the following information with the other driver:

  • Name and address
  • Vehicle registration
  • Driver’s license information

What information will the 911 dispatcher need?

When you call 911, tell the dispatcher you’ve been in a car accident. The dispatcher will need to know your location, if anyone is injured, and if there are dangers at the scene.

Location: Emergency help can get to you faster if they know where to find you. Tell the dispatcher the name of the road or highway you’re on, the direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting streets, and describe nearby landmarks.

Injuries: Tell the 911 dispatcher if you or anyone else has been injured, if there are suspected fatalities, and if anyone is trapped in a vehicle.

Hazards: Tell the dispatcher about traffic problems and imminent dangers, like cars overturned or on fire, downed power lines, or leaking fuel.

What if I’m injured?

Some injuries are painfully obvious, like bleeding wounds or broken bones. But there are serious, even life-threatening injuries like internal bleeding or closed head trauma that might not show clear symptoms until hours or even days after the accident.

Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. This is not the time to put on a brave front. Tell emergency responders about every symptom you’re experiencing, no matter how mild. Shock and fear can mask injury symptoms. If the paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go with them.

If you are not taken directly to the hospital from the scene, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible after the accident. You can use your primary medical provider or go to an urgent care center or hospital emergency department.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can weaken your insurance claim. The insurance company won’t hesitate to challenge your claim by arguing that your injuries weren’t caused by the crash.

What if I hit an unattended vehicle?

If you’ve hit an unattended parked car, stop immediately and try to find the vehicle owner. Once located, give the owner your name and address.

If you can’t find the owner, leave a note on the car with your name, address and an explanation of what happened. Then you are required to notify local police of the accident.

What if I hit a highway fixture?

In the event you’ve hit property next to the highway, like a street sign or utility pole, you must stop immediately. Try to locate the person in charge of the property and provide your name, address and the registration number of the car you were driving. Finally, you must report the incident to local police.

Step 2. Cooperate with Police

Rhode Island police at accident

Do police have to respond to the accident?

Police are generally sent to accident scenes where there are injuries, fatalities, traffic is blocked, or there are reported hazards.

In busy jurisdictions, an officer may not be available to respond to non-injury accidents like fender-benders.

What is the role of law enforcement at accident scenes?

Police officers are professionally trained in accident management and investigation. The investigating officer is authorized to:

  • Secure the accident scene
  • Coordinate care and transport of the injured
  • Gather evidence and determine cause
  • Conduct sobriety tests
  • Issue citations

You can try telling the police your side of the story, but the investigating officer doesn’t have to listen. If the police ask you to wait or give you any other instructions, you should cooperate.

What if the officer gives me a citation?

If the officer decides you violated Rhode Island traffic laws, you may be cited. While you can attempt to talk the officer out of giving you a ticket, once it’s issued you should accept the citation and sign it if necessary.

Accepting a traffic citation is not an admission of guilt. Traffic court is the place to dispute the citation, not at the accident scene.

How do I get a copy of the police accident report?

Police investigating any Rhode Island car accident involving injuries, death, or property damage to the apparent extent of $1,000 or more must file a crash report within 14 days of the investigation.

Visit the Rhode Island State Police website for information on obtaining a copy of the Statewide Uniform Crash Report for Motor Vehicle Accidents.

Step 3. The Importance of Gathering Evidence

Rhode Island accident photo evidence

Accident scenes change quickly. Cars are towed, and the drivers and witnesses leave. Take advantage of the small window of time right after an accident to collect vital evidence from the crash site and the people involved.

Evidence gathered from the accident scene will significantly support your insurance claim, especially when the accident was caused by a negligent driver. You’ll need proof the other driver did something wrong or failed to drive responsibly.

Where do I begin?

Start by collecting the following information from the other driver:

  • Name and address
  • Vehicle registration information
  • Driver’s license information
  • Insurance information

Passengers: Ask for passengers’ names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and any other contact information. Passengers might refuse to speak to you, but you can make notes for yourself about how many passengers were in the other car, approximate ages, what they looked like, how they were acting, and what you heard them say.

Vehicles: Look for the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle in the accident. If you have permission to enter the other car, the VIN can normally be found on the left corner of the dashboard near the windshield, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door. The VIN may also be found on the driver’s insurance card.

Diagrams: Make a drawing of the accident scene showing the position of the cars before and after the crash, and what direction they were heading. Your sketch should illustrate road conditions, like ice or potholes. Add notes about the weather, lighting conditions, and anything else that contributed to the accident.

How about photographs and video?

Using your phone, camera or any other device to take pictures and videos at the scene is very helpful to your claim. Walk around the crash site taking as many pictures and videos as you can from different angles.

Photos and video footage can show important details of the vehicles and surrounding area. Sometimes, pictures or sound-enabled videos can capture how the drivers and passengers were acting, admissions of fault, indications of intoxication, and other significant factors that may have a huge bearing on your insurance claim.

Photographs and videos can be compelling evidence that makes it harder for those involved to change their story after the accident.

Should I talk to witnesses?

Witnesses have no obligation to talk to you, but you can try to speak with potential witnesses long enough to find out if they saw anything helpful to your claim. Ask willing witnesses for their name and contact information, and if they’ll write down what they saw. Have the witness sign and date any written statement.

Be prepared with our free Car Accident Information Form. Keep copies along with a pen in your car, right next to your insurance and registration cards. You’ll always be ready to collect the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.

Step 4. Notify Your Insurance Company

Rhode Island accident call insurance

How does the Notice clause affect me?

Most auto insurance policies have a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause somewhere in the long version of the policy documents. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s accident investigation.

The clause in your policy will have language like this:

“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”

What if no one was injured?

You’re legally obliged to tell your insurer about every accident, even if the accident isn’t your fault or no one seems to be hurt. Reporting the accident, even minor parking lot incidents, will help protect you later.

Don’t be tempted to avoid reporting the accident to your insurance company, even if the other driver insists you’re better off handling things without involving insurance companies or police.

If the other driver later blames you for injuries or anyone from the other car hires an attorney, you can bet they’ll contact your insurance company to ask for money. Your insurance company would be in a tough spot if you hadn’t already reported the accident.

Failing to promptly notify your insurance company of an accident is a violation of your policy terms that can lead the company to raise your rates, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your auto insurance.

Are there apps for accident claims?

There’s a growing number of applications for mobile devices to make starting a car accident claim faster and easier. Depending on the app, you’ll be able to:

  • Gather identifying information from the other driver and passengers
  • Collect car registration and insurance information
  • Find the GPS location of the crash
  • Collect witness information
  • Create diagrams of the accident scene
  • Take photographs and videos
  • Notify your insurance company

Here’s a sampling of some free accident reporting apps. Your insurance company may offer a similar application.

Google Accident Report
Allstate Mobile
State Farm

Step 5. Rhode Island 3rd Party Liability

Rhode Island 3rd party liability

What is third-party liability?

Rhode Island isn’t a no-fault insurance state, where each driver in a crash relies on their own insurance to cover the cost of injuries. Under Rhode Island’s third-party liability laws, victims of car accidents can file damage claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

There are two categories of claim damages:

Property damages include the cost to have your car fixed, the cost of a rental while your car is in the shop, the value of personal property lost in the crash, and the value of your car if it’s a total loss.

Personal injury damages can include medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills; out-of-pocket expenses for medical care; mental health services; pain and suffering; and more.

What are my options after a crash?

When you’re the victim of a Rhode Island car accident, you have three ways to pursue payment for your losses:

  • File a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  • File a claim with your insurance company if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured
  • File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver

Step 6. Rhode Island Car Insurance Requirements

Rhode Island auto insurance

What are the minimum amounts of car insurance required?

Liability insurance covers injuries or damage to other people or their property when you are to blame for an accident.

Rhode Island drivers must demonstrate “proof of financial responsibility” by having auto insurance with liability coverage for bodily injury of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, as well as $25,000 per accident for property damage.

Step 7. Understanding Pure Comparative Negligence

Rhode Island comparative negligence

What is pure comparative negligence?

Rhode Island uses the pure comparative negligence rule for determining each driver’s percentage of blame for causing an accident.

That means if you’ve been in a Rhode Island car accident you can seek compensation from the other driver even if you’re mostly to blame for the accident, so long as you’re not 100% at fault.

How can comparative negligence rules affect me?

Under pure comparative negligence rules, after the portion of liability for the accident is determined for each driver, your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of liability.

The insurance company will decide your share of blame for the accident before paying any claims. If the insurance company thinks you are the only one to blame for the crash, you won’t get a dime.

Whether the insurance company decides you are partially or totally to blame for the accident, if you don’t agree with the insurance company’s determination, you may need an attorney to reach an appropriate settlement amount.

Here’s an example of how comparative negligence can affect a settlement:

Suzanne was driving home in the right lane of the interstate. Holden was also in the right lane, traveling behind her. Holden wanted to pass Suzanne, so he moved into the center lane and increased his speed. Once he thought he had passed her, Holden started moving back into the right lane.

Unfortunately, when Holden moved back into the right lane, his car hit the front of Suzanne’s car, causing her car to run off the road into a tree, severely injuring Suzanne.

Suzanne filed a personal injury claim with Holden’s insurance company, demanding $100,000 for her medical bills, pain and suffering. The insurance company refused to pay for Suzanne’s claim, decided that Suzanne was to blame for the accident because she sped up when Holden was trying to pass her.

Through her attorney, Suzanne filed a lawsuit against Holden. During trial, the jury learned that Holden was ticketed at the scene for moving into the right lane before it was clear for passing. The jury also heard witness testimony that Suzanne increased her speed when Holden was trying to pass her.

The jury found that Holden was 60% liable for the accident for moving back into the right lane before it was clear. The jury also determined that Suzanne was 40% liable for the crash because she sped up while Holden was trying to pass her.

While the jury agreed that Suzanne had $100,000 worth of damages, based on Rhode Island comparative negligence law, Suzanne was awarded $60,000, representing a 40% reduction to the $100,000 value of her claim.

Under the pure comparative negligence rule, even if the jury had determined Suzanne to be 99% at fault for the accident, she still would have been able to recover 1% ($1,000) of her damages.

Step 8. When You Need an Attorney

Rhode Island hire attorney self represent

Some car accident claims can be settled for a decent amount of money without hiring an attorney. Other claims are more difficult, requiring expert legal representation to get anywhere near the level of compensation appropriate for your injuries, pain and suffering.

When can I represent myself?

Before deciding to tackle the insurance company on your own, think about the type of injuries you suffered in the accident, and what it’ll take to get a good settlement.

“Soft tissue” injuries include bumps and bruises, muscle sprains, whiplash, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims usually consist of medical, chiropractic, or physical therapy bills; some lost wages, and a limited amount of pain and suffering.

“Hard” injuries are much more severe, including disfiguring wounds, open fractures, internal bleeding, head trauma, spinal injuries, and other serious and sometimes permanent injuries. Hard injury claims are complicated, requiring the insurance company to pay out significantly more money for a fair settlement.

There’s just too much to lose for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.

Convincing the insurance company to pay the true value of a hard injury claim usually involves sworn medical testimony, subpoenas for medical and financial records, interrogatories, depositions of hostile witnesses, actuarial studies, and more.

When you’ve suffered serious injuries, you have limited power to handle legal procedures and negotiations on your own. By the time the insurance company makes their “final” offer, you probably won’t have the knowledge or energy to fight them.

Insurance companies count on that and routinely offer far less settlement money to claimants without legal representation. Experienced personal injury attorneys have the skills, knowledge and legal tools needed to bring about the settlement you deserve for your injuries and suffering.

How much will an attorney charge?

No payment is needed to find out what an attorney can do for you. Almost all good personal injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation for accident victims.

Before your first meeting with an attorney, organize your paperwork. Your accident file should include your medical records, police report, photographs, and records of any communications you’ve had with the insurance company.

After reviewing your documents, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it will likely take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit.

Personal injury attorneys ordinarily charge a contingency fee, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from 25% up to 40% of the gross settlement amount or court verdict, depending on the complexity of your case.

You won’t pay any attorney fees if your attorney can’t settle your claim or loses your case in court.

Step 9. Rhode Island Small Claims Court

Rhode Island Small Claims Court

Can I sue for accident injuries in small claims court?

Unlike the litigation options in most other states, small claims court is not an option if you’re the victim of a Rhode Island car accident. Cases to recover personal injury or property damages from automobile accidents cannot be filed as small claims cases in Rhode Island’s judicial system.

However, you can file your accident-related lawsuit in District Court.

The Rhode Island District Court has adopted special procedures for handling car accident cases, with simpler forms that don’t require legal training to understand. Many of the normal court rules are suspended to make the process easier and less expensive for plaintiffs without attorneys.

Although District Court has made the forms and procedures somewhat easier for the layperson, the rules of civil procedure are in full force, rules of evidence are in effect, and there is nothing to stop your opponent from hiring a defense lawyer.

It may be wise to consult an attorney before deciding to file your car accident case in Rhode Island District Court.

Step 10. Beware of the Statute of Limitations

Rhode Island statute limitations

What is a statute of limitations?

A statute of limitations for accident claims is the legal period for the claimant to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

The statute of limitations for Rhode Island car accidents is three (3) years. The statute starts to run on the accident date.

What can I do if the insurance company is stalling?

The insurance company has no obligation or incentive to settle your claim before the statutory deadline. If negotiations are stalled, it’s up to you to be vigilant about the statute of limitations deadline.

The adjuster is trained to avoid big payouts to claimants like you. They know that if your claim isn’t settled and you haven’t sued their insured before the statutory deadline, they win. You lose any rights to pursue the at-fault driver or the insurance company, no matter how badly you’re injured.

Don’t be reluctant to sue the at-fault driver. Not only will your lawsuit stop the statutory clock from running, but it will also put the insurance company on notice to bring some real money to the table.

Your attorney will continue to negotiate with the insurance company after your lawsuit is filed. Experienced personal injury attorneys often can negotiate a very good settlement before the case makes it to trial.

Be aware of the statute of limitations deadline for your accident. Put alerts on your phone, mark the date on your calendar, or whatever it takes to remind you. Act now to protect your claim.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>