Wrongful Death Laws in Rhode Island

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The unexpected death of a loved one or relative can leave a family in a state of grief and despair. In addition to dealing with and overcoming the emotional aspect of the situation, the surviving family members must also confront the financial realities. For example, the surviving family members often must figure out how future bills and expenses will be covered.

In these situations, a wrongful death cause of action may be available to help certain surviving family members seek compensation on behalf of the deceased. A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of civil action brought against a person or entity who can be held liable for the death of another individual. Because wrongful death causes of action are established by individual state law, it is difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all generalization of a wrongful death claim.

If you have experienced the death of loved one, or if you would like to learn more about filing a wrongful death lawsuit, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312  for a 100% free case evaluation with our wrongful death attorneys.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Rhode Island?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a private civil action most commonly initiated by the surviving family members of a deceased individual against another person or entity who can be held liable for the death. A wrongful death claim exists when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person. If successful, a wrongful death lawsuit can provide financial compensation in the form of money damages to the party who brought the lawsuit.

In general, a fatality caused by the wrongful acts of another individual may provide grounds for the initiation of wrongful death claim. The State of Rhode Island defines wrongful death as one “caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another”. The Rhode Island wrongful death statute also includes deaths caused by a wrongful act that would otherwise amount to a criminal felony under state law.

The language of Rhode Island’s wrongful death statute essentially equates a wrongful death claim to personal injury claim that the deceased would have been able to bring if death had not occurred. This means that if the actions of the at-fault party would have entitled the deceased to pursue a personal injury claim, then the survivors of the deceased will be able to pursue a wrongful death claim in order to establish the defendant’s liability and seek damages.

It should be noted that although the circumstances of a case may prompt law enforcement and prosecutors to criminally charge a defendant, a private civil wrongful death action may still be pursued in civil court. However, because the interaction of criminal and civil cases arising from the same occurrence may present challenging and complex legal issues, it is worth discussing your options with a wrongful death attorney.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island law mandates that a wrongful death claim be filed by the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate. This personal representative is often designated by name in the deceased’s estate plan. Common choices include surviving spouses, adult children, or adult siblings of the deceased.

If the designated individual cannot or will not serve as a personal representative of the deceased’s estate, or if no estate plan exists, the court will appoint a personal representative. Finally, surviving family members may be eligible to file the claim if the executor or administrator does not file it within six months of the date of death.

Although the personal representative is the one responsible for filing a wrongful death claim, the wrongful death claim exists for the benefit of the decedent’s surviving family members. Rhode Island’s wrongful death statute gives preference to the surviving family members as follows:

  • If the deceased person has a surviving spouse and children, any damages awarded in the claim go to the spouse and children;
  • If there is a spouse, but no child, any damages awarded go to the spouse;
  • If there is no spouse and no child, the damages are distributed to the heirs at law, which may include the parents, grandchildren, or other parties.

What Damages are Available in a Rhode Island Wrongful Death Claim?

A successful wrongful death claim will lead to compensation in the form money damages. The awarded damages are intended to compensate the estate and the surviving family members for different types of losses that may have occurred because of the wrongful death. In Rhode Island, the following types of damages are available in successful wrongful death claims:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses originating from the decedent’s final injury or illness;
  • Lost wages and benefits, including the value of wages and benefits the deceased would reasonably have been expected to earn if he or she had lived
  • Loss of care, companionship, and guidance the deceased provided to surviving family members
  • Pain and suffering
  • Property damaged in the events involving the death

Under certain limited circumstances, punitive damages may also be available. Unlike typical compensatory damages, which are intended to make a party whole, punitive damages are intended to punish acts which are particularly malicious, reckless, or willful.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island law mandates that a wrongful death claim be filed within three years of the date of the decedent’s death. This statute of limitations means that wrongful death claims filed more than three years after the date of death are effectively barred from being litigated in court.

But if the occurrence of the wrongful act that caused the death could not be discovered on the date of the death, the claim may be filed within three years of the date on which the wrongful act actually was, or should reasonably have been, discovered.

Because of this complex exception, and because certain circumstances may pause or “toll” the statute of limitations time period, you may want to consider consulting with a wrongful death attorney. Doing so may provide you with valuable information and guidance regarding Rhode Island’s statute of limitations.


Understanding the details of a wrongful death claim can ultimately provide you with valuable information in the event that you or a family member experience the loss of a loved one. In a moment where stress is likely to be at an all-time high, some solace can be found in knowing that there may be a way to pursue compensation for your losses.

At Zinda Law Group, our attorneys have plenty of experience litigating and resolving wrongful death cases. Our team has the resources necessary to help build the strongest claim following the death of a loved one. Our attorneys are on stand-by, waiting to help grieving family members seek fair compensation for their losses.

If you would like to discuss the details of your case with an experienced wrongful death lawyer, or if you would like to learn more about filing a wrongful death claim, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to receive your free case evaluation.

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