Rhode Island Supreme Court Clarifies Wrongful Death Minimum Recovery

March 2017

 

On March 27, 2017 the Rhode Island Supreme Court rendered it decision in O’Connell v Walmsley, Nos. 16-58, 16-59, where it held that RIGL §10-7-2 does not require a finding that a tortfeasor who was found to be three percent responsible for a fatal collision be liable to the plaintiff for $250,000.00.

 

In O’Connell, plaintiff’s decedent was a passenger in a vehicle being operated by Jason Goffe. Goffe was engaged in a high-speed race with Michael Petrarca.  Goffe lost control struck a vehicle operated by Walmsley, which was travelling in the opposite direction.  The collision resulted in the deaths of Goffe and plaintiff’s decedent. Plaintiffs brought suit against several defendants, including Walmsley. All defendants except Walmsley settled and were given joint tortfeasor releases. The combined settlement $395,000.00.

 

At trial, the jury found Walmsley to be three percent at fault.  It awarded decedent’s estate $10,000.00 without taking a reduction for liability percentages.  Plaintiffs filed a post-trial motion for additur to $250,000.00, the statutory minimum under RIGL 10-7-2. The issue on appeal was whether the statutory minimum applies to all tortfeasors jointly or to each tortfeasor.  The Supreme Court determined that the statute applied jointly and, since more than $250,000.00 had previously been paid, Walmsley was not liable to the Estate.