Most Rhode Island personal injury and insurance disputes must be filed with the court within the statute of limitations that is set by the state legislature. Because plaintiffs are often overwhelmed and or unaware of the potential for a claim for damages, lawsuits are often dismissed when plaintiffs fail to file suit within the statute of limitations. Some exceptions exist, allowing a plaintiff’s suit to proceed even when it is filed after the statute of limitations. A recent decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court serves as an example. In that case, an appellate court reversed a lower court’s decision in favor of an insurance company in a personal injury insurance dispute.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a slip and fall accident while at a restaurant that was insured by the defendant. He filed an initial lawsuit against the restaurant owner within the three-year statute of limitations. The plaintiff’s initial complaint was eventually dismissed because the plaintiff failed to have the defendant properly served under the state requirements. Although the defendant insurance company was not officially a party to the plaintiff’s initial lawsuit, the restaurant owner defendant was represented in the proceedings by attorneys retained by the insurance company.
After his initial complaint was dismissed, the plaintiff refiled his lawsuit against the restaurant owner, and ultimately joined the insurance company in the suit. However, this was not until after the three-year statute of limitations had expired. The plaintiff justified the timing of the filing based on a Rhode Island law that the courts refer to as the” savings statute,” which gives a plaintiff an additional year to refile a complaint after it has been dismissed on specific procedural grounds. The second trial court rejected the plaintiff’s justification, holding that because the insurance company was not a party to the original suit, the savings statute did not apply. As a result of this ruling, the plaintiff’s second suit was dismissed, leading him to appeal the ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.