Rhode Island Personal Injury Lawyer
by Slepkow Law
Rhode Island injury arbitration lawyer
RI arbitration attorney

Did a RI car crash arbitrator go ‘off the reservation’ by not following established Rhode Island law in determining a motor vehicle accident claim? Did the negligence arbitrator’s blatant disregard for RI law require a Rhode Island Court of law to upend the injury arbitration award?

The following auto accident case was not being followed by many people on the Court’s website www.courts.ri.gov

Judge upends arbitration

A Rhode Island Superior Court Justice issued an important tort law decision related to enforceability of Ocean State arbitration auto accident arbitrator decisions.  The Justice upended a car accident arbitrator’s award because  the arbitrator failed to follow the law.

This cause of action involved a three car accident in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Lincoln is a small town near Cumberland, Smithfield and North Smithfield. All of these towns are located in Providence County, Rhode Island. The automobiles involved in this collision were driven by the plaintiff, the defendant and by an unknown third party motorist.

Procedural History of RI Multi Vehicle Wreck:

The two identified motorists (Plaintiff and Defendant), by and through their respective Rhode Island Personal Injury lawyers, agreed to arbitrate the car crash injury claim using a neutral, mutually agreed upon arbitrator. They also agreed that this Rhode Island auto accident arbitration would be a binding arbitration. These types of personal injury arbitration are usually arbitrated by an experienced RI Personal injury Attorney acting in his  or her capacity as a neutral arbitrator.

Decision of Providence Superior Court:

“After examination of the record and governing law, this Court finds that the Arbitrator manifestly disregarded the joint tortfeasor doctrine and exceeded his authority. Under the power vested to it by § 10-3-12, this Court hereby vacates the Arbitrator’s decision, in part.”  Courts RI .GOV 

Can a RI Court discard an arbitrator’s decision?

 “A court may also find that the arbitrator exceeded his or her authority and vacate an award when “the arbitrator has manifestly disregarded the law.” Berkshire Wilton Partners, 91 A.3d at 835 (citing Prudential Prop. and Cas. Ins. Co., 687 A.2d at 442. In the case at bar, the arbitrator awarded the Plaintiff $10,650 from the Defendant plus  a couple of hundred for property damage.  This sum was 10 percent of the total damages determined by the arbitrator. This meager injury award was after the arbitrator determing the total damages, pain and suffering, medical bills etc. amounted to over $106,000. It is unclear whether there were any lost wages, scarring, partial disability or permanent disability. The arbitrator made comparative liability findings that the at fault defendant was 10 percent liable for the  automobile wreck and that the unidentified defendant was 65 percent liable. The arbitrator also believed that the Plaintiff was 25 percent at fault. Read more about this case: www.courts.ri.gov

Arbitration and the law

If the arbitrator had followed RI Joint Tortfeasor joint and several liability law he would have awarded the Plaintiff 75 percent of the $106,000 award! “A standard application of the principles of joint and several liability and comparative negligence would make Defendant liable for seventy-five percent of the total damages of $106,500 for bodily injury and $2150 for property damages. See § 10-6-2; § 9-20-4; Roberts-Robertson v. Lombardi, 598 A.2d 1380, 1381 (R.I. 1991) (“It is a well-settled doctrine that a plaintiff may recover 100 percent of his or her [share of] damages from a joint tortfeasor who has contributed to the injury in any degree.”). The Arbitrator’s decision did not, however, employ the joint tortfeasor doctrine when apportioning damage amounts, despite its clear applicability.”  Id.

“Thus, the Arbitrator’s apportionment of liability between the Defendant and the Unidentified Motorist constitutes a de facto finding that each was a joint tortfeasor.” Id. “Per statute, it is not possible for the Arbitrator to assign to both the Defendant and the Unidentified Motorist liability for the motor vehicle accident without their being joint tortfeasors.” Id. 

Infallibility of arbitration decisions?

This Decision is Surprising because RI  has Long tradition of  near infallibility of binding Injury Arbitration Awards This is an interesting decision of a trial Court since arbitrator awards are generally known as sacrosanct. The highest Court in Rhode Island sitting in Providence, the RI Supreme Court, has previously  determined that: “Rhode Island has a strong public policy in favor of the finality of arbitration awards.” Berkshire Wilton Partners, 91 A.3d at 834 (citing North Providence Sch. Comm. v. North Providence Fed’n of Teachers, Local 920, 945 A.2d 339, 344 (R.I. 2008)).  Courts 

The cause of action decided  in 2014 by the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Providence Superior Court Justice is: MARCELLE LANCTOT v. THULASI DASARI 

Arbitrator goes rogue?

Neither party could anticipate the possibility that the arbitrator would go rogue in his decision. Unfortunately, the decision by the Providence Superior Court Judge does not name the arbitrator who threw this garden variety RI multi-car Collision into litigation upheaval. Obviously, the unidentified motorist was not a party to this decision or the arbitration proceeding. Pursuant to Rhode Island negligence law, the unknown motorist would be considered an uninsured motorist. Blog  It is unclear  from the decision whether the unidentified motorist was a hit and run scofflaw.

The parties had a secret high- low agreement of $50,000 high and zero dollars (low). The Plaintiff agreed to accept  any decision within this range. The car accident attorneys for the Plaintiff and the defendant kept the arbitrator in the dark about this side deal.

RI law

Here is the uninsured motorist statute in RI: § 27-7-2.1  Uninsured motorist coverage. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE27/27-7/27-7-2.1.HTM  Here is portions of the applicable RI Hit and Run Law: § 31-26-1  Duty to stop in accidents resulting in personal injury. – (a) The driver of any vehicle knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury to, serious bodily injury to, or death of any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible….”

Editor’s note: It is  also conceivable that the unidentified motor vehicle operator was not aware of the mayhem he left in his wake. It certainly appears that the plaintiff agreed to a high of $50,000 because in all likelihood that this was the maximum insurance that the Defendant had to cover the injury claim.  It appears that Plaintiff figured he would bank the 50k and pursue his underinsured carrier for the balance of his damages.  The decision fails to describe the extent of the plaintiff’s injury and whether this was a whiplash injury, fractured bone, spinal cord injury or  traumatic brain injury (TBI).

For information about any lawsuits filed in Rhode Island, please visit: www.courts.ri.gov

Comparative Negligence law in RI

Rhode Island has pure Comparative Negligence law, § 9-20-4. Under Rhode Island law, the judge, jury or arbitrator  must determine the relative fault of joint tortfeasors in a  RI motor vehicle accident.. “§ 9-20-4 Comparative negligence. – In all actions hereafter brought for personal injuries, or where personal injuries have resulted in death, or for injury to property, the fact that the person injured, or the owner of the property or person having control over the property, may not have been in the exercise of due care shall not bar a recovery, but damages shall be diminished by the finder of fact in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person injured, or the owner of the property or the person having control over the property.” Statute

Joint tortfeasor liability

Rhode Island has joint tortfeasor liability “§ 10-6-2  “Joint tortfeasors” defined. For the purposes of this chapter, the term “joint tortfeasors” means two (2) or more persons jointly or severally liable in tort for the same injury to person or property, whether or not judgment has been recovered against all or some of them; provided, however, that a master and servant or principal and agent shall be considered a single tortfeasor.” Webserver

“First, the parties must be ‘liable in tort.’ The phrase ‘liable in tort’ has been construed to mean to have negligently contributed to another’s injury. * * * Second, the statute refers to the same injury. The same injury is caused by parties who engage in common wrongs. To constitute joint tortfeasors under the act, both parties must have engaged in common wrongs.” Lawrence, 606 A.2d at 988 (quoting Wilson v. Krasnoff, 560 A.2d 335, 339 (R.I. 1989). ”  Court.RI 

“Lincoln is a town in Providence County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 21,105 at the 2010 census. Lincoln is located in northeastern Rhode Island, north of Providence.” wikipedia

Lincoln borders Cumberland, North Smithfield and Smithfield, RI in Providence County. Article by RI Personal Injury Attorney David Slepkow 401-279-0004 (24 hour attorney cell phone access)

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.


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