Founded in the 17th Century, Providence is one of the oldest American cities. Like much of New England, it developed well before the invention of automobiles (and thus the narrow roads). Naturally, city founder Roger Williams did not envision a nice orderly grid of roadways to accommodate large SUVs. From time to time, you can expect a minor wreck near Kennedy Plaza. Don't be too alarmed. Rhode Island has a set of laws for handling car accidents, and the laws make sense. They're easy to follow and remember. Here are the basics.
See FindLaw's Car Accidents section for additional articles and resources.
First Steps After an Accident
Duty to Stop
State law requires drivers to stop after an accident resulting in either personal injury or damage to another's property. The best practice is to stop and check, since it may not be apparent whether there is an injury or property damage. If you were involved in a collision with another moving car, both cars should be moved so that they are not blocking traffic more than is necessary. Stay at the scene until you've exchanged information and police arrive. If anyone is insured in the crash, you must give "reasonable assistance."
Duty to Exchange Information
Immediately after an accident, a driver should provide his or her name, address, vehicle registration number, and insurance information. Give this information to any person struck by your vehicle—passenger, driver, or pedestrian.
Notify Your Local or State Police
If you fear that someone is injured or the cars pose a danger to others on the road, call 9-1-1. Otherwise, after the drivers have exchanged information, notify the nearest law enforcement station. In the City of Providence, you should notify the Providence Police Department at (401) 272-3121. Outside of the city proper, call the Rhode Island State Police Headquarters at (401) 444-1000.
If you strike an unattended vehicle, ether try to find the owner or provide the same information that you normally would in the form of a written note. Leave the note in or on the unattended vehicle so that the owner will find it. Again, notify state or local police immediately.
The following tips are not required by law, but are recommended by Providence-area accident attorneys:
Uniform Crash Reports
Some residents will remember that the state used to require drivers to submit a State Crash Report. This policy has changed. Instead, drivers who were involved in a collision resulting in injury or property damage above $1,000 must file a "Uniform Crash Report" with the police at the time you report the accident.
Notify Your Insurance Provider
As a condition of the policy, you may be required to notify your insurance provider of any accidents shortly after the crash. See FindLaw for more information on Personal Injury Law in Providence.
Criminal Consequences After a Crash
When police arrive to the scene, they will determine if there is probable cause to arrest you for a criminal motor vehicle offense. This may be the case if police suspect that you were "driving so as to endanger," "driving under the influence," or engaged in other automobile-related crimes. In some cases police might request a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol concentration ("BAC"). If you are found guilty of a crime, the penalties will vary by offense and your prior offenses, and whether anyone suffered "physical injury," "serious bodily injury," or a fatality.
Civil Liability and Negligence
The State of Rhode Island generally only holds an individual civilly liable for auto crashes when he or she is at fault. Do not admit fault after an accident because that is a legal question best resolved by attorneys and a court of law.
The State will only allow civil damages to the extent that an injured person was not himself or herself negligent. This means that if you were injured, your potential damage award will be reduced by the amount of blame assigned to you.
Pursuing a Claim
If you were hurt in a crash, you can file a lawsuit to recover money for your injuries. In some cases, the other driver's insurance company may offer a settlement. If this is not true in your case, you may sue the other driver (and possibly others connected to the accident) in one of Providence County's courts. You may file in District Court for damages of $5,000 or less. Otherwise, you should file in the Superior Court. See FindLaw for more information on Providence Courthouses.