Rhode Island’s governor, Daniel McKee, signed 2021 R.I. HB 5867/2021 R.I. SB 736 into law on July 13, 2021. The enactment changes Rhode Island’s products liability law and impacts how courts treat a manufacturer’s or seller’s claim that it is not liable due to a subsequent alteration or modification of the product.
For cases arising on or prior to July 13, 2021, Rhode Island law states that “[n]o manufacturer or seller of a product shall be liable for product liability damages where a substantial cause of the injury . . . or damage was a substantial alteration or modification.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-32(b). For cases arising after July 13, 2021, the law was changed, such that any defense based on a subsequent alteration or modification to the product “that is found to be a significant contributing factor to the injury . . . or property damage shall be controlled by the comparative negligence provisions of § 9-20-4.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-32(b) (eff. July 13, 2021). Thus, going forward, where a subsequent alteration or modification is a substantial cause of the injury or damage at issue, rather than being a complete defense to liability, Rhode Island’s system of pure comparative negligence will apply.