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Copyright (c) 2005 Roger Williams University Law Review
Roger Williams University Law Review

Note and Comment: Untangling the Public Duty Doctrine

Spring, 2005

10 Roger Williams U. L. Rev. 731


Aaron R. Baker 182


I. Introduction
Rhode Island's public duty doctrine provides tort immunity for the state and its political subdivisions. 1 Under the public duty doctrine, as a general matter, when the state engages in governmental functions, as distinguished from proprietary functions, it is immune from tort liability. 2 There are, however, two exceptions: the special duty exception 3 and the egregious conduct exception. 4 The special duty exception provides that the state may be held liable if it owed a duty to the individual plaintiff, as opposed to the general public. 5 The egregious conduct exception provides that the state may be held liable if it had "knowledge that it [had] ... created a situation that forced an individual into a position of peril and subsequently [chose] not to remedy the situation." 6 Although designed to ensure the effective administration of government, the public duty doctrine is no longer capable of doing so.

The purpose of governmental tort immunity is to strike a balance between two competing objectives: (1) allowing plaintiffs to recover for injuries caused by the state's tortious conduct; and (2) ensuring the "effective administration" 7 of government by protecting the state from liability for its discretionary, policy-making activities. 8 Rhode Island's public duty doctrine, however, disrupts this balance by allowing plaintiffs to recover regardless of whether the conduct in question is discretionary or policy driven. This is because the egregious conduct exception, despite its misleading label, has been inconsistently applied to require no more than ...
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