Outdated RI Recreational Use Statute Needs to be Changed

After the Providence Journal responded to their own reporter’s great story on horrific injuries on public lands and the recreational use statute with an unnecessary attack on the civil justice system, it was great to see attorney Miriam Weizenbaum respond with this letter to the editor:

How very sad to read of lives destroyed by tragedies on one of Rhode Island’s jewels, the Cliff Walk. How unfortunate to see this paper’s editorial board use those tragedies as an opportunity to trot out the tired — and very misleading — attack on trial lawyers (“Cultural cliffhanger,” editorial, Aug. 5).

Readers should understand that under usual circumstances, when a person encounters an “obvious peril” and chooses not to avoid it, he or she “assumes the risk” of that peril and so has no basis for a lawsuit. Given our laws, the editorial board cannot responsibly raise the specter of fences around the Grand Canyon, unless it claims ignorance of the law.

According to The Journal’s own reporter, Mike Stanton, there is evidence that some of the perils of the Cliff Walk were known to the state but not obvious. Yet, peculiarities in Rhode Island statutes have barred people injured by tragedies on the Cliff Walk from even pleading their case to a jury. This statute is so distasteful, even the Rhode Island Supreme Court has declared itself “decidedly unenthusiastic” about it.

Whether the members of The Journal’s editorial board are ignorant of the law or just failing to check the facts, the public should not be misled about members of the legal profession. It clearly bears repeating that without lawyers committed to uncovering threats to public safety, we would still be driving Pintos, inhaling asbestos in public schools and workplaces and trying to educate the public about the dangers of smoking without the benefit of money from settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies — all protections resulting from lawsuits brought by trial lawyers.

MIRIAM WEIZENBAUM

Providence

The writer is president of the Rhode Island Association for Justice (formerly Rhode Island Trial Lawyers).

Rhode Island’s “Recreational Use” Statute is R.I.G.L 32-6-1 et. seq.

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