RI Supreme Court Says Recreational Use Statute Inapplicable to Newport Cliff Walk Case

In Berman et al v. Laura Sitrin, the Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city by a 3-2 vote holding that Newport owes a duty to members of the public who visit the Cliff Walk, and in this case, cannot use the Recreational Use Statute as a shield against liability because the city had actual notice of dangerous instabilities in the ground underneath the Cliff Walk, particularly in the area where this injury occurred.  Additionally, the evidence in the record established that the city willfully and maliciously failed to post adequate signs in the area, warning users about these instabilities.

This case concerns a catastrophic accident that occurred along the City of Newport’s Cliff Walk attraction, a public easement over private land, running high above the Atlantic shore. The plaintiffs purchased admission tickets to visit The Breakears mansion, a historic site owned and operated by the defendant, The Preservation Society of Newport (Society). After exiting the mansion’s grounds, and walking down a public street toward the Cliff Walk, one plaintiff ventured onto a “beaten path,” when, he alleges, the ground shifted below him, causing him to fall twenty-nine feet onto the rocks below. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury, rendering him a quadriplegic.

This case and the state’s outdated recreational use statute was previously profiled by Mike Stanton in the Providence Journal.

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