Rhode Island Supreme Court rules that injured tourist can sue the city of Newport


PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A man who was left quadriplegic after falling from the Cliff Walk, one of New England’s best-known tourist attractions, can sue the city of Newport, Rhode Island’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.

Simcha Berman was on his honeymoon in August 2000 when he fell 29 feet onto rocks after mistakenly taking a path that led from the Cliff Walk. He accused the city and state of failing to properly inspect and maintain the oceanside walk, which winds along roughly 18,000 feet of shoreline and passes some of Newport’s most spectacular Gilded Age mansions.

A judge had earlier ruled in Newport’s favor. But the state Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the lawsuit to move forward, saying numerous injuries and deaths at the site over the years should have put the city on notice to repair the dangerous conditions.

The justices rejected Newport’s arguments that it had no duty to warn visitors of the site’s potential hazards.

“Tragically, the record suggests that even in the face of several fatal or near-fatal incidents, the city has failed to either guard against these dangers or post warnings,” Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg wrote in the court’s opinion.

Kevin Gavin, a lawyer for the couple, said he was glad the case would continue and be put before a jury. The state of Rhode Island also remains a defendant in the case.

“We’re gratified that he’ll have an opportunity to get justice,” Gavin said.

Marc DeSisto, a lawyer for the city, declined to comment.

The Cliff Walk is a 3.5-mile public easement that runs over private land and is renowned for its views of the Atlantic Ocean. It is effectively controlled and maintained by the city of Newport.

Though the court allowed the suit against Newport to proceed, it shielded the Preservation Society of Newport County, which owns the land where Berman fell, from being sued.

The justices said the Preservation Society, a nonprofit that also owns the Breakers and other popular mansions open for tourists, had no control over the Cliff Walk or duty to protect the visitors there.

Lauren Jones, a lawyer for the Preservation Society, said he was pleased with the decision.

Berman is suing along with his former wife, Sarah. The couple has since divorced.