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Under Rhode Island law, it is well settled that a landowner owes a trespasser no duty except to refrain from willful or wanton conduct.
At approximately 2 a. m. on August 6, 1991, Michael T. Cain (the decedent) and two friends went for a walk along a section of Newport's Cliff Walk. While walking along an area of the Cliff Walk that winds through Salve Regina University's (the university) campus, the decedent stepped from the paved walk onto a grassy area on the ocean side of the walk. He fell from the cliff to his death after the ground beneath his feet gave way. On July 25, 1994, plaintiffs, William G. Cain and Mary H. Cain filed a wrongful death action individually and on the part of the estate of Michael T. Cain against defendants, the City of Newport (city), the State of Rhode Island (state), and the university. The Cains alleged that defendants' negligence caused the decedent's death because defendants failed to properly inspect, maintain, and repair the Cliff Walk. In September 1997, the city moved for summary judgment, arguing that the decedent was a trespasser because the Cliff Walk had closed at 9 p. m. The state and the university joined in the city's motion. On November 7, 1997, the motion justice granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants, ruling that summary judgment was required based on this Court's decision in Brindamour v. City of Warwick, 697 A.2d 1075 (R. I. 1997) (holding that a landowner owes a trespasser only the duty to refrain from willful and wanton conduct). On November 21, 1997, the motion justice reconsidered the matter, and allowed the summary judgment to stand. The Cains then appealed the grant of summary judgment.
Does a landowner owe a trespasser a duty other than to refrain from willful or wanton conduct?
The court affirmed, holding decedent was an undiscovered trespasser to whom defendant owed no duty, so there was no need to consider whether defendants' conduct rose to the requisite level of wilful and wanton. Decedent was a trespasser because he was in the park after hours, so any duty owed was to refrain from wilful and wanton conduct, and even that duty did not attach until the landowner discovered the trespasser in a position of peril.