Litigator: record verdict delivers justice after swimming accident.


Byline: Barry Bridges

The second in a series of profiles honoring RILW's 2018 Lawyers of the Year. The profiles appear in the issues of Dec. 17, 24 and 31.

Following a three-week trial before Superior Court Judge Kristin E. Rodgers in May, a Providence jury returned its verdict in Smith v. The University of Rhode Island, et al., concluding that the university was negligent in not posting warnings or otherwise alerting guests that swimming was prohibited at its Whispering Pines Conference Center in West Greenwich.

While swimming underwater on the property in 2014, plaintiff Brett A. Smith hit his head on a submerged rock and was paralyzed from the chest down.

In the culmination of the ensuing lawsuit, a jury awarded Brett and his wife, Stacie, $28.56 million in damages, among the largest negligence verdicts in Rhode Island history. The combined judgment for the couple was $32.14 million after a 23 percent reduction for comparative fault and addition of pre-judgment interest.

At the center of the litigation was the Smiths' trial attorney, Patrick C. Barry of Decof, Decof & Barry, who successfully argued that, in light of the outdoorsy nature of the property and the way it was marketed, it was reasonably foreseeable that guests at Whispering Pines would go swimming in waters that the facility knew to have submerged rocks and stumps.

[box type="shadow" align="alignright" width="295px" ]Some final thoughts from Patrick Barry

Highlight of his legal career so far: "It's the smaller moments that end up becoming the highlights. About five years ago I had a case at trial for a developmentally disabled adult woman who had been mistreated by a service provider. The case settled in the second week, and after the final hearing she came up to me in the courtroom and gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Struggling with her speech impairment, she told me, 'Don't tell your wife.' That just melted me. Those types of moments mean a whole lot."

On what keeps him up at night: "Occasionally it's the random thought in a case, usually like a deadline or something that needs to go on my task list. But frankly, I sleep like a baby during trials. Perhaps it's exhaustion, but I've never been an all-nighter type of guy."

On maintaining a work/life balance: "When I don't have a trial, it's relatively easy to maintain a balance. But it can be like a roller coaster: There are times when it's very difficult and times when it's very easy. My wife and I get things done...

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