Jury selection in IID lawsuit trial enters third day

January 11, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

A third day of jury selection will be held today in the case of a woman who tripped and fell on Imperial Irrigation District property and is suing the district claiming the property was in dangerous condition.

El Centro resident Carmen Hamrick tripped and fell over a curb outside the district's auditorium Nov. 16, 1996. She was 70 at the time.

Jury selection has been hampered because two ongoing murder cases also required juries. Adding to the delay is a prospective juror in the Hamrick case reportedly made a questionable comment in the presence of at least one other prospective juror in a County Courthouse restroom in El Centro.

The comment, "watch your step," was read from a sign on the restroom door.

Hamrick attorney Lowell Sutherland of El Centro said he thought the comment was a violation of the court's order to not discuss the case.


Superior Court Judge Joseph Zimmerman said he did not think the comment violated his order even though it was likely said within the context of Hamrick's trip and fall.

IID attorney Frank Oswalt said he would reserve judgment on the comment.

Zimmerman decided the issue would be discussed first thing this morning.

The jury selection was scheduled to restart this morning at 9:30.

If opening remarks and testimony do not begin today, there is the possibility the trial could extend into the week of Jan. 21, which is longer than prospective jurors were told it would last. Such an extension could lead to hardships on the part of potential jurors not expecting the extension.

Meanwhile, Oswalt began his portion of questioning prospective jurors, or voir dire. He asked them about their feelings toward IID, including if they thought their power bills are too high, if they think the district has too many vehicles, if they were familiar with the recently completed efficiency study and how they feel about slip-and-fall lawsuits.

He said if any prospective juror did have a problem with some aspect of IID, the courtroom and this case are not the place to resolve those concerns.

Oswalt also asked if a person were to trip over a curb at a business, would that, in the opinion of each prospective juror, automatically mean the business should pay damages. He also asked if Hamrick's age and injuries would have a bearing on how people would look at the case, and if any have suffered certain injuries as claimed by Hamrick.

All of the prospective jurors agreed with Oswalt that common sense and the evidence must prevail in this case and that just because a person tripped, fell and suffered injuries does not automatically make it the fault of the property owner, or public agency, in this case.

Sutherland said Hamrick "did trip over a curb," but added the facts of the case have yet to come out.

>>Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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