Plaintiff in IID suit takes witness stand

January 16, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The first witness to take the stand in the trial of a woman who tripped, fell and injured herself on Imperial Irrigation District property was the woman herself.

El Centro resident Carmen Hamrick tripped Oct. 16, 1996, while on her way to a meeting in the IID's El Centro auditorium. She is seeking damages from the IID alleging dangerous conditions on public property.

Though she acknowledged she'd been to prior meetings in the facility, never before had she entered the auditorium from the north entrance.

"I had never gone through that door before," Hamrick said.

Hamrick also testified that she entered the facility from other entrances where there are ramps and not curbs.

"I never thought there was a curb there," she said.

Hamrick's attorney, Lowell Sutherland, asked Hamrick to comment on why she began attending IID board meetings in the first place, but after some discussion on her part about being the champion of IID employees, her testimony was cut short.


She was then cross-examined by IID attorney Frank Oswalt, who challenged Hamrick's testimony as being different from what she said at a deposition on Dec. 22, 1999. She was asked to comment on the difference.

"I'm not changing my testimony," she said. "I probably was confused."

Hamrick also testified that as she approached the auditorium there were people in front of her, behind her and already at the building door. When asked if she noticed those in front of her were stepping up onto a curb or if they looked higher than her, she said she did not notice, as she was not looking at others' feet.

Hamrick also testified that she has been wearing high heels since the age of 14, and that the ones she was wearing on Oct. 16, 1996, when she tripped — not Nov. 16, 1996, as previously reported twice — were high, but not as high as some of the heels she has.

During opening statements, Sutherland said he will bring in an expert who will testify that if the IID had merely spent $20 to paint the curb in question, it "insures the pedestrian will see the curb."

Oswalt provided the legal definition of dangerous condition as one that must be "substantial" as compared to "minor." He also told the jury there are two versions to what happened, and it will be up to the jury to decide which is correct.

He said he will provide testimony from IID employees who have worked many years at the IID's El Centro offices and that since it was built in the mid-1960s no accidents were reported at that area until Hamrick fell.

Oswalt also said there were other accidents inside the building, and the conditions were quickly changed. He said a safety expert was retained after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and though some areas were again upgraded for the disabled, they did not include that particular curb.

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

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles