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Witnesses: Hamrick on sidewalk when she fell

January 23, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Two witnesses testified that a woman claiming she fell because she tripped over a curb on Imperial Irrigation District property actually was already on the sidewalk when she fell.

El Centro resident Carmen Hamrick is suing the IID, alleging she tripped, fell and injured herself Oct. 16, 1996, because of dangerous conditions at the IID auditorium in El Centro.

Gloria Rivera, IID administrative assistant, said she did not see where Hamrick might have begun her trip, but she saw her on the sidewalk "kind of staggering, and then she fell."

Rivera said Hamrick was three to four feet onto the sidewalk, with both feet on it, with her head near the door.

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The door is about 12 feet 6 inches from the curb in question.

Bill Condit, former IID director, said he was standing about three feet from the curb at the time, facing away from the auditorium entrance, talking to someone standing on the parking lot at the time of the fall.

"I heard a commotion and I turned around and she was laying on the sidewalk," Condit said, adding her feet were in an east/west alignment. Condit also said he had a view of the curb on both sides of him and he would have seen Hamrick trip over the curb had she done so.

Condit also said had he seen Hamrick starting to fall he would have tried to catch her.

Rivera and Condit were called to testify by IID attorney, Frank Oswalt.

An expert witness for the IID said all changes in elevation are potential trip hazards.

"If you don't watch where you're walking it's a trip hazard," said Peter Zande, a certified safety professional from Tustin.

Zande testified that the contrast between the asphalt and the pink-colored curb and sidewalk, and the amount of lighting available at the time of the accident, were sufficient for Hamrick to have seen the curb.

Zande had to be directed several times by Superior Court Judge Joseph Zimmerman to limit his answers to the questions asked by Hamrick attorney Lowell Sutherland and not include additional information. Zande, however, complained that Sutherland's questions were ambiguous and incomplete hypotheticals.

Sutherland asked Zande to comment on Hamrick's expectation that a ramp would be in front of the auditorium entrance, since she had accessed other areas of the same facility by using ramps.

"Actually, I've never heard of that theory, and I think it's absurd to make that assumption," Zande said.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman formally denied a motion by Sutherland for a mistrial based on alleged attorney misconduct by Oswalt. Zimmerman said he agreed with the characterizations of the issue by Oswalt.

In a related matter, Oswalt said he would no longer seek to introduce evidence that Hamrick injured her neck in a 1991 car accident in which she suffered whiplash. Hamrick is claiming she injured her neck in the 1996 fall.

Earlier Tuesday, Sutherland rested his case against the IID with two character witnesses for Hamrick.

The trial was set to resume this morning at 9:30.

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

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