New trial begins over fall in Christus parking lot

David Yates Mar. 23, 2009, 7:10am

For the third time in three years, Christus Southeast Texas will try to convince a jury that it is the responsibility of the individual to watch their step when traversing the hospital's parking garage.

As reported by the Record, on Nov. 24, 2008, Jefferson County jurors were unable to reach a decision after being tasked to decide if the non-profit hospital endangered a visitor by leaving a curb in the garage unmarked.

After a week of testimony, the trial of Charles English vs. Christus ended in a mistrial. Now, four months later, jury selection for the new trial began March 23.

English is not the first person to sue Christus for tripping in the hospital's parking garage.

In August 2007, Christus was hit with a large jury verdict for failing to paint a yellow hazard stripe on a parking garage step. A jury ordered Christus to pay Flo Wilson more than $700,000 in damages.

Wilson had missed her step and broke her hip while in the Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth parking garage in Beaumont.

Wilson and English are both represented by Tim Ferguson of Beaumont's Ferguson Firm.

Two weeks after receiving the favorable verdict, Ferguson filed a suit on behalf of 72-year-old English, who claims he fell over the very same parking lot step and broke his leg.

English's suit, filed Sept. 6, 2007, in Jefferson County District Court, also named Allco Inc., the construction company that built the hospital's parking garage, as a defendant. Allco reached an out of court settlement with English.

Not swayed by the decision in the Wilson case, Christus defended itself against English last November, arguing that people who come to the hospital have a duty to themselves to look where they're stepping.

"We have an obligation to watch where we're going," Christus attorney Wade Quinn said during the first trial. "People fall on marked curbs at Christus just as much as they fall on unmarked ones."

Conversely, plaintiff's attorney Alexander Metcalf of the Ferguson Firm argued the curb was "an unreasonably dangerous condition" easily remedied with a little paint.

Metcalf told jurors Christus knew the architect's design called for all curbs to be painted with a yellow stripe but "negligently" ignored the design because of "laziness."

But after a week of testimony, Jefferson County jurors were unable to reach a decision.

According to the plaintiff's original petition, on Oct. 3, 2006, English went to St. Elizabeth to visit a patient. While in the parking garage, "English was severely injured when he fell on an unmarked curb."

The suit faults the defendants with failing to paint a yellow caution stripe on the step, failing to provide adequate parking garage lighting and failing to follow city and state "uneven steps" regulations.

English is asking the jury to award him exemplary damages, plus past and future medical expenses, physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement and impairment.

Case No. A179-969

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