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Thread: What price a life forever changed?? (sci)

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    What price a life forever changed?? (sci)

    What price a life forever changed??


    By Chris Loos/ Tribune-Herald


    A California woman who broke her neck in the surf at Hapuna Beach five years ago didn't want to face her life as a quadriplegic.

    "I decided that I didn't want to live so I'd ask every doctor I knew to kill me," she said. "They wouldn't do it."

    Thirty - seven - year - old Sherrie Abel told her story Monday to a Hilo jury deciding whether the state and Hawaii County are liable for her injuries and $6.7 million in expenses.

    Abel came to Hawaii in December 1997 to spend Christmas with her sister, who lived in Hilo.

    On Dec. 20, they headed to Kona, stopping at Hapuna Beach. They carried backpacks, water, towels and books to the sand. "Then we just started sunbathing," said Abel, who testified from a wheelchair. "And I started reading a book about Mother Theresa."

    The sisters stayed on the sand for about 20 minutes and then decided to go into the water. The waves were about 2 feet high, Abel said. "It looked calm."

    They waded in chest - deep and turned sideways so they could keep an eye on the waves while Abel told her sister about the book she was reading.

    Abel's sister pointed to an approaching wave. "She said, 'There's a wave. You want to swim in it?'" Abel swam forward to catch it.

    Suddenly, "It felt like this electric current was surging around my body," Abel said. "I just had the sense of knowing that something was severely wrong."

    Lying on the sand in the shallow water, Abel didn't realize her neck was broken. "It felt like I was kind of like wrapped in a cocoon," she said. "Like I was in the palm of God's hand."

    As Abel testified, her father reached over and dabbed her eyes with a tissue. Later he wiped his own eyes.

    Abel testified that from the hospital, she was airlifted to Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, where she had two operations in six weeks.

    On Christmas morning, she said, her lungs filled with fluid. "My lungs were already half paralyzed," she said. "And they still are."

    Abel spent another six weeks at the University of California at Davis' Medical Center in Sacramento. From there she moved in with her parents, James and Kathryn Abel, who are part of the lawsuit.

    Eventually Abel moved into a house with a full - time attendant, went back to school and got her master's degree. She had to ride 21é2 hours in a handicap van to attend her classes.

    She expects in a year or so to be able to work part time as a marriage and family counselor.

    The state and county agree that the spinal cord injury reduced Abel's life expectancy from 77 to 62 years and that she has incurred $6,727,531 in past and future expenses and lost wages.

    At issue is whether the accident was the fault of the state, which owns the waters at Hapuna Beach, and the county, which provides lifeguard services.

    Abel's attorney, Edward Kemper, told the jury that the lifeguards had access to two warning signs, one that showed a graphic of a large wave causing a broken neck and a similar picture with a graphic of a smaller wave. He said on the day of Abel's accident, the lifeguards didn't use the either sign and didn't even have the signs on the beach.

    Kenneth Robbins and Thomas Cook, private attorneys for the state and county respectively, argued that Abel was the one responsible for her injuries.

    She "knew or should have know that waves were breaking in shallow water," Robbins said. He also said Abel should have known the specific wave she rode was dangerous.

    "Her own lapse of judgment, her own ignorance, caused the injury," he said.

    Cook noted that a sign in the parking lot warned of dangerous shore break that "may cause serious injury and sometimes death." He also outlined the actions the lifeguards took to get help for Abel.

    "I believe the evidence will not show that the county is responsible for Sherry's accident or Sherrie's injury," Cook said.

    The case is expected to go to the jury at the end of the week.



    http://www.hilohawaiitribune.com/dai...ews/news1.html

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    Injured visitor won't get to collect from taxpayers

    Injured visitor won't get to collect from taxpayers


    By Chris Loos/ Tribune-Herald


    The state and county aren't responsible for a California woman's broken neck, a Big Island jury decided Monday.

    Sherrie Abel and her parents sued the county and the state over a water accident at Hapuna Beach that left Abel paralyzed. The 37 - year - old woman's head hit the sand when a 2 - foot wave threw her "over the falls" five days before Christmas in 1997.

    During a trial last week, the state and county agreed that the spinal cord injury reduced Abel's life expectancy from 77 to 62 and that she has incurred $6.7 million in past and future expenses and lost wages.

    At issue was whether the accident was the fault of the state, which owns the waters at Hapuna Beach, and the county, which provides lifeguard services.

    Abel's attorney said the lifeguards should have posted more and better signs to make it clear that the shore break surf at Hapuna is dangerous even when the waves are small.

    Lawyers representing the state and the county said Abel, who was familiar with ocean surf, was responsible for her own injuries.

    Ten of the 12 jurors voted that both the state and county were negligent at the time of the accident. Eleven jurors voted, however, that the negligence wasn't the "legal cause" of Abel's injuries. In a civil trial the verdict doesn't have to be unanimous.

    Monday's verdict means neither the state nor the county has to pay anything to Abel or her parents, James and Kathryn Abel.

    After hearing the verdict, Abel expressed concern for other beach goers who are unfamiliar with the waves at Hapuna.

    "I'm just afraid that even though they were found negligent, that the state and the county won't take more strident action to protect the tourist," she said.

    Abel's mother shed tears over the verdict. "As a mom, I'm very sad for my daughter and very sad for the state of Hawaii, too," Kathryn Abel said.

    Attorney Thomas Cook, who represented the county in the trial, said the case was hard for the jury because of Sherrie Abel's injuries. "I just think the jury was able to see past that and view the evidence objectively," he said. "And as juries usually do, I think they got it right."

    Kenneth Robbins, the lawyer for the state, also praised the work of the jury. "I've been trying cases for almost 35 years and I'm always impressed with the fact that juries almost without exception do the right thing," he said.

    Abel's attorney, Edward Kemper, said he was disappointed with the verdict. "Whether we're going to appeal, I don't know yet," he said.

    Pat Engelhard, director of the county's Parks and Recreation Department, said she will discuss the case with county attorneys to see what, if anything, the county will do differently in light of the jury's negligence finding.

    "We'll probably review the signage," she said, "and when we'll be using it."



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