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Trip-and-fall case in La Jolla brings lawsuit against San Diego

The Enhance La Jolla board discusses a trip-and-fall incident that a lawsuit says occurred in January 2020 on Pearl Street.
During its April 21 meeting, the Enhance La Jolla board discusses a trip-and-fall incident that a lawsuit says occurred in January 2020 on Pearl Street.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

An area resident has filed a lawsuit against the city of San Diego over a trip and fall she says took place on Pearl Street in La Jolla more than two years ago.

The suits states that on or about Jan. 22, 2020, San Diego resident Sally Beach was walking on the sidewalk on Pearl Street when she tripped in an empty tree well, fell and hit her face on the sidewalk.

“The presence of the empty tree well in the sidewalk constituted a dangerous condition on public property and posed a hazard to the general public, any person who used the sidewalk and to [Beach],” according to the filing in San Diego County Superior Court.

The suit claims the city “and their agents and employees” are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks, “including the sidewalk in the area of 904-908 Pearl St. in La Jolla, in a reasonably safe condition, repair and remedy any dangerous conditions, provide safeguards against dangerous conditions, warn [Beach] and others of dangerous conditions that did exist, and exercise due care in the management, operation, ownership and/or control of the sidewalk.”

It contends the city removed the tree but did not fill or otherwise fix the hole left behind and failed to ensure the sidewalk was safe to use.

The filing states Beach submitted a formal claim to the city in July 2020 but the city rejected it in September. As a result, she is bringing the suit forward.

The case is set for trial Sept. 2. Beach is seeking compensation for medical bills and loss of earnings, plus legal fees and “further relief as the court may deem just and proper.”

Eleven months after the trip reportedly occurred, Enhance La Jolla began a tree-planting project along Pearl Street in collaboration with The Village Garden Club of La Jolla to help beautify the community with strategic placement of 21 trees in empty tree wells and dirt patches. The well that is the subject of the lawsuit was among the ones filled with a tree.

Thus the subject was discussed at last week’s Enhance La Jolla meeting.

Enhance La Jolla administers the Maintenance Assessment District in The Village with authority to enhance city-provided services, including landscape maintenance, street and sidewalk cleaning, litter and graffiti abatement and additional trash collection. It also can privately fund and complete capital improvement projects in public spaces, such as trash can upgrades, bench installation, sign augmentation, park improvements, more public art and tree canopies on main thoroughfares.

Enhance La Jolla President Ed Witt was notified of the suit in March and was told that because the city was of the impression that Enhance La Jolla removed the tree and therefore created the hole, the board may share some of the responsibility.

“In the letter, the city says because we took a tree out of the well and didn’t notify the city and put up a barricade, the insurance company says we could be responsible,” Witt told the board. “But that did not happen. The tree well has been [empty] for years.”

However, he said, the MAD signed a “boilerplate contract … that is common with MADs” that indemnifies the city, so in the days following the meeting, a conference was scheduled among Witt, MAD manager Mary Montgomery and city representatives. The meeting has not yet taken place.

The board is in the process of using river rock to fill tree wells that may pose a trip hazard, and it would like to be alerted of any trip hazards the project may pose. The group can be contacted at manager@enhancelajolla.org. ◆