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San Diego fails to respond to trip-and-fall lawsuit, leaving taxpayers to foot a potential $2.49 million judgment

Attorneys for the city failed to answer a trip-and-fall lawsuit, meaning taxpayers are now liable for damages.

SAN DIEGO — On December 30, 2020, Diane Lloyd walked from the Clairemont Post Office to her car. The 73-year-old stepped off the curb and landed in a pothole, breaking both of her ankles.

More than a year and a half later, Lloyd appeared inside a state courtroom to talk about her injuries and show how the city is responsible for past and future damages.  As Lloyd did so, attorneys for the City of San Diego were absent from the courtroom.

Since filing her lawsuit in November of last year, the city of San Diego has not submitted any opposition to Lloyd's request for damages.

Credit: CBS 8
Screenshot of the court docket

By not doing so, the city has forfeited any chance at defense, leaving taxpayers on the hook for what could potentially be a $2.49 million dollar judgment against it. The final amount that Lloyd will receive hinges on Judge Ronald Frazier. Frazier will decide in the coming days exactly how much of the $2.49 million that Lloyd will receive.

Credit: CBS 8
Screenshot of court filing listing Lloyd's damages

According to court filings, Lloyd suffered severe injuries to her ankles.

"Within 24 hours, Ms. Lloyd underwent Open Reduction Internal Reduction surgery for both ankles wherein plates and screws were implanted to hold the respective bones together and stabilize the right and left ankles," reads a July 6 sworn statement from a medical expert hired by Lloyd's attorneys.

Added the medical expert, "Even though the bones may heal in a good position, the ankle joint has sustained significant trauma. At the time of injury, although not always appreciated, the cartilage was also damaged. Over time, Plaintiff will experience increased pain and edema and further loss of motion as the cartilage begins to deteriorate."

Lloyd appeared before a Superior Court judge on July 7 in a prove-up hearing to speak about the damages she suffered from stepping into the pothole.

“Since my accident on December 30, 2020, my life has been upended. I was a very active person, engaged in sports like tennis, swimming, horseback riding. I also like bike riding and power walking. Most of what I mentioned, I do not engage in anymore because of what happened with both my ankles broken and my left ankle getting dislocated," said Lloyd. “Here I am today facing another surgery and a long recuperation. It is daunting but I need to do it to have a better quality of life and get back to some semblance of the life I had before the accident.” 

Lloyd's attorney, Allison Worden, addressed the city's absence in the hearing.

"The city has had notice of this case. You have the filings. They were served appropriately, compliant with the law," said Worden as she addressed the judge. "They willfully chose to not participate in this and not address the claims that Ms. Lloyd has."

On July 6, nearly 24 hours before the default prove-up hearing, CBS 8 reached out to the City Attorney's Office and the city's communications team to ask why the city failed to respond to the lawsuit or submit any filings.

Neither the city nor the City Attorney's Office responded to CBS 8's request for information.

“Normally when any defendant is served, they will respond to the complaint to contest the allegations," said attorney and legal analyst Dan Eaton. "For some reason that we don’t know, the city didn’t do that here. That, under the normal circumstances, would be considered an unusual occurrence.”

Due to the lack of response to the lawsuit and the city's absence in all of the court hearings, Lloyd wins the case by default, according to Eaton.

“It means that a person wins because the other side didn’t show up and this appears to be what happened here," said Eaton. "Once you have a default entered, the only thing to prove up is the amount in damages and that requires the submission of evidence to show that you were damaged and the amount.”

Lloyd is seeking $2.49 million dollars in damages.  

Judge Ronald Frazier will likely make a ruling within the next 30 days on the amount of money awarded for damages.

Update: After this story was published, San Diego City Attorney spokesperson, Richard Jackaway, sent CBS 8 the following statement:

"The City has never been properly served in this case, and, therefore, any notice of default or judgment will be vacated. The complaint appears to have been delivered to the City’s Risk Management Dep’t, which is not a legally proper agent for service of process for the City. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 416.50(a). 

We do not expect the Court to reward Plaintiff’s intentional failure to properly serve the City by awarding default damages."

Credit: CBS 8

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