The city of Chula Vista paid $281,000 to a woman who was injured after stepping into an empty tree planter on a busy city sidewalk, according to public documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates.
In June, the city settled a lawsuit filed by Leilani Kaloha for severe injuries she suffered during a September 2017 walk on 3rd Avenue. According to the lawsuit, several months prior to her fall, the city’s sole arborist removed a diseased tree along the 200-block of 3rd Avenue.
The hole where the tree once stood remained, said Kaloha’s attorneys, for 7 months, guarded only by a small orange cone. The cone vanished and Kaloha fell inside. She fractured her left ankle in three separate places, requiring surgery and the insertion of 16 screws and 2 plates.
Kaloha filed a lawsuit against the city, a tree maintenance company, and the local business district in January 2018.
The city’s $281,000 payout was in addition to undisclosed payments from the two other defendants.
“The city and other defendants did the right thing in compensating Ms. Kaloha,” wrote attorney Matt de Lira who represented Kaloha.
Attorney de Lira said part of the problem was a lack of city resources. “The city had one person responsible for its 30,000 trees. This is a classic example of how being too frugal will cost you more in the end. Here, Ms. Kaloha’s settlement exceeded the annual budget of the city’s Urban Forestry Department – which after this incident was reorganized.
NBC 7 went to the site of the fall. The planters are now filled with concrete.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the city confirmed the location was repaired “during the early stages of litigation on this matter.”