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L.A. to pay $4 million to end lawsuit by woman whose car plunged into sinkhole

A car sits in a sinkhole on Woodbridge Street near Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City in February 2017.
A car sits in a sinkhole on Woodbridge Street near Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City in February 2017.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay up to $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a woman whose car plunged into a sinkhole in Studio City.

Stephanie Scott suffered “significant injuries, damages and losses” as a result of the incident on Feb. 17, 2017, when a gaping hole abruptly opened up under her car near the intersection of Woodbridge Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, according to her lawsuit. She sued the city, arguing that her injuries were a result of government negligence.

Firefighters reported that night that they arrived to find a car upside down in a big, dark sinkhole full of rushing water.

A woman was standing on top of the car, roughly 10 feet below the ground, screaming for help. She later told firefighters that she thought she was going to die before she heard firefighters yelling back, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

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She was ultimately rescued with an extension ladder, a scene captured on television. Another driver was able to escape from a second vehicle, uninjured, before it tumbled in as well, according to the Fire Department.

“This was a very serious case, all due to the gross negligence of the city,” attorney Kevin Boyle of the firm Panish, Shea & Boyle said in a statement Wednesday. “Ms. Scott’s SUV fell 20 feet and landed on its roof. She is lucky to be alive — she could easily have broken her neck from the roof crush or drowned in the sewage she woke up in after regaining consciousness.”

Her injuries included traumatic brain injury, post-concussive syndrome, and sight problems that involve double or blurred vision, according to her attorneys. A GoFundMe page created for her at the time said that “hand damage” would put her out of work for a while as a makeup artist.

Shortly after the 2017 incident, L.A.'s Department of Public Works said in a statement to reporters that the sinkhole “was probably caused by a combination of excessive rain and a possible sewer failure.”

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In a legal filing two years ago, city attorneys denied the allegations of negligence that Scott raised in her lawsuit, but provided few other details. The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the settlement.


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