L.A. to pay $4M to woman whose car plunged 20 feet into sewage sinkhole

Sven Gustafson

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to pay up to $4 million to settle a lawsuit from a woman whose car was swallowed by a massive sinkhole, leaving it partially submerged in rushing water and forcing her to stand on the car's exposed underside to call for help.

The incident took place in February 2017 in Studio City and caused the woman “significant injuries, damages and losses,” according to her lawsuit. Firefighters arrived to find the woman, Stephanie Scott, standing atop the upside-down car roughly 10 feet below the street surface. They used a 20-foot extension ladder to help her climb to safety in a rescue that was caught on camera, below, and transported her to the hospital.

“While being transported, the patient told firefighters that when she was driving, she felt the car pitch to the left, then it tumbled into the sinkhole,” the Los Angeles Fire Department said in its incident report from Feb. 17, 2017. “The airbags deployed. Water started coming in the car. She tried to raise the windows which would not work. She was able to open the door n climb on top of the car and started screaming for help.”

Scott told an NBC affiliate on the scene of the incident that she felt her car turn over several times until it came to rest in a raging torrent of water. After she was freed, a minivan that had also become stuck in the sinkhole fell in completely and crashed on top of her car.

Scott sued the city of Los Angeles, the county and the city’s departments of water and power, public works and county sanitation districts alleging negligence, according to NBC News. Her attorneys told the Los Angeles Times she suffered a traumatic brain injury, post-concussive syndrome and vision problems.

“This was a very serious case, all due to the gross negligence of the city,” attorney Kevin Boyle said in a statement, per the Times. “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.”

The city’s Department of Public Works had previously said the sinkhole "was probably caused by a combination of excessive rain and a possible sewer failure.”