Cross-complaint filed over deadly crosswalk accident

City says homeowners' association failed to maintain adjacent property

The father of a seven-month-old girl who died after being struck by a vehicle in March 2015 while crossing a busy street in Point Loma was careless and negligent, reads a newly filed court document filed by the City of San Diego.

The city has also filed a cross-complaint against a nearby housing development for failing to trim foliage that could have obstructed the driver's view of the father and daughter crossing the street. The city’s recent filings are intended to shift liability away from the city.

The city's defense is in response to a lawsuit filed by the family of Juniper Aavang, the girl who died, and her father John, who was seriously injured while crossing Catalina Boulevard in Point Loma. The girl and her 56-year-old father, who were on vacation in San Diego, were in a crosswalk when a 2004 Chevy Sububan slammed into them.

"[John Aavang was] careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and said carelessness and negligence on [his] own part proximately contributed to the happening of the accident and to the injuries, losses and damages complained of.... At the time and place of the alleged incident, [Aavang] did not exercise ordinary care, caution, or prudence to avoid the alleged damages sustained by [them]," reads the city's December 2015 court filing.

City attorneys defending the lawsuit also stated that city employees did not have "actual or constructive notice of the condition of the property in question."

But, as reported by the Reader, documents obtained in a public records request reveal previous complaints about what Point Loma residents referred to as a dangerous intersection.

Local resident Jon Connor submitted a traffic complaint to then-councilmember and current mayor Kevin Faulconer's office in June 2010. Faulconer's office sent a "route slip" to the traffic-engineering department. It reads, "Mr. Connor says it is like a freeway during rush hour. People are going entirely too fast since there are no lights or speed controls in this corridor. Also, he says the right turn back onto Cañon from Catalina is dangerous since it is a complete blind spot for families with kids trying to cross. He says it's dangerous for anyone since cars are coming down without stopping at the crosswalk and they cannot see [pedestrians] on the sidewalk."

Traffic engineer Gary Pence addressed Connor's concern in a follow-up email.

"Regarding the visibility of pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk in the right turn lane on ramp to Cañon Street, our site visit revealed that vegetation near the crosswalk has been recently trimmed and the visibility has been significantly improved. We will convert this crosswalk to a ladder crosswalk which includes numerous perpendicular lines between the two existing crosswalk lines. Ladder crosswalks are more visible to drivers and are intended to enhance the safety of the crosswalk. In addition, we will replace the existing pedestrian warning signs with high visibility pedestrian fluorescent yellow/green warning signs on both sides of the crosswalk facing northbound traffic."

According to some residents, however, the problem remained. Weeks after the accident occurred, residents started a petition in order to draw attention to the dangerous conditions at the intersection of Catalina Boulevard and Cañon Street.

"For decades, this intersection has plagued the residential and family-oriented nearby Point Loma community. Residents have pleaded with City and local authorities to remedy the situation, yet their concerns have remained unheard."

To further safeguard against any large payouts, the city has taken another tack in defending the lawsuit.

On December 2, 2015, the deputy city attorney heading up the case, Catherine Richardson, filed a cross-complaint against the Point Loma Woods Home Owners Association for failing to maintain the property adjacent to the crosswalk where the accident occurred.

"The city has denied, and continues to deny, any liability…. If, however, it is found that the city is responsible under law to [the Aavang family] for any of the allegations contained in their complaint, then the city is informed and believes...that the negligence, or other wrongful or tortious conduct...of [Point Loma Woods] contributed to the happening of the incidents alleged in Plaintiffs' complaint and caused said Plaintiffs' damages thereby.

"[Point Loma Woods is] presumed to own the land to the center of the roadway. The city is further informed and believes that [the homeowners’ association] installed and maintained the landscaping at the subject property, including the foliage which [the Aavangs] allege obstructed the view of the subject crosswalk for motorists and/or crossing pedestrians, and is responsible for maintenance and repair of the common areas of the [property]."

Aavang's lawsuit, (which also names the driver of the SUV, David Hoban) and the city's cross-complaint will be discussed at a hearing in the coming months.

Clarification The city's allegation that John Aavang was negligent in this matter was part of an answer filed by the city in December 2015; at no time did the city file a cross-complaint against Mr. Aavang.

(revised/corrected 2/17, 12:05 a.m.)

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