The First Hall of the Civil Court on Wednesday ordered two individuals who were found liable for a fatal  traffic accident to fork out €51,180 as compensation to the sister of the deceased.

On the morning of 10 January 2005, a vehicle driven by one of the defendants (Carl Micallef) was involved in an accident which left Marthese Vella suffering from a permanent disability and resulted in the death of her minor daughter Hayley Anne Briffa. It later transpired to investigators that the car actually belonged to the second defendant (Joseph Azzopardi) and was uninsured. In a previous case, the Court determined the compensation due to the deceased’s heirs to stand at €150,000. However the victim’s sister was erroneously omitted from the proceedings and despite being entitled to half of her estate could not be assigned any monetary compensation.

Subsequently, the Insurance Compensation Fund (which is set up to settle  damages in cases involving uninsured vehicles) agreed to pay out €51,180 to the deceased’s sister upon being subrogated into her rights of recovery. While one of the defendants was deemed to be in default (having failed to make submissions within the stipulated time frame), the other contested the plaintiff Fund’s claims on the basis of prescription as well as substantively by claiming that the amount requested was disproportionately high, given that the victim was not maintaining her sister at the time of her demise.

In his judgment, Mr. Justice Lawrence Mintoff dismissed the latter objection, as well as the claim that the amount demanded was excessive, stating that this was in fact less than the €75,000 awarded to the victim’s mother by the Court. Considering that the sister held the same rights to the inheritance as her mother in terms of law, the amount given by the Fund was justified and proportionate.

With respect to the question of whether the plaintiff’s action was prescribed by law, the Court initially held that this might have very well been the case. However, proceeding to quote various examples of local jurisprudence (including Gialanze v. Rizzo et, Livori v. Jackson Company Limited and Pace v. Corinthia Hotel Company Limited et), it noted how, by also challenging the compensation on substantive grounds (i.e. the alleged excessiveness of the sum), the defendants had tacitly accepted the validity of the plaintiff’s rights, renounced to any claim of extinguishment of the civil action, and a de facto interrupted the prescriptive period. Had the defendants only raised the plea of prescription, this would have potentially resulted in a termination of proceedings, given that the time allowed by law for the institution of the action had actually elapsed. However, in view of the defendants’ contradictory and incompatible claims and their resultant effect, the Court determined that the two defendants were jointly and severally liable to refund  the sum of €51,180 to the plaintiff Fund.

The Court’s position as evidenced by this judgment is unarguably restrictive on any debtor  and individual seeking to challenge a claim for compensatory damages or debt due. By declaring the plea of prescription to be incompatible with any substantive challenge to the amount claimed (even if the latter is done ‘without prejudice’ to the former argument), local jurisprudence seems to be imposing considerable limitations on the defences available to a debtor.  

Anthony P. Farrugia and Associates features an experienced and dedicated litigation team which is equipped to provide legal representation on a variety of legal matters. For further information on how we could be of assistance, kindly contact us here.