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Mother who lost child in traffic accident awarded €208,477 in damages

A woman who lost her two year old daughter and who was herself seriously injured in a traffic accident in January 2005 has been awarded €208,477 in damages.

Marthese Vella in her own name and as heir of her late daughter Hayley Anne Briffa filed for damages against Karl Micallef and Joseph Azzopardi. The Protection and Compensation Fund (set up in terms of the Insurance Business Act) and the Motor Insurers' Bureau intervened into the suit in 2008.

Ms Vella told the court that while she was pushing her daughter in a pushchair on the pavement of Ghammieri Street, Qormi, they were hit by a car driven by Mr Micallef. The car belonged to Mr Azzopardi but was not licensed nor was it covered by insurance.

Her baby died as a result of the collision while she suffered a permanent disability.

Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti heard that at the time of the accident Mr Micallef was 18 - and had got his driving licence some two months previously. He had just started working for Mr Azzopardi on a trial basis as a flower delivery man.

The car's licence and insurance had expired in October 2004 and Mr Azzopardi told the court that he had not renewed them for financial reasons.

The court heard that a few minutes before the collision Mr Azzopardi had called Mr Micallef to ask why he was not yet at his place of work. Mr Micallef then skidded on the road and collided with Ms Vella and the child.

In its judgment, the court pointed out that the road was wet with dew but that the court expert had found that the damage caused to the wall bordering the pavement indicated that Mr Micallef was driving at excessive speed.

Mr Justice Chetcuti dismissed Mr Micallef's claim that the accident had been caused by circumstances beyond his control.

The court also found Mr Azzopardi equally responsible for the accident. He had allowed Mr Micallef to use the car even though he knew the car was not licensed or insured. He was also aware that Mr Micallef was only 18 years old and had, therefore, only recently learned how to drive. Mr Azzopardi had not exercised the diligence of a good employer.

In liquidating the damages suffered by Ms Vella the court noted that the medical experts who had examined her had concluded that she had sustained a 40 per cent permanent disability as she had suffered serious injuries to her legs. At the time of the accident Ms Vella was 28 years old and had two children. She was no longer fully physically independent and would find it difficult to work in the future.

The court assessed the damages suffered by Ms Vella at €133,477.

When assessing the damages suffered as a result of the death of Hayley Anne Briffa the court declared that in terms of law if a minor child died her parents would inherit half of her estate and her siblings the other half.

Ms Vella and her husband Mario Briffa had separated 10 months after the accident and, in the deed of separation, Mr Briffa had assigned to his wife any compensation he might receive as a result of the death of their child.

Their other daughter, Celine, was the heir to the other half of Hayley Anne's estate, but the court noted that unfortunately she had not been legally represented in the court case by her parents and could not, therefore, be awarded any damages.

The court added that the damages due in respect of Hayley Anne's demise were in the sum of €600,000 but that a deduction had to be made to cover the period of her dependency on her parents and for consumption.

As a result, the damages were reduced to €150,000. As Ms Vella was the heir of one half of her daughter's estate she was awarded €75,000 in damages.

The court condemned Mr Micallef and Mr Azzopardi jointly to pay a total of €208,477 to Ms Vella.

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