‘They left us high and dry’: Contractors, architect fail to pay family of Rita Vella killed in her home 22 years ago

After a 20-year battle in court, those found guilty two years ago have still not paid the family

 

Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti hawn.

After over two decades of court hearings, lawyer fees and heartbreak, the family of Rita Vella, who was killed when her house in Sliema collapsed on top of her due to excavation works near her house 22 years ago, has nothing to show for it.

“I can’t even tell you how much we spent on legal fees, but I’m pretty sure that the compensation figure pales in comparison to what we spent. We spent €5,000 just to get the case started,” Rita Vella’s son, Paul, told The Shift, referring to the civil court case the family had filed.

In 2020, the court finally ruled that the persons in charge of those fatal excavation works, contractors Carmelo Micallef and Raymond Cutajar and architect Philip Azzopardi, owe the Vella family €67,000 in compensation. But two years later, the family has not received anything.

“What’s really vile is that we can’t even claim expenses for our lawyer because they were not included in the final sentence. So we had to sort out everything ourselves. We were left high and dry,” Vella said.

Vella stated that while Cutajar has repeatedly approached the family to pay out his share of the compensation, the others have not responded to multiple requests from the family and their lawyer.

The family is now stuck waiting for a response from the architect and contractor who have refused to respond to their requests. Following the accident which cost Rita Vella her life, two court cases were initiated – in the civil and criminal court.

The criminal court found the contractors guilty of negligence but exonerated the architect from the same charge. Cutajar and Micallef were fined €4,000 each, which they appealed.

The case in the civil court took 17 years to conclude. Given the accused filed yet another appeal, it took until 2020 for the appeal to be thrown out and for the order for compensation to be issued.

“This length of time for a court case is absolutely ridiculous. This was a clear-cut case: my mother was in her home, so obviously, she had no fault in this,” Vella told The Shift.

Two years later, not a cent of those €67,000 owed to the Vella family has been paid. When asked whether they have ever managed to get any kind of justification from Azzopardi and Micallef, Vella insisted that they never managed even to contact them.

Their only option remains the most dreaded – taking the contractors and the architect to court, restarting their nightmare all over again.

“I just spoke to my lawyer a few days ago, and he told me that he has to proceed with taking them to court again over the unpaid compensation. We had told them that if they didn’t pay us by June, we would have to proceed with legal action. Now, we have no other option but to proceed,” Vella said.

“This was an enormous trauma for all of us, and I never wish for anyone else to have to experience something like this, which is why I’ve kept fighting against this negligence and have spoken up about all of the cases in which other people lost their lives too,” he added.

Through the circumstances his family has been put in, Vella has become an unofficial point of reference for people who have lost their homes and, in some instances, their loved ones.

He described how, following a series of similar accidents in the last five years, people who have had to deal with similar situations have reached out to him, often needing to ask about what they should do next or who they should talk to.

“To us at this point, it’s not even about the compensation because none of that will buy us the ability to bring my mother back. But these things are just unbelievable; there’s no deterrent for these crimes,” Vella said when discussing the systemic failures that led to these accidents.

“Contractors show up, make your house collapse, leave you for dead, and then pretend to fix things by laying down some cement,” he added.

When asked what needs to change, Vella was adamant about the need for beefed-up enforcement that would continuously monitor sites and ensure that complaints are investigated and dealt with before such a tragedy happens.

He also said that 22 years after his mother’s death, the government’s attempts at regulating the industry are “absolute rubbish”, adding that “we have learned nothing” since then and that the creation of authorities like the Building and Construction Authority is pointless unless duly enforced.

“And, to top it all off, it’s like nothing happened for these people, and there’s no support from the authorities whatsoever. None of these people should have been allowed to work after causing an accident like that, at least until the case was concluded,” Vella said.

“If a person kills someone else while driving, their licence gets suspended, and they’re certainly not allowed to go on like it’s nothing,” he added.

                           
                               
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Paul Bonello
Paul Bonello
25 days ago

Do not be so sure that if someone kills a person through negligent driving his licence will be suspended; it will be the same ordeal as yours in this lawless state

Mary anne Galea
Mary anne Galea
25 days ago

Ahna poplu korrot! Ghalhekk qeghdin fdin is sitwazzjoni. Kulhadd isib lil xi Hadd biex jirrangalu u jaghdi kollox!

makjavel
makjavel
25 days ago

The problems are all Legal / Court procedures to make lawyers rich . Shift News is itself a victim of these practices. The victims have had their protection against their violators cost their life savings. To take some rich asshole to court because he killed your parents when the house they were demolitioning brought down the attached residents are still enjoying themselves , while the victims family is going broke . This is NOT JUSTICE. I challenge any lawyer in parliament to change the court procedures so that these cases are decided in a year. The legal charges should be capped to a percentage of the damages paid by the guilty party not by the never ending number of sessions that take forever. Damages must be paid within the time decided by the court , who orders the seizure of the guilty party’s assets equivalent to the damages awarded.
Who will stand up in Parliament and instead of discussing the thousands of legal notices and laws on every imaginable subject , takes this up. TBut the problem is that the Lawyers in there will be shooting themselves in the head. So nothing will happen unless the lawyers suspend themselves from parliament and take such a law to a referendum. .

Alf
Alf
23 days ago
Reply to  makjavel

Ironically laws are made by the political candidates that we vote for in parlament!

Francis Said
Francis Said
25 days ago

There is just one solution to this problem. The police should jail them until all is paid plus interest.
I know it sounds draconian, but with these types of people, then it should be seriously considered.
To be fair, one did reach out to pay but could not, as the payment for compensation was declared in solidum.

Lucas
Lucas
25 days ago

What a shame!!!! It seems to be in prehistoric times, all this time for a sentence and after all these years the arrears that would increase the damage for the wait is not calculated and even the expenses are paid by the offended party ….
But sure to be in Europe ?? normally 3 months are left, otherwise the amount doubles and then the assets are seized for those who do not pay the damages.
Here the bases of the legislature are missing, this is not corruption but pure ignorance …

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
25 days ago

We used to live a few doors away from where the lovely family Vella lived. At that time, neighbours were like family.
We too are still shocked about the irresponsible tragedy, and more shocked that no justice has yet been done after 20 years. Neither has anything been done by governments to ensure that such tragedies are avoided, and with uncontrolled construction, and a government that delegates rules to the whims of developers and their complicit cowboy architects, while government leaders and members, get their payback through offshore accounts and/or free or grossly undervalued apartments.
Shame on the guilty parties who refuse to honour Court verdicts, and keep giving their middle finger, to the families of the victims, to the judiciary, and to the rule of law.
May the sorrows they threw at a peaceful and loving family, haunt their conscience, until at least, they honour the court’s decision.
In the meantime, the family would do well to seek redress, even if this means sending the culprits to prison.

Francis Darmanin
Francis Darmanin
25 days ago

A sad story that demonstrates the disregard for life, and law and order in Malta. But doesn’t “in solidum” imply that one of the guilty parties can be sued for the whole sum, and not just his share?

Paul Sullican
Paul Sullican
24 days ago

When a monetary decree is decided, should the courts also issue garnishee orders until payment is settled.

Carmel Cordina
24 days ago

In Catholic Malta after court sentence you have to open again mandat ta quid at court, and then you sell bi’s sunbath so that your children in 50 years time have the hobby to go to court every now and then…

Joe Bonnici
Joe Bonnici
24 days ago

So shameful. Disgusted to say that we live in a country with no law enforcement. Our system is totally wrong and no one is interested in making it right. As long as the big boys keep putting the money in their pockets, nobody cares. Quality of life? Just don’t even start.

Cecil Herbie Jones
Cecil Herbie Jones
23 days ago

A country of shoulda woulda coulda. A government strong with the weak and vulnerable, but weak with the strong and powerful.

Get this straight. The rich need the poor to remain poor so that they will be served their caviar. And, don’t let the priest on the pulpit fill you with hope. For the church the Earth will always be flat. Turn in your grave Galileo.

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