The First Hall of the Civil Court, presided over by Madame Justice Lorraine Schembri Orland, on May 30, 2013, in the case “Rose Zammit vs Maltacom plc and Enemalta Corporation” held both Enemalta and Maltacom responsible for damage caused by wires and cables that were fixed against a private residence.
The facts in this case were as follows.
Rose Zammit as owner of Dar il-Lewża, Naxxar Road, Lija, claimed to have suffered damages as a result of certain wires and cables fixed against her facade by Enemalta and Maltacom (now Go).
She asked both corporations to repair the damage or to give her adequate compensation but Enemalta failed to do anything while Maltacom plc rejected all her claims.
Faced with this situation, Zammit proceeded to file legal proceedings against Enemalta and Maltacom requesting the court:
1. to decide and declare that the cables, wires and other structures belonging to Enemalta and Maltacom or any of them were responsible for fixing cables on her facade and causing structural damage;
2. to declare and decide that defendants or any of them were responsible for the damage;
3. to order, within a short and peremptory time limit, the defendants or any one of them, to carry out the necessary works to repair the damage, to take necessary precautions to prevent the damage from occurring in future and this under the direction of an architect to be appointed by the court and to approve the works when they were completed;
4. to decide that in case defendants or any of them failed to carry out the works, she would be authorised to carry out the repairs under the direction of an architect to be appointed by the court.
In reply, Enemalta and Maltacom denied responsibility for the damage.
They denied the allegations and declared that during these proc-eedings repairs were done to her full satisfaction.
Zammit complained further she was prevented from carrying out maintenance works on her facade owing to these wires and cables.
It resulted that after the lawsuit was filed, certain wires and cables were removed; however, not all cables and wires were shifted. The damage was not repaired and the facade of her house was still damaged.
Zammit told the court that damage was done to the rooms on her upper floor. Cracks appeared on her facade and roof, with the consequence that water penetrated through the ceiling into her interior.
During the proceedings, the technical expert appointed by the court reported that there were wires and cables which belonged to both Enemalta and Maltacom. It was found that Enemalta’s cables caused most damage to her building.
Enemalta attached a wall bracket which together with the pull and tension of the wires and cables on her facade caused a number of stone slabs to move slightly out of place.
The technical expert recommended that all cables and bolts should be removed and precautions should be taken to make it easier for maintenance works to be carried out.
He suggested that a pole be erected to support the thick cables. As regards repairs, there was some stone work and plastering to be done.
On the other side, Enemalta disputed that Zammit had brought sufficient proof of damage.
The technical expert appointed by the court maintained that the damage could worsen in time, though there was no danger that it could bring about the demolition of the building or part thereof.
The court considered the testimony of architect Montesin. He told the court that the wires of Enemalta caused most damage; as corroborated by the report of the technical expert. Reference was made to a letter exhibited by claimant Zammit, whereby architect Edgar Caruana Montalto commenting on the damage to the building wrote as follows:
“Cracks to the facade of the building at the roof of the second floor and at the opramorta level… one can see that the water is penetrating through the cracks of the exterior of the building and is causing damage to the walls and ceiling of the building… The cause of all of the above-mentioned damage to the building is not from the ‘roll bolts’ that are supporting the ‘cables’ of the Melita Cable Television but the damage is due to the bracket that is supporting the electricity cables of Enemalta.”
All architects shared the view that a pole should be set up, next to the facade of Zammit’s house, to avoid further damage. There was no doubt that the damage to the building was caused by Enemalta’s wires and cables, otherwise there would be no need to have a supporting pole.
The court considered article 1031 of the Civil Code, which provides that: “Every person, however, shall be liable for the damage which occurs through his fault.”
Both Enemalta and Maltacom were expected to act, up to the degree of attention required by law, when fixing wires on people’s property
A person was at fault if he did not exercise diligence, prudence and show the attention of a bonus pater familias (article 1032 of the Civil Code). Both Enemalta and Maltacom were expected to act, up to the degree of attention required by law, when fixing wires on people’s property. They were responsible not to cause damage and if damage was done, they were obliged to repair it.
Despite claims made by Enemalta and Maltacom, not all wires and cables were removed and as reported by the technical expert, there was still a pull on Zammit’s walls by defendant companies’ wires and cables.
Though some wires and cables were removed after this lawsuit was filed and after damage had already been done, Enemalta and Maltacom were still responsible for the damage which they caused, maintained the court.
The court was not of the opinion that it should exonerate Maltacom from responsibility. It said that while the cables of Enemalta were primarily responsible for creating the pull and tension which led to the movements of some stone slabs, it felt that Maltacom also contributed to the damage by fixing its wires and cables.
For these reasons, on May 30, 2013, the court gave judgment by declaring both Enemalta and Maltacom to be responsible for the damage caused to the premises Dar il-Lewża, in Naxxar Road, Lija, and limitedly for the cracks in the facade against which their wires and cables were fixed. Maltacom (Go) was held one-third responsible, and Enemalta, two-thirds.
The court, in addition, ordered Enemalta and Maltacom (Go) within a period of two months from the date of this decision (a) to carry out works on the facade and to repair the cracks caused by the pull of the wires and cables at the expense of both defendants proportionately, and (b) to remove the wires at their own expense and within the same period, for Enemalta to set up a pole on which the cables and wires would be fixed, under the supervision of a court-appointed architect, at the cost of both defendants.
In case these works were not carried out, it authorised the claimant to carry out all necessary works at the cost of defendants under the direction of a court-appointed architect.
Jotham Scerri Diacono appeared for claimant; Anthony J. Vella for Enemalta; and Mario Caruana for Maltacom (Go).
Dr Karl Grech Orr is a partner at Ganado Advocates.
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