Motorist ordered to pay €324,000 in damages to family of pedestrian he hit while driving

Stephanie Rapa was killed while crossing Triq ix-Xatt, Gzira when she was hit by Anthony Chricop who was driving at 140 km/h

File photo
File photo

A motorist and his insurer have been ordered to pay €323,944 to the family of a pedestrian who died after being run over in Gzira by a car travelling at 140km/h.

Pharmacist and medical student Stephanie Rapa was killed while crossing Triq ix-Xatt, Gzira at 7:40pm on October 2017.

Rapa, an only daughter, had been hit by a Nissan Skyline driven by Anthony Chircop, who is facing separate, ongoing, criminal proceedings in which he is charged with the involuntary homicide of the 30 year-old woman .

The car had catapulted the victim several metres from the point of impact.

Chircop, who had been driving towards Sliema when he collided with the woman, failed to stop. He denies that he was driving at 140 km/h at the time.

Rapa’s parents subsequently also filed a civil case for damages against the driver.

But compounding the family’s trauma, in June 2022, the First Hall of the Civil court ruled that the victim and the driver had been equally to blame for the incident, because Rapa had not been on a zebra crossing at the time, she was struck by the speeding car.

Her grieving parents filed an appeal.

In their appeal, they argued that the street had been well-lit, the road surface had been dry and the visibility was good. The fatal incident had been captured on CCTV cameras belonging to a nearby restaurant.

Upholding the appeal, the Court of Appeal, presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, together with judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul, said that there had been no contributory negligence on the part of the victim.

“This court has no doubt that dangerous driving was the proximal cause of the incident in which Stephanie Rapa lost her life. At a speed of 140 km/h, the defendant placed himself in a position where he was unable to avoid the incident.

Furthermore, the evidence shows that shortly before the incident occurred, the defendant had made use of a special feature of his vehicle to increase its speed.”

“As a result, the victim had no chance. The vehicle had been travelling like an arrow, so much so that the defendant didn’t even see [Rapa] crossing, in spite of the width of the road where she crossed…her light-coloured clothes, the road being lit and straight and the good weather.”

The impact had been so violent that the car’s airbags had been deployed, its windscreen was shattered and had caused over €8,000 worth of damage to the vehicle, observed the court.

It was true that the victim could have been more prudent and crossed the road from the traffic lights, which had been nearby, and that it could be argued that she had miscalculated in trying to cross the second lane, said the court. “But what the victim obviously didn’t know was that the defendant was going to make use of the vehicle’s special feature to increase its torque, leading to an increase in speed in the space of seconds.”

The court said it was “beyond satisfied” that the incident had occurred “solely because the defendant had decided to show off in an inhabited area and imagine that he was driving on some highway or racetrack.”

Ruling that the court of first instance had not given enough weight to the speed the vehicle had been driven at in an inhabited area, the judges said that by driving at that speed. Chirchop had placed himself in the impossibility of taking evasive action when the need arose.

The footage of the incident showed the violence of the impact and was also evidence of the terrifying speed he had been driving at - the victim had been thrown into the air at a height of at least three metres, and hit the ground several metres away from the point of impact, said the court.

“In the circumstances, the court concludes that the defendant must bear full responsibility for the incident in which Stephanie Rapa lost her life.”

“Those who want to show off by driving in this manner, cannot then seek refuge in the fact that the pedestrian crossed a busy road and not used the traffic lights. It is true that the road is principally there for the use of vehicles, but not so that vehicles are driven at that speed.”

The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal and ordered Chirchop and his insurer to pay the Rapa family €324,944 in damages, together with the costs of both first instance and the appeal.

Lawyers Joe Giglio and Sarah Mifsud represented the family of the victim in the proceedings, while lawyers Christine Calleja and Kirk Brincau assisted Chircop.