FTS ordered to pay Mqabba quarry owners €141,000 over 2010 playing field collapse

Quarry owners awarded damages after part of a quarry wall collapsed due to construction defects in a nearby government school's playing field

The owners of a quarry in Mqabba have been awarded some €141,000 in damages after part of the quarry wall collapsed onto equipment in 2010 because of construction defects in a nearby playing field belonging to a government school.

Applicant Innocenzo Farrugia had acquired land in Mqabba in 1992, which land included a quarry which had been operating since the late 1930s. In 2007 part of the land – including a filled-in part of the old quarry- was expropriated by the government.

This land was separated from the nine storey deep quarry by a 10 foot thick rock wall.

The expropriated land was used to extend a playing field, part of the adjacent government primary school, by the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.

But after the playing field was finished, Farrugia had complained that waste rain water was being channelled into the quarry. No action was taken.

Subsequently, on 28 February 2010, a substantial part of the rock wall had collapsed into the quarry below, destroying equipment and workshops and leaving part of the quarry inoperable.

The plaintiff and his architect, Tancred Mifsud, had claimed that the collapse had been caused by rainwater channelled into soil near the dividing wall, weakening it until it finally gave way.

The Foundation’s architects, Leonard Zammit and Anthony Cassar, had contended that the collapse was the result of the increasing depth of the quarry, which had increased the strain on the dividing rock wall.

The court had appointed architect Alex Torpiano, who concluded that Mifsud’s explanation was more probable, saying that the change in the rainwater management had increased hydrostatic pressure on the rock face.

Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale observed that the collapse could have had far worse consequences had it taken place on a schoolday. It had been “amply proven” that the collapse was the result of the extension works carried out at the school, “in particular the installation of water drainage pipes where a large volume of water was concentrated in one place…after the plaintiff’s complaint about the damage which the water could cause.”

The government's Property Department, Lands Authority and Education Ministry all successfully argued that they were not responsible for the damage and were non-suited.

With respect to the last of these, the court noted that only the Director General of the Education Department, whose remit included the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools should have been made a party to the proceedings.

The judge said that from the evidence, which had been gathered over a six year period, it emerged that the defendant Foundation had failed to take the necessary precautions before starting works on the playing fields, “particularly in view of the fact that next to this development …there was a quarry with a depth of over nine storeys.”

The Foundation had been “well aware” of the fact that thanks to their works, a considerable amount of water was ending up in the quarry and had exacerbated the problem by directing the rainwater into the soil to hide the problem.

Damages were quantified at €141,571.27, to which interests from 2013 – when the prospect of damage had been raised by the architect – were to be added.

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