• The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 enable a dependent to claim for compensation against the responsible party.

    To claim compensation under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 you must be a dependent of the deceased.

    This includes:-

    • The wife, husband or former wife or husband of the deceased;
    • The civil partner or former civil partner of the deceased;
    • Any person living with the deceased in the same household for two years or more up to their date of death and living throughout that time as if they were the husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased;
    • A parent or grandparent, etc. of the deceased;
    • A person treated by the deceased as their parent;
    • A child or other descendant of the deceased;
    • A person treated by the deceased as a child of their family;
    • A person who is, or is the child/grandchild, etc. of, a brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the deceased.

    Such a claim can include:-

    • Statutory bereavement damages
    • Funeral expenses
    • Compensation for pain and suffering from the date of injury to the date of death
    • Compensation for losses and expenses incurred as a result of the death
    • A dependency claim for loss of financial support and services from the deceased, eg loss of income, loss of pension, loss of the value of services provided by the deceased such as childcare, housework, gardening and DIY.

    Under current law in England & Wales, statutory bereavement damages can only be claimed by a dependent who is:-

    • The husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased
    • The deceased child’s parents, but only where the deceased was under 18 and never married or had a civil partnership (and only the child’s mother if the deceased child was illegitimate)

    The current award for statutory bereavement damages in England and Wales is a fixed sum of£12,980. In contrast, in Scotland, there is no fixed amount for bereavement damages and the level of award is assessed by the Court on the individual facts of each case. This can be claimed by a wider category of people and awards of up to £140,000 have been made in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, following a consultation, from 1 April 2016 the bereavement damages award increased from £11,800 to £14,400 in line with inflation and will be adjusted every three years. England and Wales therefore now have the lowest level of bereavement damages in the UK. Whilst no price can be placed on a life, it seems grossly unfair that the award for the loss of a life in England and Wales is less than in other parts of the UK.

    The restriction on those who can claim the statutory bereavement award in England and Wales also means that many dependents will find themselves unable to claim bereavement damages for the tragic loss of a loved one following a fatal accident. For example, a child cannot claim bereavement damages for the loss of a parent, despite the likelihood of a child having been financially dependent on the parent. A parent cannot claim bereavement damages for the loss of a child who was over 18 when they died. This is, despite the loss of a child being clearly devastating to a parent at any time, regardless of their child’s age. An unmarried partner of the deceased cannot claim bereavement damages, even if they were a long-term partner of the deceased.

    In October 2015 a private member’s bill was introduced by Labour MP and personal injury solicitor Andy MacDonald, with the aim of addressing the current imbalance in the law for bereavement damages in the United Kingdom. The Negligence and Damages Bill is supported by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) who have been campaigning for many years for greater justice for bereaved families. Part of the Bill seeks to widen the category of persons entitled to bring a claim for bereavement damages and to increase the fixed statutory award for bereavement damages, in line with the law in Scotland. The Bill was due to have its second reading in the House of Commons on 13 May 2016. Sadly, with the recent focus on the EU referendum, the bill seems to have been forgotten about for now.

    We do hope the Bill will be re-introduced. Brachers would welcome reform of the law on bereavement damages which is long overdue to bring England and Wales in line with the rest of the UK and to provide greater justice to bereaved families, who not only have to cope with the grief of losing a loved one but also often have the added worry of the financial impact on the family following a fatal accident or industrial disease.

    Lyn Gibbons specialises in personal injury claims including fatal accidents. If you would like to ask Lyn a question about a personal injury claim or a fatal accident claim please contact her on 01622 680422 or at lyngibbons@brachers.co.uk

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