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Court finally rights a mathematical wrong

In the fatal mesothelioma case of Knauer v MOJ [2014] EWHC 2553 (QB) the trial judge held that he was bound to follow the approach adopted by the House of Lords in the cases of Cookson v Knowles [1979] AC 556 and Graham v Dodds [1983] 1 WLR 808 and to calculate the multiplier for future loss from the date of death.

The multiplier is a discounted figure used to calculate the future years of earnings or pension loss.

By calculating damages for loss from the date of death, rather than the date of trial, the claimant will lose out by giving a discount for early receipt of the money when in fact that money will not be received until after trial. This discount results in under-compensation in the majority of cases.

Although he made it clear that he would have preferred to calculate the multiplier from the date of trial in line with the approach recommended by the Law Commission in their report Claims for Wrongful Death (1999, Law Com No 263) the judge, Bean J, said he was bound by those House of Lords decisions.

He granted a certificate under section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1969 to enable Mr Knauer to appeal direct to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court have now unanimously allowed Mr Knauer’s appeal deciding that the reasoning in the earlier decisions is illogical and its application resulted in unfair outcomes. The legal landscape had long since changed and that with the introduction of the Ogden Tables in 1984 there was now a perfectly sensible way of calculating future loss in fatal accident claims.

The use of the Ogden Tables was endorsed by the House of Lords in Wells v Wells in 1999 and it is perhaps unfortunate that it has taken until now for the courts to depart from the established law.