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Bereavement Damages – The Price of a Life – Updated

I previously wrote a blog on bereavement damages and what can be claimed following the death of a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligence. I also outlined the limitations of making such a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Those main two limitations being:

  1. Any such award under England and Wales is capped to a maximum of £12,980.
  2. Only a limited group of people can claim this award- a spouse, civil partner or parents of an unmarried child under the age of the 18.

However, after a long awaited wait since my original blogpost in 2017, one of these limitations has now been formally changed in law.

As a result of the Damages for Bereavement (Variation of Sum) (England and Wales) Order 2020, after 1 May 2020 the amount that can be claimed for bereavement damages has been increased from £12,980 to £15,120, an increase of 16%. This increase will only apply to deaths that have occurred on or after 1 May 2020.

I wrote in my previous blogpost, that following the case of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Secretary of State for Justice (2017), it was hoped that the limited group of people who would be eligible to claim bereavement damages would widen to include at least unmarried cohabiting partners of more than two years. Whilst this position has not yet formally changed in statute law, it is expected that this too will be updated in June/July 2020.

The draft Remedial Order to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, which was responsible for the increase in bereavement damages, has also recommended an increase to the scope of who is eligible to claim bereavement damages. This will now likely include unmarried partners who are cohabitating for a minimum of two years immediately prior to the Deceased’s death. However, this could still be considered to be unfair, for example to couples who may have been together for two years although not living together for legitimate reasons, such as work commitments or caring for sick relatives.

In the event that a qualifying cohabitant and spouse are both eligible to make a claim (for example a person who has not yet divorced from their wife/husband, but has been living with a new partner for more than two years), then then the bereavement award would be divided equally between them.

Whilst the changes in law are both welcome and a step in a right direction to reflect today’s society, as with my previous blogpost, I would still argue that these changes do not go far enough. Under Scottish Law, not only is there no limit on bereavement damages, but the eligible Claimants includes ‘immediate family’ such as children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren. English and Welsh law therefore still seems quite a way off of what I would consider to be the much fairer approach taken by Scottish law.

Sadly, for any other changes in England and Wales at least, it seems likely we will be in for another long wait before our sometimes outdated laws try to keep up with the ever developing and evolving world. Although some change is of course better than no change at all.