How much is someone’s life worth? Well, the answer according to English and Welsh law is a mere £12,890.
That is the Statutory Bereavement Award under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. True, there are other types of personal injury compensation that can be claimed in litigation following the loss of a loved one such as funeral expenses, compensation for the deceased’s pain and suffering before death and future dependency if the deceased provided for a loved one financially, or would have done in the future. However, these other types of compensation are not always available so for a lot of people who lose a loved one as a result of negligence this is the only compensation they can claim.
What makes things worse is that that figure is a “one time only” payment, so if claimed by a mother and father it has to be divided between the two, resulting in a pitiful £6,445 each.
But wait, it gets worse. The criteria for who can claim this award are illogically narrow and at present are restricted to:
- The husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased; or
- The deceased’s parents where the deceased was an unmarried child (if the deceased was illegitimate the claim is limited to the mother)
At present therefore brothers, sisters, children and other relatives are not eligible. Further, if the deceased was over 18 but not married no-one can claim.
This leads to unfortunate and illogical situations such as if a child of 17 years 364 days dies as a result of negligence his or her parents will be eligible, but if say they passed midnight into their 18th year before passing away their parents would not be eligible. This is one of those situations where the law is arguably not fit for purpose as it fails to adequately address the needs of victims. Would the parents of a deceased 18 year old grieve any less than those of a 17 year old?
Further, although civil partners are included there is no provision for long-term common law partners, so, in theory, an estranged husband and wife no longer in a relationship together could both claim if either of the other passed away whereas a loving couple together for decades but had not married would have no claim.
A linked point perhaps is the inexplicable way English and Welsh law focuses only on pain and suffering rather than what is perhaps the ultimate injury i.e. being killed. In some cases it is possible to recover greater compensation for a relatively minor whiplash injury than death. The original logic might have been that as the person involved had died the compensation would go to people who were not directly involved but, if that logic is to prevail, we cannot have in place a measly £12,890 one-time payment when the idea behind personal injury compensation is to put people in the place they would have been had it not been for the negligence they suffered. Whilst people left with severe and permanent injuries may receive high settlements, which can pay for their future needs, figures such as £12,890 will of course make little to no impact upon grieving loved ones, not to mention the majority who are either not eligible or who perhaps have to share with someone else such as parents of a child.
I have previously written about the illogical law of England and Wales when it comes to compensating secondary victims of psychological injuries in clinical negligence claims following witnessing injury or death to a loved one; my view is that this area of law is every bit as deficient when it comes to properly compensating people for their suffering.
It is perhaps a shame that so much of Government reform and media attention is directed around road traffic accidents and whiplash (which I have written in depth about recently), driven by the powerful insurance industry lobby and their contacts in the tabloid press, when the areas that desperately need reform and attention, such as properly compensating bereaved people or those suffering horrendous psychological injuries in clinical negligence claims following witnessing the death of a loved one, receive none.
By James Winterbottom, solicitor, Aston Knight Solicitors.
Aston Knight Solicitors Bury, Manchester are a specialist firm of solicitors that specialise in serious injuries including clinical negligence claims and work injury compensation. Please contact a member of our team on 0161 447 9191 or email@example.com for a free and confidential discussion if you would like to discuss further.