Personal Injury lawyers have brought bereavement damages for families into the spotlight again, citing that urgent changes need to be made by the Government.
‘Bereavement damages’ can be awarded to a family member of a person killed as a result of medical negligence, under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. It is a payment fixed by law for the trauma and grief suffered when a family member dies as a result of the negligent actions of another.
However, bereavement damages have long been criticised due to there being only a set category of people who are able to claim.
The recent criticism brought to the attention of the Government has been in relation to the statutory sum being too low.
At present, the statutory sum for bereavement damages in England and Wales is £12,980 and despite other jurisdictions in the UK reviewing and increasing their statutory amount, the amount that can be claimed in England and Wales has remained the same for the past six years.
- Northern Ireland revised their statutory amount to £15,100 with a commitment to increase the statutory amount every three years;
- Scotland does not set a limit and instead assesses the amount in a case by case basis.
As an example, due to the discrepancy between awards in different jurisdictions in the UK, it could mean that the family of a man or woman who has died as a result of a missed diagnosis of Cancer could receive vastly different amounts in bereavement damages, depending on where they live in the UK.
Bereavement Damages Research by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL)
APIL, which describes itself as a ‘Not-for-profit organisation fighting for the rights of injured people’, commissioned research in 2013 to better understand what the public’s attitude was to bereavement damages. Of the 2,000 people surveyed, more than half thought bereavement damages should be more than £100,000 and nearly three-quarters thought bereavement damages should be awarded on a case by case basis.
Brett Dixon, President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, explained:
“APIL pushed for an increase in Northern Ireland and continues to raise the issue in England and Wales,” said Mr Dixon. “The whole law on bereavement damages needs an overhaul to bring it up to date and put an end to this lottery”.
Bereaved families facing the prospect of complex clinical negligence claims as a result of loved ones killed by negligence in the UK, should not be subjected to a damages ‘lottery’ dependant on the jurisdiction they live in.
The payment fixed by law for the grief and trauma suffered when a loved one dies, has been under criticism for a number of years. The fact that personal injury lawyers are continuing to bring this issue to light, clearly shows the current criteria and statutory sum for bereavement damages are insufficient and poorly serving the families of people who have died as a result of medical negligence. The law on bereavement damages needs bringing up to date to reflect the current position and needs of families in the UK.