Statutory Bereavement Damages – How Do You Value A Life?

It is a misconception that a clinical negligence claim involving the death of a loved one will attract the highest possible compensation.

Put simply – this just isn’t always the case.

Fatal medical negligence claims

Compensation for the death of a patient can often be much lower than other types of claim in which the victim is still living and requires on-going care. The law recognises that if you survive, your suffering goes on longer.

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 sets out three main elements of compensation in a fatal medical negligence claim:

  1. Bereavement;
  2. Funeral expenses; and
  3. Dependency (financial loss suffered as a result of the loss of dependency on the person who has passed away, for example, a wife who has lost the added income of her spouse who has died would be compensated for that loss of earnings.)

Statutory bereavement damages

Perhaps one of the most controversial elements of compensation in a fatal claim is the statutory bereavement damages.

Bereavement damages are intended to compensate families for their pain and suffering due to the death of their loved one. In English law, it is set at a figure of £12,980 and it is only available to a certain category of claimants:

  1. A spouse/civil partner of the deceased; or
  2. The parents of a deceased child, up to the age of 18.

You can see why this is a controversial part of the damages for a fatal claim, can’t you?

Firstly, how can the loss of life of a loved one be valued at £12,980? The figure of £12,980 was set in 2013 and hasn’t been increased since.

Secondly, why is the category of claimants entitled to this award so limited? What about cohabiting couples, children, or single fathers?

This has long been a topic of debate and much has been done to encourage change in this area of law.

Possible changes to statutory bereavement damages

The Government has this year presented a draft proposed Remedial Order to amend Section 1A of the Fatal Accidents Act. If implemented, it would allow the Bereavement Award to be recovered by a cohabiting partner of the deceased provided they were living in the same household as the deceased immediately before the death and had been living with the deceased for at least 2 years prior to the death.

Campaigns also continue for the figure of £12,980 to also be increased.

Comment

The proposed amendments and changes are welcomed, but there is clearly much more to be done to bring the law relating to fatal claims up to date.

Families come in all shapes and sizes and it cannot be right to maintain such a rigid and narrow category of people entitled to claim bereavement damages.

Whatever way you look at it, putting a value on a life will never be an easy task. It has to be time for a review, but at what point will it be possible to get it right?

All we know is that the current figure seems far from sufficient and we continue to watch with interest the progress of development and change in the coming months and years.

Statutory bereavement damagesHow can Nelsons help?

Danielle Young is an Associate in our expert Medical Negligence team.

If you have any questions in relation to the subjects discussed in this article, then please get in touch with Danielle or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.