AWH Supporting Fairness for Bereaved Families

AWH Solicitors Supporting the Reform on the entitlement to a Bereavement Damages Compensation
 AWH Supporting Fairness for Bereaved Families

AWH Solicitors Supporting the Reform on the Entitlement to Bereavement Damage Compensation

If you have lost a loved one due to negligence, it is vital that you receive the support and compassion needed at a time when you’re most vulnerable. Your loved one could be a parent, brother, or sister, who you’ve lost due to an accident, or a long-term illness caused by exposure to a substance such as asbestos.

Where you live in the United Kingdom should never affect the amount of support you are able to receive for bereavement damage compensation. However, as it stands, bereaved families are treated by the law depending on which country they live in meaning many bereaved family members are going without the support they desperately need. Our solicitors at AWH are supporting the reform of the bereavement damage law so that those suffering after the wrongful death of a loved one can receive support no matter where they live.

If you live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland you can support the campaign by writing to your elected representatives in either the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly. To get involved, and for help and advice in writing to politicians, please visit the APIL website. 

A Comment from Nimish Patel, Senior Associate at AWH Solicitors

Our Senior Associate, Nimish Patel, says: “I have acted on behalf of several Claimants who have brought claims on behalf of the estates of their mother or father following an illness caused by exposure to asbestos where they have not been entitled to a claim for bereavement damage compensation under the criteria. Similarly, I have brought claims for brothers and sisters of people who have passed away due to a delay of diagnosis or treatment from a hospital, and they have not been eligible for the award simply due to their relationship to the patient which is totally unfair.” 

The same situation would apply to someone who has lost a parent or a sibling in a road traffic collision or following an accident at work.  The Joint Committee on Human Rights said in July 2019 that “The current list of eligible claimants is unprincipled, discriminates against other family members in analogous positions to existing eligible claimants and stigmatises children.”

If a loved one has died as a result of negligence, an award of financial compensation is the only tool the court currently has to acknowledge the relatives’ loss and an order for compensation can be given in an effort to reduce the burden of their loss. However, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland the law denies compensation to a grieving father if his child was labelled “illegitimate” by law. The Government confirmed in a written response to a parliamentary question on April 17, 2023, that this is because the relationship would not have been as close.  Considering that over half of UK babies are born to unmarried parents or to parents in a civil partnership, the current law excludes many grieving parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters from making a bereavement compensation claim.

What’s the Current Law on Bereavement Damage Compensation in England Wales and Northern Ireland?

If you are claiming compensation for bereavement in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you will be faced with a law that APIL states is “rigid, discriminatory, and woefully out of date.” This is because, under current law, not everyone who loses a loved one is entitled to compensation no matter how close their relationship.

In England and Wales, the amount awarded for bereavement damage compensation is limited to £15,120. For Northern Ireland, this figure is limited to £15,100. This figure was set by statute in 2020 after not increasing for several years. The figure is only set to be reviewed in line with inflation every three years. 

Compensation for the grief or trauma of losing a loved one is restricted, and only available to a very small category of relatives. In England and Wales, only the following are entitled to bereavement damage compensation:

  • The spouse or civil partner of the deceased
  • A cohabitee that lives with the deceased for at least two years
  • The parents of unmarried children under the age of 18 (or if the child is ‘illegitimate’, the mother only).

The Law on Bereavement Damage Compensation in Scotland

Those campaigning against the current law on bereavement damage compensation are hoping the law can be changed to be more in line with the current Scottish law. Scotland’s law has no difficulty in recognising the closeness between parents, children of all ages, grandparents, siblings, and other people who were living with the deceased as part of their family.

Scotland has been providing fair and meaningful bereavement compensation to grieving relatives for over 40 years. The compensation received after a wrongful death relies on legal precedent and a proper review of the relationship between the bereaved person and the deceased loved one.

In Scotland, bereaved relatives are treated fairly in a way that validates and recognises a modern family and relationship. The law in Scotland recognises that a parent’s love for a child does not just stop when the child turns 18. Additionally, the law recognises that grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings play a huge part in the lives of their loved ones.

The Case of Mr McGee

The law for fair bereavement damage compensation in Scotland meant that Mr McGees family were taken care of after he died in hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. It was discovered during the court case that his stair handrail had been fitted in an unsafe manner resulting in his fall.

After his death, a judge in Edinburgh acknowledged the huge part he played in the life of his close family members. Therefore, compensation was provided to Mr McGees widow, his two daughters, his son, and his four grandchildren. The judge set the price of each family member’s compensation based on the reflected closeness of their relationship to Mr McGee.

Notably, McGee’s granddaughter was awarded £20,000 due to Mr McGee playing the role of “principle male adult” in her life following the breakup of her parents. Additionally, the judge recognised that McGee looked after his grandson when his daughter was at work. He provided the grandson with encouragement, taking him to and from school as well as to church and on excursions. His grandson was awarded £25,000.

If Mr McGee had died in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, his children and grandchildren would not have received any compensation for their grievance. In the eyes of the law, there would have been no relationship with their father or grandfather.

Fatal Accidents Act (Remedial) Order 2020

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2020 extended the eligibility of bereavement damage compensation in England and Wales to couples that have lived in the same property together for at least two years. However, this update fails to recognise the bereavement of partners who have not lived together for two-years minimum. The law also fails to support cohabiting couples in Northern Ireland.

Informing a bereaved person that their relationship with the deceased is not worth a compensation payment will only provide further distress at a time when they are already suffering.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (which published two calls for evidence on the remedial order) calls for a consultation on reform because the law is “discriminatory against certain close family members”.

APIL’s Campaign for Fairness in Bereavement Damage Compensation

APIL is continuing to campaign for the rights of bereaved victims. In April 2021, APIL launched a bereavement damages report: ‘Bereavement Damages: A Dis-United Kingdom’. The report highlights the issues in the current law, sharing stories from some of those who have been affected by these laws.  APIL continues to campaign for the modernisation of the law in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in a hope that the law can reflect the law in Scotland. You can read more about APIL’s campaign on their webpage dedicated to this campaign.

AWH Solicitors continues to support APIL’s campaign for a reform on the law, to enable bereaved families across the United Kingdom to receive fair compensation following the death of a loved one. If you would like any further guidance on any of the issues covered in this article, please get in touch with our personal injury, industrial disease, or medical negligence team.

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