Claimant personal injury and medical negligence lawyers have for a long time supported an increase in the amount of compensation paid as a “bereavement award”, which is the sum on money awarded to certain members of families where someone has died as a result of negligence.
This can be negligence in medical treatment, or it can be as a result of a fatal road accident or even an accident at work.
It is a fixed lump sum paid as an acknowledgement of something going wrong and someone dying as a result. It can only be an acknowledgement, because obviously no amount of money can replace someone who has died when they should not have. The sum is awarded by virtue of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
The figure is currently £12,980, which has been for the last 6 years. It does not seem a lot for a life, but then what price could you put on such a thing?
However, the fixed statutory sum has just been revised in Northern Ireland and as from May this year, will be increased to £15,100.00. Still a little enough sum, but an increase nevertheless. Scotland has a different system in that it doesn’t have a fixed sum, but calculates the award on a case by case basis. This is not without its difficulties, as how can we value one life against another?
But has the time come in England to review and potentially revise the statutory award to make it a more realistic acknowledgement? Or is it somewhat difficult to think of a life having a “price” anyway?
There is a view which states that our legal system does not exist to impose “punitive” damages, as happens in America. Punitive damages are those which do not necessarily reflect the actual nature and extent of a person’s injuries and financial losses, but are extra damages which are far higher, with the intention of punishing the person who has caused the injuries or death. This is seen a lot where companies and corporations cause widespread injury and deaths where they manufacture dangerous or defective products.
In addition to the bereavement award, it is also possible to claim compensation for the loss of “dependency” due to a death. This would cover, for instance, loss of earnings of the deceased person and the cost of their funeral. In cases of high earners with children, who die at a young age, the claim can run into many thousands, sometimes even hundreds of thousands as it has to reflect the financial loss to the family where they were and would have continued to be dependent on that person’s earnings. These are not exclusive examples.
So should this be enough, given that every life is priceless? But there is the loss of that actual, real person to be considered; their life shortened with so much to achieve which now won’t be and taken away from their family and friends. Surely that needs to be recognized at least?
The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and its companion Act, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1943, which allows claims to be brought on behalf of the deceased person’s estate where appropriate, are both complex and as can be seen by their dates, are now quite old laws. Much has changed in terms of relationships in that time and we believe that the law needs looking at in the light of that. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers are supporting a review.
Those left behind after a death will almost certainly need financial assistance to help them through and in appropriate cases that can be in the form of compensation.