The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) recently released a research report regarding bereavement damages across the United Kingdom. These are an element of the compensation which might be claimed if someone has died as a result of negligence, and broadly speaking relates to the grief and trauma caused by the death.
Losing a loved one is horrendous in any circumstances and is not something that money can ever compensate for. The law in England and Wales does not make any real attempt to do so and instead largely focuses upon compensating for the financial losses that a death may cause.
The amounts of bereavement damages in England and Wales on the one hand and Northern Ireland on the other have been fixed by legislation (currently at £15,120 and £15,100 respectively). The token nature of these sums can be an added source of distress to those making a claim, as was the case for Russell-Cooke’s client Dawn Shestopal (who is quoted in APIL's report and whose case was previously highlighted on our website).
A postcode lottery
This distress can be added to when clients realise that there is something of a 'postcode lottery' as to who can claim bereavement damages, and how much those damages would be, based upon where they live in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, bereavement damages can only be claimed by a deceased person’s spouse or civil partner or by the married parents of an unmarried child who has died before age 18. If the deceased child’s parents weren't married then only their mother would be entitled to bereavement damages.
In England and Wales, these same people could claim bereavement damages but so too could a partner who had lived with the deceased for at least two years leading up to their death. However, these categories still exclude many people who are bereaved by a death, such as the parents of adult children and the children of parents who have died.
In Scotland, the position is quite different. Compensation for bereavement is decided on a case by case basis, which leaves the way open for a wider range of family members to claim this in a negligence case. Furthermore, the amount of bereavement damages is not fixed by legislation in Scotland and again can vary according to the circumstances.
Time for reform
APIL is calling for the UK Government and relevant devolved administrations to consider reform in this area and make it fit for the 21st century. Without this, they argue, “bereaved people will remain discriminated against, and their relationships with deceased loved ones will remain unacknowledged.”