The Legal Authority to Make a Fatal Accident Claim for the death of a Family Member is currently under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.
The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 makes it possible to claim compensation for the death of a family member in respect of a wrongful death. It enable entitles certain people to make a claim for compensation in order to reflect their loss of financial dependency on the deceased. The categories of people in tilted to claim could include spouses, civil partners and children of the deceased. However, the number of Dependants is not fixed it could range further than immediate family; it could also extend to siblings and grandparents.
The Dependants are usually the deceased ‘Next of Kin’ so the fatal accident claims are usually made by the same people. Dependents are able to claim for any loss any dependency including;
- Funeral expenses
- Bereavement award
- Dependency loss– the loss of financial support and services from the deceased which the Dependant was subject to prior to the death of a family member.
For more guidance and information Fatal Accident claims after the death of a family member check out our Fatal Accident Claims Guide.
Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 a Bereavement Award is a personal injury claim made following the unlawful death of a person to the fault of another. Entitlement for a Bereavement Award is calculated on an individual case-by-case basis. To qualify for a Bereavement Award a claimant has to show they fall within a particular class of persons entitled and highlight how they have suffered or are suffering a loss.
Bereavement damages are most often paid where you may also hear the words ‘unlawful killing’ or where the death has occurred due to a criminal offence such as murder.
The Bereavement award is a one of payment of £12,980 to certain relatives of the deceased which is limited to the wife, husband or civil partner of the deceased. The exception to the strict criteria is where the deceased was a minor, in which case the deceased parents may be entitled to a bereavement award.
The amount of the Bereavement Award has increased over the last decades and historical figures for the Bereavement Award are;
£3,500 to £7,500 – 1 April 1991
£10,000 – 1 April 2002
£11,200 – 1 January 2008
£11,800 – 1 January 2012
£12,980 – 1 April 2013 to present (current rate)
This provision has been widely criticised, particularly in light of ‘the number of cohabiting couple families has increased faster than married couple and lone parent families, with an increase of 25.8% over the decade 2008 to 2018’ according to the Office for National Statistics. It is our firm belief that when a couple has cohabited for years and may even have started a family together it seems unjust to deny them the Bereavement Award solely on the basis that they have not entered into a legal marriage. As reported by the BBC the Law Commission previously suggested ‘cohabiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages’.
For Further guidance and information on the Bereavement Award after the Death of a Family Member check out our Bereavement Award- Guide 2019.
Dependency on Children in Fatal Accident Claims
The legal system sparks a grave injustice where children are killed in an accident where it is another’s fault. Most such cased involved fatal road accidents where the child is a passenger in a vehicle.
The law ignores children from a compensation point of view. It is as though they are worthless. A child who is tragically killed in a road accident or other equally tragic event where the death or unlawful killing was the fault of another, the compensation for dependency is usually the following:
- Beareavement award.
- Return to parents of funeral expenses.
- Damage for personal items such as clothing.
- Compensation for any pain and suffering prior to death.
Due to the child’s age there is often no financial dependency upon the child by the parents or guardian responsible for looking after him/her and thus the loss of a child is quite often valued at £NOTHING, subject to a bereavement awant. It truely is remarkable that this law is still in place today.
Fatal Accident Compensation for Cohabitees
As the Law stands, cohabitees are not able to claim for a Bereavement Award under the 1976 Act. However, as cohabitation is becoming increasingly regular amongst couples in the UK. The law is gradually adapting to accommodate these alterations to the usual household dynamic and provide greater protection for cohabitees; however, there are no immediate legal rights for cohabiting couples.
When a long term partner and cohabitee passes away at the fault of a third party the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 makes it possible for cohabitees to claim for compensation if they fulfil certain criteria;
• That they were living with the deceased in the same household immediately before the date of the death.
• That they had been living with the deceased in the same household for at least 2 years before that date.
• That they were living during the whole of that period as the husband or wife or civil partner of the deceased.
However, person seeking to make a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 are not only required to prove that they are living with the deceased, but equally the permanence and stability of the relationship with the deceased. Evidence of the stability of a relationship includes things such as shared bills, bank accounts and other household arrangements.
Equally, to the internal nature of the relationship, the external nature will also be relevant; in other words the nature to which the relationship was presented publically as living together in a long term sustained relationship. Brief periods of absence will not break the continuity of cohabiting, if it is found that the deceased and the claimant did cohabit together regularly.
Legal Challenges for Fatal Accident Compensation for Cohabitees
The Law on Fatal Accident Claims after the death as the result of a third party may be set to change in relation to cohabitees after a recent ruling in the Smith v (1) Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (2) Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and (3) The Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 1916.
In the case Ms. Jakki Smith, the claimant and the deceased Mr. John Bulloch cohabited as man and wife between March 2000 and his death on 12 October 2011. Mr Bulloch died as a result of medical negligence of the first and second defendants. The defendants admitted the negligence but claimed that Ms Smith was not entitled to the Bereavement Award as the couple never officially married.
Ms. Smith’s legal team argued that in denying cohabitees from claiming the Bereavement Award, the High Court ruling dismissing her claim breached Article 8 and Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Ms. Smith argued that the legislation discriminated her as an unmarried woman. As Article 8 protects the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence and; Article 14 requires that all of the rights and freedoms set out in the Act must be protected and applied without discrimination; the law needs to take into consideration that cohabitation can and does give rise to intimate and long-term relationships which stand to be compensated for the grief experienced when one party dies due to the fault of a third party.
The Court of Appeals issued a section 4(2) declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998 to the effect that section 1A of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 is not in accordance to the European Convention of Human Rights. This in itself does not change UK law it paved the way for parliament to amend the legislation through a joint committee to review the Fatal Accident Act 1976 with regards to cohabiting couples. On 8 May 2019 the Government laid a proposal draft Remedial Order to remedy the discrimination. However, as it stands cohabitees are not entitled to a Bereavement Award.
The law on the rights of cohabitees when one dies in an accident found to be the fault of a third party is gradually coming in line with the dynamic of modern families and the social acceptance of the legitimacy of cohabiting couples. Cohabitees may claim compensation for loss of dependency provided they are able to demonstrate that they lived in the same household as the deceased. Each case is judged with its own specific details but primarily the claimant must demonstrate that they were in an internally and externally stable relationship of sufficient permanence to be eligible. Currently, the Bereavement Award is not available for Cohabitees however, this will change but the time scale for this to be included within the law is undetermined.