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Can you die from a broken heart?

Bereavement and dying of a broken heart

This is very emotive topic.  I am a solicitor and act for many bereaved families for over 30 years.  I have recently read about takotsubo syndrome a condition that affects the heart following the death of a loved one.  

I have heard for many years that someone can die of a broken heart due to a bereavement following the loss of a husband, wife, partner or child.  The heart no longer wants to beat and the pain becomes unbearable.  Often you read, particularly with older couples when a wife or husband dies the survivor does not live very long following the loss.  This pain of loss has been described as ‘takotsubo syndrome’ often referred to as broken heart syndrome, which is a sudden and acute form of heart failure.

Such are the tales that you hear or read about are not uncommon.  I have done some research and found another condition called the ‘widowhood effect.  In a 2014 study it highlighted a significant increase in the risk of death within the first three months for individuals whose spouses had recently died, indicating a 66% higher chance. Previous studies had suggested even higher probabilities, reaching up to 90%. Surprisingly, the research debunked the notion that men faced a greater risk than women, revealing equal chances for both genders. Beyond the initial three months, surviving spouses still had a 15% elevated risk of dying.

But the widowhood effect in the study does not point to takotsubo syndrome but that the risk of dying is due to other factors that could be due to the level of depression in close marital relationships, with homeowners experiencing heightened distress possibly due to increased responsibilities. Financial dependence and reliance on spouses for tasks led to post-widowhood anxiety in women. Abrupt, unexpected deaths increased stress, particularly when it resulted in an immediate loss of financial and emotional support.

But takotsubo syndrome does not appear to have played significant role in early mortality in that study. However the condition may not have been considered in detail but the report’s findings do refer to widowed men facing higher risks of conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


What is takotsubo syndrome?

Takotsubo syndrome was first identified in Japan in 1990 and referred to as broken heart syndrome.  A bereavement can trigger an emotional distress, that can cause a chest pain similar to heart attacks.  The syndrome typically arises from intense emotional or physical stress, a loss of a loved one like a bereavement, can bring on this condition. It typically occurs when dis-tress signals prompted by upsetting events such as the death of a relative travel from the brain to the heart.

Although it is estimated that around 30% of people cannot identify a specific trigger, emotional trauma remains a prominent factor. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, as it is medically termed is apparently named from the unique shape the left ventricle resembling a Japanese octopus called “takotsubo.”

Is a heart attack treated differently?

A heart  attack is different from a broken heart. A heart attack is characterised by the heart muscle’s sudden weakening or ‘stunning,’ leading to a change in the shape of the left ventricle, one of the heart’s chambers. This alteration impairs the heart’s ability to pumip blood efficiently, resulting in symptoms that mimic those of a heart attack, such as chest pain, breathlessness, or collapse.

Presently, there is no unanimous agreement among experts on the optimal treatment for Takotsubo syndrome. Current approaches involve employing medications typically prescribed for other heart conditions such as heart failure and heart attacks. It’s crucial to note that Takotsubo syndrome differs significantly from these conventional heart conditions.

In a study, Dana Dawson, a professor from the University of Aberdeen’s cardiology and cardiovascular research unit, has said the symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy could resemble those of a heart attack, including shortness of breath and chest pain, but is unlike a heart attack as patients do not suffer from a blockage of the arteries that supply the heart with blood.   However the medical profession were treating takotsubo cardiomyopathy patients similar to those who suffered from a heat attack.  The professor is quoted as saying that:

“…takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a different condition entirely and unlike a heart attack, patients don’t suffer from a blockage of the arteries that supply the heart with blood,.

The study of broken heart syndrome

In the study heart attacks and broken heart syndrome patients were analysed. The research team, were surprised by the consistent medication approach with classical heart attacks and found similar prescription rates for both cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular medications. The study, analysing data from 3,720 published in the journal JACC and reported in the British Heat Foundation, shown that individuals over a decade, revealed increased mortality and susceptibility to heart conditions, equating the chance of death to that of heart attack survivors.

The professor has indicated that the data showed that the medical profession were not treating this condition correctly, that patients suffering from broken heart syndrome have increased mortality compared with the general population, an increased vulnerability to developing heart conditions and as much chance of dying from this as people who have suffered heart attacks.  The study highlights the inadequacy of how a bereavement following broken heart syndrome requires more research and a need for tailored and nuanced therapeutic strategies.

Sinéad O’Connor die of a broken heart?

In the press that Sinéad O’Connor, the Irish singer and activist, had died of natural causes..  Indeed a coroner’s office in London, England, confirmed that this is the case. It may be that she sadly died from a “broken heart.”

Can you claim for a bereavement award?

In the context of Takotsubo syndrome, an additional layer of complexity arises concerning bereaved families in England and Wales. The existing compensation framework fails to recognise the emotional and psychological toll on families, leaving an unsettling injustice system.

As medical research delves deeper into understanding this complex condition, advocating for a holistic approach encompassing medical, emotional, and societal dimensions becomes imperative.

But the Government make the law and set the amount of compensation the loss of a loved one will receive following a bereavement.  To claim for bereavement damages, you must be a spouse, civil partner or parent if the child is under 18. Unmarried couples who have been together for at least two years are also included.

How much is a bereavement award for a broken heart?

The current bereavement award is fixed at £15,120 from 1st May 2020 up from £12,980 previously.  The amount is obviously unjust and bears no reflection to the grief, pain and aftermath of a bereavement.  However there are many other aspects where a survivor and family left behind can claim addition compensation such as funeral expenses, grave stone and dependency among other heads of loss.  In years to come, following this study concerning takotsubo cardiomyopathy the Government may realise that the pain and hurt following a bereavement may be classed as a personal injury and look to increase this vastly under compensated claim. I very much doubt this however.


Who can claim for a bereavement award?

We have a law that not only provides a derogatory figure for bereavement following the loss of a loved one, it also limits family members who are entitled to a bereavement award.  This is all found under an old law back in 1976 under the Fatal Accidents Act where if a family member is entitled to a bereavement award,  it is limited to a one-off payment.  Currently a bereavement award is limited to the wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased. The only exception is where the deceased was a minor, in which case his or her parents may be entitled to the Bereavement Award.

Contact us if you have been affected by this article.

Asbestos and smoking the legal implications

Can a claim be made for asbestos lung cancer when the worker smoked?

Navigating the legal terrain surrounding workplace related asbestos exposure including mesothelioma is akin to unravelling a complex puzzle. In the realm of employment law, ensuring the safety and well-being of workers is foundational. Picture this: you’re diligently going about your job, and due to the nature of the work, you find yourself exposed to substances like asbestos. If, unfortunately, you fall ill, the legal journey becomes essential to determine if your employer bears responsibility.

Often in asbestos and mesothelioma compensation claims, the asbestos worker affected is elderly, usually late 60’s and 70’s if alive, or if sadly died, the claim will be made usually by the next of kin, that is wife, husband, partner or children of the deceased.

The Dangers of Asbestos

The background to the legal implications are set out below but in short a claim for asbestos related lung cancer can be made which includes a claim for compensation for mesothelioma.  However what if the worker who has contracted an asbestos condition has also smoked all his life?  This raised complex questions of law and fact that need to be established by the mesothelioma solicitor in the claim.

The deduction for ‘contributory negligence’ (that is the worker can also be found to blame for his lung cancer in part due to smoking) is taken from the case of Blackmore v The Department for Communities and Local Government.  In that case the Deceased had been a very heavy smoker, smoking 20 cigarettes a day from aged 14 until cutting down to 12 a day at the end of his life.  He died aged 76 and was therefore a heavy smoker for over 50 years.  He had also received explicit advice to stop smoking on a number of occasions, in particular after he had suffered a spontaneous pneumothorax of the left lung.  There was scientific evidence in the case that most of the risk of lung cancer came from cigarette smoking at 85% to 90%.  The Defendants sought to argue that there should be a deduction at this level notwithstanding earlier cases where the deduction had been at a much lower level.  This argument was rejected both by the Judge at First Instance and the Court of Appeal.  Blackmore is the highest award of contributory negligence.  The earlier cases, in particular Badger v The MOD  (asbestos worker refused to give up smoking and his compensation was reduce by 20%) and Shortell v Bical Construction had been at lower levels,  20% and 15% respectively.

In a recent case an asbestos worker was smoking for most of his adult life with a habit of 10 to 15 cigarettes a day.  This appears somewhat less than that in the Blackmore case.  There is no evidence of specific warnings in the face of symptoms.  Contributory negligence in this paritcular case was estimated to be 20% to 25%.  The asbestos worker was in his 70s and suffered for a matter of weeks before succumbing to the asbestos lung cancer.   The compensation for the pain and suffering before death was assessed in the region of about £85,000.  But due to the fact that the asbestos worker had smoked between 10-15 cigarettes for most of his life, it is anticipated that the reduction in the compensation award would be reduced to £70,000 for the inury alone.

Further reading please see:

Mesothelioma Compensation Claim

Asbestos Compensation Guide

General background on claiming compensation for asbestos exposure including mesothelioma.

Let’s embark on an exploration of this intricate legal landscape, focusing specifically on the challenges posed by asbestos exposure.

  1. Workplace Safety and Asbestos Exposure:
  • At the core of workplace safety is the responsibility employers hold for the health of their employees.
  • Laws dictate that employers must take proactive measures to shield their workforce from potential hazards, including exposure to harmful substances like asbestos.
  1. The Asbestos Conundrum:
  • Asbestos, once widely used for its insulating properties, is now known to pose severe health risks, particularly in causing mesothelioma, a lethal form of lung cancer.
  • The legal framework scrutinises cases where individuals have been exposed to asbestos during their employment, leading to subsequent health issues.
  1. Time-Dependent Legal Framework:
  • Laws governing asbestos exposure vary depending on when the exposure occurred, reflecting the evolving understanding of its dangers.
  • Different legal standards might apply to cases based on the era in which the exposure took place.
  1. Quantifying Asbestos Exposure:
  • Courts assess whether the quantity of asbestos exposure at the workplace exceeded safe limits, creating a foreseeable risk to health.
  • The evaluation goes beyond mere comparisons to accepted exposure levels and delves into what a reasonable employer should have known at the time.
  1. Causation Challenges:
  • Establishing causation, proving that the illness resulted directly from asbestos exposure at work, becomes a pivotal challenge.
  • In cases of occupational cancer, alternative causes, both within and outside the workplace, complicate the determination of causation.
  1. The Unique Nature of Mesothelioma:
  • Mesothelioma, a cancer primarily associated with asbestos exposure, introduces a unique set of rules in the legal landscape.
  • The Fairchild exception allows claimants to succeed if a defendant caused a material increase in the risk of contracting mesothelioma.
  1. Legislative Responses to Asbestos Challenges:
  • Legislative responses, such as the Compensation Act 2006, address scenarios where pinpointing the exact cause of mesothelioma becomes challenging.
  • The legal framework acknowledges the need for comprehensive compensation even when the precise cause is difficult to determine.
  1. Recouping Damages in Asbestos Cases:
  • Ensuring victims of asbestos-related illnesses receive full compensation involves legal provisions for recoupment.
  • The legal system aims for equitable solutions, allowing for the fair distribution of liabilities among responsible parties.
  1. Scientific Evidence and Its Limits:
  • While scientific evidence plays a crucial role, the legal system acknowledges its limitations, particularly in complex cases.
  • Judges must balance medical and epidemiological assessments, recognizing potential pitfalls in assuming authority where scientific certainty may be elusive.
  1. Adapting to Changing Realities:
  • Workplace realities evolve, and legal frameworks must adapt to reflect current knowledge and understanding.
  • Recent cases, like Rolls Royce Industrial Power (India) v Cox, underscore the evolving nature of legal interpretations amid changing circumstances.
  1. Human Element in Asbestos Cases:
  • Beyond legal intricacies, there’s a human element in asbestos-related cases. Individuals who have suffered deserve a legal process that is accessible and empathetic.
  • Whistleblower protections and avenues for employees to voice concerns play a crucial role in maintaining workplace safety.
  1. Learning from Asbestos-Related Cases:
  • The legal landscape learns from past asbestos-related cases, addressing systemic failures through legislative changes.
  • Cycles of inquiries, findings, recommendations, and subsequent reforms are pivotal in breaking detrimental patterns.
  1. Collaborative Approach in Asbestos Cases:
  • Achieving justice in asbestos-related illness cases necessitates collaboration between legal, scientific, and medical domains.
  • This collaborative approach ensures that legal frameworks are informed by the latest scientific knowledge, fostering a more nuanced and effective system.
  1. Ongoing Journey in Asbestos Cases:
  • The legal framework concerning asbestos-related illnesses is an ongoing journey, adapting to societal changes, scientific advancements, and the evolving nature of work.
  • Continuous improvements in legislation, coupled with a commitment to fairness and accessibility, pave the way for a legal system that safeguards the well-being of the workforce, particularly in the context of asbestos exposure.

In conclusion, the legal framework surrounding workplace-related illnesses, with a specific focus on asbestos exposure, involves a meticulous journey through statutes, causation challenges, and adaptations to evolving realities. As society progresses, the legal system strives to ensure justice for individuals affected by asbestos-related illnesses, emphasizing fairness, accountability, and a collaborative approach to navigate the complexities of the legal landscape.



Part 36 Offers – FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Part 36 Offers

 What is a “Part 36” Offer?

A          Part 36 offer: this is where your opponent has made you a formal offer on one or more issues that are currently in dispute.  The offer could be in relation to the settlement of your compensation claim or an offer on liability.

  1. What is the significance of the Part 36 offer?

A          The reason why parties made a Part 36 offer is because if you decide to reject their offer and at a later stage (or at a final hearing) you do no better than their offer, you may be responsible for your opponents costs and our costs since the offer was made.  Since those costs could be significant it may leave you with little or no compensation.  On rare occasions, you may even end up owing legal costs even though you have “technically” won your case. A Claimant and Defendant can both make a Part 36 offer.

  1. What happens if I reject the offer and proceed all the way to a final hearing?

A          The Part 36 offer must never be communicated to the Judge by either party.  This will be kept a secret.  The trial Judge will then decide the case in the usual way.  If the Judge determines that you have done no better than the Defendants Part 36 offer then as explained above, you are responsible to pay the costs since that offer was made.  The same applies if you, the Claimant Makes a Part 36 offer.

  1. Is there a time period to accept or reject the offer?

A          This is usually 21 days from the date that the offer was made.  If you accept the offer within this 21 day period then there are no cost penalties.  If you accept at a later time, then you can only do so with either leave of the Court or with the consent of your opponent.  If you do accept out of time, there may be costs penalties you will have to pay since the offer was made.

  1. What is the position if I wish to reject the Part 36 Offer?

A          We shall, of course, advise you as to whether, in all circumstances, the Part 36 offer is reasonable.  If, however, you decide to reject the offer against our advice, we may decide to withdraw from the case and ask you to obtain instructions from another firm of solicitors.

However, in rare circumstances, we may still continue to act for your despite the fact that you have rejected the offer against our advice.  Should this occur, we will advise you of the conditions attached to our continuing to act for you.

  1. Does it make any difference that I have a “No Win No Fee” agreement?

A          In short, the answer is “no.”  You are still subject to the cost risk explained above.  However, if you reject a Part 36 offer we may revise our success fee to reflect the risks of pursuing your case further.  If you have purchased an after the event insurance policy, we are under a duty to notify your insurers and they will ask us for our advice about whether the Part 36 offer is reasonable.  

  1. What is the position if I have Legal Expenses Cover?

A          The position is the same.  You are still subject to the cost risk if you reject the Part 36 offer and we are under a duty to notify your Legal Expense Providers of the Part 36 offer.

  1. Can I make my own Part 36 offer?

A          Yes you can also put pressure on your opponent to settle any issue or offer an amount of compensation to them that you will be happy to settle your claim.  If you make such an offer then should your opponent do no better than the offer you have put forward, they are responsible to pay additional interest on your damages of up to 10% above base rate and it also makes it a lot easier for us to recover all or the vast majority of our costs from the other side.  We would recommend that you make a Part 36 offer when it is possible to do so.

  1. What do I do next?

A          Please read the covering email/letter accompanying this document carefully.   Only contact us if you do not wish to made a Part 36 offer.




Lorry Driver Watching TV Causes Death

A lorry driver has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving when it is alleged that he was watching television at the time of the collision.

The lorry driver drove into the rear of the vehicle the deceased was driving when it is thought he was watching television.

The lorry driver has denied causing death by dangerous driving but has agreed to a lesser charge of causing death by careless driving.

Compensation Death by Dangerous Driving









Google Searches Reveal Watching Television while Driving

The prosecution in a trial has informed the court that the lorry driver had made two Google Searches on his phone in his cab revealing the possibility that shortly before the tragic collision that he may have been watching television hence the charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

At the court hearing it was said:

“There was clearly inadequate distance between the car and the lorry and insufficient time to stop.”

The court was told that the lorry driver was looking downwards for an “extended period” and was not paying attention to the road.

“There was no hope at that point to stop in time and avoid a collision,” the lorry driver’s actions were “inevitably dangerous”.

The lorry driver is said to have admitted that he“fell short” of the required standard but added: “The Crown say the driving was much worse than that and fell far below.”

The trial continues, reported in The Times

Compensation for causing death by dangerous driving?

If you or your family have been affected by this article and require legal advice please do not hesitate to contact our legal team who will advise you of your legal rights and help you through the legal paper-work required.

Further reading please click on the following links:

Causing death by dangerous driving

Causing death by careless driving

Fatal Accidents Act 1976