This question is often asked by family members who have lost a loved one. Usually common sense plays a part as to who can claim compensation following a fatal accident. The person is usually the next of kin, who is the wife or husband (or surviving partner in a same sex marriage) of the deceased. That obviously makes sense.
But who can make a claim will also be dependent upon whether the deceased left a will and that the person who is legally entitled to claim was also dependent upon the deceased at the time of death.
This can lead to unjust consequences not only as to who is entitled but also if the family member who wishes to make a claim for fatal accident compensation is also dependent upon the deceased in any way, that could be financial as well as non-financial such as being cared for by the deceased before death.
Non-married partners can also claim however. This is sanctioned in the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, providing that the couple were living together as ‘husband and wife’ for a period of at least 2 years prior to the death of the other partner.
The harshness of this rule is brought into focus by the recent decision of Swift v Secretary of State. In this case, an unmarried couple where the wife had gave birth to the deceased’s child just weeks after his death were unable to bring a fatal accident compensation claim due to the fact that they had only been living together for just 6 months prior to the tragic accident.
The Deceased was unlawfully killed at work due to an accident to which his employers admitted fault. However the fatal accident claim valued in the region of over £400,000 could not be made due to the fact that they did not live together for 2 years prior to death despite the fact that the his partner was pregnant and having his child.
Fatal accident solicitors challenged the unfair law under the Human Rights Act but despite the Judge expressing sympathy for the surviving partner, with the inevitable unjust law that had to be applied to this particular tragic circumstance, there was nothing with the Judge’s power to change the law and grant any fatal accident compensation at work.
The fatal accident claim was therefore dismissed.
The law is totally unjust in this area and outdated like many of the laws following the untimely death of a loved one due to the fault of another. It is time the law is updated and changes to avoid the tragic consequences that follow.