Following a change in the law, who can claim compensation for bereavement?
Compensation for bereavement is available to certain relatives when their loved one is killed as a result of the negligence of a third party, such as through personal injury or clinical negligence. This type of compensation is designed, as far as it can be expected, to compensate family members for the pain and suffering they have suffered as a result of the negligently caused death of their loved one.
However, the eligibility requirements have been heavily criticised for being far too restrictive and unfair. Until now, only a spouse or civil partner of a deceased person, or the parents of a deceased child (under the age of 18) were entitled to claim a bereavement award. This has long been a contentious point and something that lobbying groups, such as the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, have campaigned about for many years. What about family members who have suffered the loss of a child over the age of 18, cohabitees or single fathers?
Recently, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2020 (SI 2020/1023) was passed by Parliament and comes into force on 6 October 2020. As a result, a cohabitee is now eligible to claim compensation following the death of their partner, providing they lived in the same household for a period of at least 2 years immediately before the death.
This is certainly a welcome extension to the existing rules which were found to be incompatible with human rights law in 2017. Unfortunately, the amendment does not go far enough and still prevents several classes of family members from claiming bereavement compensation. The law still appears far from fair as it continues to maintain very narrow categories of people entitled to claim, and it seems unjust that eligible family members have to share the award between themselves.
Another controversial element of the bereavement compensation scheme is that the award is fixed and set by the Government. In the past 10 years, the award has ranged between £11,200 and £12,980, and differs from the scheme in Scotland in which cases are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
However, the fixed award has recently been increased for the first time in 7 years. Where a death occurs as a result of negligence on or after 1 May 2020, a bereavement award of £15,120 now applies, providing the eligibility requirements and met and fault on the third party can be proven.
Whilst both reforms are positive changes to this area of law which has remained stagnant for many years, the class of relatives who can make a claim for bereavement compensation is still very limited. Families come in many different shapes and sizes and it seems unfair to restrict compensation to such a small class of family members. Similarly, putting a price on life is a difficult task, but the current figure remains shockingly low to many following the loss of a loved one.
Our Personal Injury teams have extensive knowledge and experience of dealing with fatal claims. If you think you have lost a family member due to the negligence of a third party or a health organisation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our lawyers on 0114 218 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.