Government Establishes New £15,120 Bereavement Damages Award

Last Friday, ‘damages for bereavement’, compensable under s.1A of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, increased in value by around 16.5%, to £15,120. This brings the law in England and Wales in line with the position in Northern Ireland (£15,100 since May 2019).

When s.1A(3) was first drafted, the statutory award stood at £11,800. However, 7-years ago, the Lord Chancellor sought to amend the stated figure, as permitted by s.1A(5).

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The upshot of this was the Government’s enactment of The Damages for Bereavement (Variation of Sum) (England and Wales) Order 2013, in which Article 2 stipulated that the compensation figure would rise to £12,980.

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Naturally, this latest variation of the fixed sum award was implemented through an almost identically named statutory instrument: The Damages for Bereavement (Variation of Sum) (England and Wales) Order 2020 (laid before Parliament on 19 March 2020).

As is always the case when the 1976 Act is revised, the new £15,120 award only applies to fatal accident claims with a cause of action (i.e. date of death) accruing on or after the date that the Order entered into force (in this instance, 1 May 2020). Ongoing cases will therefore continue to be limited by the £12,980 award.

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Persons eligible to bring a claim for ‘bereavement’ damages are listed in s.1A(2) of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

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For clarification, ineligible claimants include:

  • Ex-spouses;
  • Ex-civil partners;
  • Fathers of illegitimate children;
  • Children who have lost their parents; and
  • The estate, if an eligible dependant dies before trial or settlement (s.1A of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.

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What about ‘cohabiting partners’?

In edition 274 of BC Disease News (here), we outlined the details of a draft Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2019, which proposed to extend the accessibility of ‘damages for bereavement’ to a ‘cohabiting partner’ and remedy the perceived incompatibly of the Act with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – click here to read our analysis of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust& Ors (Rev 2) [2017] EWCA Civ 1916.

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Legal commentators are fundamentally unaware as to when the final version of the Order will be presented.[i] Some have optimistically speculated that the list of s.1A(2) claimants could be extended by June/July 2020,[ii] while others realistically consider that it would ‘not be unreasonable to expect the changes to be made before the end of 2020’.[iii]

 

[i] Gordon Exall, ‘INCREASE IN FATAL ACCIDENT BEREAVEMENT AWARD FROM TODAY: A FEW THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT THE BEREAVEMENT AWARD’ (1 May 2020 Civil Litigation Brief) <https://www.civillitigationbrief.com/2020/05/01/increase-in-fatal-accident-bereavement-award-from-today-a-few-things-to-note-about-the-bereavement-award/> accessed 1 May 2020.

[ii] Andrew Parker, David Williams and Peter Allchorne, ‘Changes to Bereavement Damages Awards from 1 May 2020’ (25 March 2020 DAC Beachcroft) <https://www.dacbeachcroft.com/en/gb/articles/2020/march/changes-to-bereavement-damages-awards-from-1-may-2020/> accessed 2 May 2020.

[iii] Toby Scott, ‘Fatal Accidents Act: Sum awarded for bereavement damages to increase’ (20 March 2020 Clyde & Co) <https://www.clydeco.com/blog/insurance-hub/article/fatal-accidents-act-sum-awarded-for-bereavement-increase-cohabiting-partner> accessed 2 May 2020.