Fatal Accidents Act 1976 – The Government Says “No”!

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Fatal Accidents Act 1976 – The Government Says “No”!

Published 29 July 2021

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (the Act) was last amended in 2020 when the classes of those entitled to claim bereavement damages was widened to include cohabitees, providing they had been living:

a)  with the deceased in the same household immediately before the date of death; and
b)  with the deceased in the same household for at least two years before the date of death; and
c)  living during the whole of that period as wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased.

In April 2021 the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers published a “research report” called “Bereavement Damages – A Dis-United Kingdom” in which it criticised the narrow range of family members who could claim the bereavement award. The report compares the law in England and Wales (and similar legislation in Northern Ireland) unfavourably to the law in Scotland.

The provisions of the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011 allow for a much wider range of family members to be able to claim damages for the “loss of society” of the deceased. Damages are not limited by statute, but are decided either by a judge sitting alone or a jury. Awards are made to each individual and have often exceeded £100,000 for the closest relatives. Compare this to the bereavement award available under the Act of £15,120 (£15,100 in Northern Ireland) which is divided among the relatives able to claim.

While APIL claimed 70% support among the public for a change to the Act to bring it into line with Scotland, this does not appear to have impressed the UK government. On 19th July Anna McMorrin, the Labour MP for Cardiff North, asked the Secretary of State:

“…what assessment he has made of the potential merits of bringing forward proposals to broaden the scope of claimants entitled to a bereavement award under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976?”

the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, Chris Philp MP, replied:

“The Government believes that the existing system involving a fixed level of award and clear eligibility criteria represents a reasonable, proportionate and practical approach, and the Government does not currently have any plans for wider consultation on the bereavement damages regime or the Fatal Accidents Act more generally.”

The UK government clearly hopes this will end the debate but, given the continuing drive to get the law changed, it is perhaps unlikely that the question will be allowed to rest there.

For more information or advice, please contact one of our experts in our complex injury team.

Authors

Sara May

Sara May

Birmingham

+44 (0)121 698 5249

Mark Ashley

Mark Ashley

Bristol, Leeds

+44 (0) 117 918 2191

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