15 Dec 2021

Personal Injury

Compensation for accidents which are fatal: Explained

Between, tackling your own grief, preparing for the funeral and overseeing the distribution of the estate, compensation will likely be the last thing on your mind if you’ve lost a loved one. However, if they have died due to the negligent act of another, then you may be entitled to make a claim. These funds could provide some much needed financial peace of mind as you attempt to rebuild your life.

In our latest blog, Victoria Smithyman, Partner and head of the Personal Injury team here at Harding Evans, breaks down some of the key concepts and questions surrounding fatal accidents and compensation claims.

What is a Fatal Accidents claim?

Sadly, fatal accidents are more common than you might think. On our roads, for example, someone is killed or seriously injured every 22 minutes.

Although all deaths – regardless of circumstance or fault – are life-altering for the families involved, if the bereavement occurred as a result of negligence by an individual or organisation, then it may be that the surviving relatives and loved ones are able to pursue a claim for compensation.

The most common types of claim occur as a result of:

  • Medical negligence – including surgical negligence and birth complications.
  • An accident at work – such as being struck by a vehicle or falling from height.
  • A road traffic accident – which includes pedestrians.

Claiming compensation – who?

It was not so long ago that unmarried cohabiting partners were not entitled to make a claim following the occurrence of a fatal accident to their significant other. The two forms of legislation available only protected the husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased, meaning those without a marriage certificate or civil partnership registration were left out in the (financial) cold.

However, legislators were under mounting pressure to make amends in the face of changing demographic trends. The Common Human Rights Committee called for reforms to ensure that the language used adequately reflected the ‘changing times in which we live’. This included removing references to children born out of wedlock as ‘illegitimate’.

Changes were implemented in the midst of the pandemic and widened the parameters slightly, with siblings, step-parents and unmarried cohabitees now able to claim under the Fatal Accidents Act (Remedial) Order 2020.

 

Claiming compensation – how.

There are two separate types of claim that can be made, each with their own rules and restrictions.

Despite their differences, both acts aim to offer sufficient compensation so that ‘dependents’ (those who relied on the deceased in some manner), can carry on with their lives in the way in which they would have, if it were not for the untimely death of their loved one.

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.

This act could be seen as a way of claiming the compensation that your loved one would have applied for, if it was not for their untimely death.

Here, your Will plays an important role in guiding the claim. The estate (often under the instruction of the Executor(s) named in your Will), will look to make a claim, with any compensation received shared equally among named beneficiaries. Find out more about the importance of writing a Will from our blog.  However, do not be alarmed if there is no will as once an Administrator is appointed they can pursue a claim for the benefit of the estate.

Under this Act, you can claim for:

  • General Damages – this offers compensation if the deceased experienced pain or suffering for a period of time between the negligent act and their death. For example, if the individual was in an induced coma for 4 months after a Road Traffic Accident, then compensation may be awarded.
  • Loss of earnings – if the deceased was employed, then it is possible to make a claim for any income they lost between the negligent act and their subsequent death.
  • Gratuitous care and support – this offers a sum of compensation for the care given by loved ones to the deceased following their accident. However, it must be shown that the care was ‘above and beyond’ what was usually provided.
  • Expenses – if loved ones incurred financial expenses as a result of the accident, including travel costs or days absent from work to care for the individual prior to their death, then this can be added to the compensation claim.
  • Funeral costs – a range of expenses associated with the funeral, including the costs incurred at the wake, the grave-stone and even tributes such as memorial benches can be put forward as part of the compensation claim.

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

To an extent, this Act compliments the first, offering a route to financial compensation to those who were dependent on the deceased, either financially or from the services they provided.

As a result, the scope of those eligible to claim compensation under parts of this Act encompasses spouses, cohabitees of 2 years or more, children, grandparents, step-children and siblings.

Under the Fatal Accidents Act (FAA), there are a number of ‘damages’ available.

  1. Bereavement Damages.

A limited number of individuals are eligible for this sum, which is currently capped at £15,120. Spouses, civil partners, cohabitees (if they have lived together in excess of 2 years) and parents of unmarried minor children can all make a claim.

However, it’s worth noting that the money is a stand-alone sum, so must be divided between all those eligible. If, for example, a young child died – the mother and father would each receive £7,560 – although if unmarried, the mother is not required to split the compensation received.

 

  1. Loss of Consortium

This is also known as the compensation offered for the loss of a ‘special person’ within your life.

Damages are awarded to dependents whose lives will change dramatically as a result of death. Examples include young child losing a parent, or a wife facing life without her husband after a long marriage.

 

  1. Financial Dependency

 

This award offers compensation to those who were financially dependent on the deceased.

The income, bonus schemes and pension contributions of the individual are assessed, and predictions are made regarding their ‘financial future’ – including promotions, investments and property. Accountancy Experts will be asked to map out, in immense detail, what the deceased would have earned over their lifetime, if it was not for their premature death.

The finances of the surviving partner will be simultaneously assessed, as their level of income has a direct impact on the damages received.

Children add an additional layer of complexity to the mix, as their needs (namely, how long they would have remained financially reliant on deceased) will need to be assessed. Those heading off to study higher education or children with additional needs will likely prompt an increase in damages, as their period of dependency lasts for much longer.

 

  1. Services Dependency

This form of compensation assesses the invaluable activities undertaken for the smooth running of a family or household unit. It relies upon fixing a value to many forms of ‘free’ labour, such as cooking, cleaning and gardening which most people don’t even think about. A form of ‘hourly rate’ is attached to each activity that the deceased undertook for the benefit of their loved ones, which is then scaled up to represent a figure across their lifetime or for the time to which they would have provided that ‘service.’

For child dependents (i.e. the surviving child of the deceased), the sum is often much greater, with claims made for the vast array of ‘services’ undertaken by parents, including transport to-and-from activities, helping with homework and preparing dinner.

Claiming compensation due to negligence following a fatal accident can seem highly complex and daunting.  I’d always advise discussing your options with a legal specialist, who can advise on the likely success of your claim.

If a loved one has died due to negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our friendly Personal Injury team on 01633 244233 or email hello@hevans.com to find out more.

 

 

 

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