When a person loses a loved one to a negligent act, the law attempts to compensate for the effect that the death will have on them. One way of achieving this, as outlined in the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, is through bereavement damages. Bereavement damages reflect the non-financial loss that a dependent will face as a result of losing their loved one.
Despite this attempt to recognise the grief a family member would be facing, there remain two key limitations to claiming bereavement damages. Firstly, dependents can only claim up to £15,120. Secondly, the scope of who can claim these damages is narrow. In order to claim, you must be; a spouse, civil partner, an unmarried couple who has been together for at least two years or a parent if the child is under 18. The list neglects key dependents such as the deceased’s children and siblings. Clearly, the current law does not recognise modern family dynamics.
This outdated law has remained largely unchanged for the past 40 years. As a result, debate has sparked concerning the unfair effect that the restrictions of the act have on the deceased’s dependents.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) demand a change to the current law on bereavement damages. They argue how the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 does not reflect families in the modern world and does not provide enough justice to those who deserve it. John McQuater, president of APIL, stresses how ‘deeply flawed the government’s attitude is to the fabric of modern families’ and demands reform.
In 2021, APIL launched a report named ‘Bereavement Damages: A Dis-United Kingdom’ highlighting the injustice the current law creates and, particularly, the disconnect between the laws in Scotland and the rest of the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, later that year, the Justice Minister stated that the government did not have any plans to review the current bereavement damages system. Two years later and the government have still not recognised the need for reform in this area.
The injustice that the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 creates is constantly affecting innocent people. Sabiha Ozseker recently shared her story of losing her father as a result of clinical negligence. Sabiha was very close with her father, Dogan, resulting in her experiencing a high level of grief. However, being a child of the deceased, she did not qualify to claim bereavement damages. Sabiha’s solicitor, Michael Roberts from Leigh Day, wrote a blog demanding change.
Lester Aldridge stands with APIL, Sabiha Ozseker and all those affected by the current system. We demand there to be a reform to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 in order to achieve justice for the families grieving from losing a loved one to a negligent act.
This article was jointly drafted by a placement student and Helen Clement in the Personal Injury & Medical Negligence team.