Plea for fairness for the bereaved
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Losing a loved one in an accident is the most traumatic form of bereavement, loved ones have no time to prepare, and typically have lots of unanswered questions, giving an increased sense of loss, disbelief and injustice.
At the moment bereavement in England and Wales caused by the negligence of breach of duty of another, is recognised by the law by a fixed payment of damages set at a low figure of £12,980. Only a spouse or civil partner, or the parents of a minor, qualify for the payment.
Scotland has a much more flexible approach. They have no fixed limit for bereavement damages payable to close family members in fatal accident claims. Each case is looked at on its merits, and the law is much more flexible as to which family members can receive awards.
New research commissioned by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) shows that 80 per cent believe the Scottish system for bereavement damages is fairer, prompting APIL to call for a review of the law, a call which I support.
The English system does not reflect modern family life. A cohabitee does not qualify for the award, irrespective of the length of relationship they have had with the deceased. In these times, when many chose not to marry, this seems unfair and difficult to justify. A couple who may have been together for decades but chosen not to marry are treated differently from a bereaved newly wed.
A parent of a young adult cannot receive an award, the arbitrary cut of at 18 seems unduly harsh. If a parent lost 2 children in a road accident, one 17 and one 19 they would receive an award for the loss of the 17 year old but not the 19 year old – that would be difficult to explain to a bereaved family.
57 per cent of those surveyed by APIL felt the fixed figure of £12,980 was insufficient, many felt a figure of more than £100,000 would be appropriate.
I have acted for many families following a loss of a loved one. The issue of bereavement damages is always difficult to explain and often upsetting for families to accept. I find that families feel the level of award insulting, and feel it offers little by way of recognition. Many wish to use the award for something positive in their loved one’s memory. I would welcome a review of the law and call for fairness for the bereaved.
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