Changes to bereavement damages awards

In response to the widespread claims that the case of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust rendered the Fatal Accidents Act incompatible with the European Court of Human Rights, the Remedial Order to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, published on 16 March 2020, has increased the award for bereavement in fatal accident from £12,980 to £15,120. The order came into effect on the 1st of May 2020, applying only the cases occurring after this date.

Not only this, but the Remedial Act has also tried to reflect modern day relationships and living arrangements, not least the increasing tendency for couples to cohabit without entering into marriage, particularly as the exclusion of unmarried cohabiting partners was found to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. As such, the amended Remedial Act has extended the definition of Cohabiting partner, Identified as:

  • Was living in the same household immediately before the date of death of the deceased.

  • Had been living in that household for at least 2 years before the date of death.

  • Had been living during that period as “the wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased”.

Thus allowing cohabiting partners to claim under the Fatal Accidents Act. Despite this amendment, limits have still remained in place as to the scope of how many cohabitating partners are eligible to make a claim. Unmarried partners must show evidence of having cohabitated for at least two years prior. Those not eligible include children who’ve lost a parent, parents who have lost a child over 18, and the loss of a sibling. Grandparents and grandchildren are not entitled.

Whilst this is a welcome change to see awards going up in response to such tragic events, it is also a reminder to clinicians of the fact that if avoidable mistakes are made, not only does it have a terribly distressing impact on the family of the deceased and upon the clinician themselves, but it also highlights the financial impacts- despite predictions suggesting that the 16% rise will not see a drastic increase in damages awards. In a post Covid World, where the insurance market is facing huge levels of claims which have to be paid out, changes to awards such as this will all have an influence on their pricing for insurance policies as they calculate all the risks and increased potential damages pay outs they will need to factor into premium prices. If you have any concerns about your insurance policy during this time, or questions around the pricing of policies, please do not hesitate to contact Lockton.