Bereavement damages in England and Wales

A person claiming compensation arising from the death of a loved one may also be able to claim for ‘bereavement damages’. ‘Bereavement damages’ is a fixed payment under The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 which seeks to compensate for the grief and trauma suffered when someone dies due to the negligent acts or omissions of someone else. The level of damages is currently fixed at £12,980 but the award is limited to husbands, wives, civil partners, the parents of a child aged under 18, or mother of an illegitimate child who was under 18 years of age and who was never married. Currently, the parents of a child over 18, children of a deceased parent, parents of a stillborn infant and other relatives are not entitled to an award.
 
An award cannot replace a loved one but bereavement damages seek to compensate family members who have emotionally and financially suffered from the loss. However, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) announced earlier this year that they are concerned that the current level of bereavement damages is too low and that the criteria for eligibility are too narrow.
 
Research commissioned by APIL has revealed that 80% of people think that the Scottish system for bereavement damages is fairer than in England and Wales. According to APIL president Matthew Stockwell ‘In Scotland, cases are taken on their merits, damages are generally higher, and the law is much more flexible about who can receive them’. The research has revealed that there is support for an increase in the level of the award and the widening of eligibility to include, for example, the parents of a child regardless of their age, co-habitees of victims and fiancé or fiancée of the person killed.
 
APIL has presented its research and findings to justice minister, Shailesh Vara MP, shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter MP, the members of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, Lord Faulks QC and the All Party Group for Legal and Constitutional Affairs. APIL has also urged the law Commission to examine bereavement damages as part of its twelfth programme of law reform.