Losing a loved one in a tragic accident would be absolutely devastating and unimaginable for most of us.
When a death is the result of an accident, which could have been avoided, the unnecessary pain and suffering is unbearable.
There is government support and compensation available for such cases, but what many people do not realise is that a postcode lottery determines how much compensation loved ones will receive.
If you live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland the government has set a fixed amount which is paid as statutory compensation, this is currently £15,120 for England and Wales and £15,100 in Northern Ireland. Amounts increased slightly in 2020 but at the time, the government rejected a call for a wider review of bereavement damages. Many believe this figure is still too low.
If you live in Scotland cases are evaluated on an individual basis with amounts varying depending on the circumstances on the case, a much fairer system according to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), which is a not-for-profit group representing the needs of injured people.
APIL believes that bereavement damages are too low and the categories for those receiving compensation are too restrictive. It continually lobbies parliament and believes that damages should be awarded on a case-by-case basis.
For those who have faced such loss, compensation does not bring a loved one back, but it can help financially in the months or years following a bereavement.
Last week some of our solicitors attended an APIL webinar – Bereavement Damages – A Dis-United Kingdom.
Speaking at the webinar, APIL’s president, Sam Elsby said: “The level of compassion or the amount of support should never depend on whether the bereaved family lives in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. But it does. It is a sad reality that the way bereaved families are treated after the wrongful death of a loved one is a postcode lottery. When it comes to support for bereaved people, we live in a dis-United Kingdom.”
APIL is lobbying parliament to change the law because of the irregularities between postcodes and the vast difference between the amounts of compensation paid in England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to those in Scotland.
Elsby added: “In Scotland, claims for compensation for bereavement are considered on a case-by-case basis, with personal circumstances and relationships taken into consideration. This is how it should be, but it is not how bereaved people are treated in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Instead, bereaved people in those jurisdictions are dealt with in a way which is rigid, discriminatory, and woefully out of date.
“The time for the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be brought into the 21st century is long overdue. The law in Scotland has no difficulty recognising the closeness between parents, children of all ages, grandparents, siblings, and other people who lived with the deceased as part of the family. In the rest of the UK, it’s as if many such relationships are not important, or do not even exist.”
Under current laws in England and Wales, only your spouse or civil partner are entitled to bereavement damages and your partner must have lived with you for at least two years before your death to receive damages.
The two-year rule was only introduced in October 2020. Currently, if a couple have been co-habituating for 18 months and one is tragically killed, the surviving partner is not entitled to claim damages.
Laws in England and Wales for damages relating to children are also behind those in Scotland. The parents of unmarried children under the age of 18 can claim compensation if their child is unlawfully killed. However, children over the age of 18 are not covered under this legislation. If a parent loses a child who is over the age of 18 and they are unmarried, the parents cannot claim damages.
Again, the laws in Scotland are more favourable and support the grieving family.
CASE STUDY (SOURCE: APIL)
“Peter McGee, who died in hospital after falling down the stairs in his Glasgow home. During the subsequent court case it was found that his fall happened because the handrail on the stairs had been fitted “in a wholly inadequate manner”.
“After Mr McGee’s death, a judge in Edinburgh acknowledged the part he played in the lives of his family. Compensation was provided to Mr McGee’s widow, his two daughters, his son, and his four grandchildren. The judge set the amounts at levels which he thought best reflected the closeness of their respective relationships with Mr McGee.
“In particular, the judge recognised that, following the breakup of her parents’ marriage, Mr McGee was the “principal male adult” in his granddaughter’s life. She was awarded £20,000. The judge also recognised that Mr McGee looked after his grandson when his daughter was at work, providing him with encouragement, taking him to and from school, to church, and on excursions. His grandson was awarded £25,000.
“If Mr McGee had died in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, his children and grandchildren would not have received any compensation for their grief and trauma. It would be as if the relationship with their father and grandfather had never existed as far as the law is concerned.”
The government has no plans to review bereavement damages anytime soon. We stand by APIL, which continues to lobby parliament, and would like to see a fairer system like that used in Scotland, adopted in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
NV Legal has a specialist team of solicitors experienced in dealing with fatal accident claims and bereavement damages. If you or someone you know has been affected by these issues, contact us for legal advice.
Consultations are FREE of charge and advice is provided by qualified solicitors, regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
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