June 4, 2021

It’s time for the bereavement damages postcode lottery to end – we’re hoping APIL’s latest campaign will help

Last month, The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) published their report ‘Bereavement Damages: A Dis-United Kingdom’. The report highlights the inconsistent approach to bereavement damages across UK jurisdictions and public attitude towards bereavement damages, which supports continuing calls for reform.

The postcode lottery of bereavement damages

Unfortunately, as we have covered before, people who experience a bereavement in England & Wales have to live with much more stringent laws as to who receives compensation and how much they receive too.

APIL’s report highlights public attitude towards bereavement damages, particularly the definitions of who can receive it, as evidenced by a polling survey conducted by YouGov, which was commissioned in June 2019.

The results of this survey include that:

  • 69% of British adults think £15,120 is too little compensation;
  • 85% of British adults think a father should still receive compensation even if he was not married to the mother of his child; and
  • 56% of British adults think each relative’s claim for compensation should be individually assessed.

This provides support to the notion that public attitude towards bereavement damages are at odds with current legislation.

The need for reform

No life can be ‘valued’ in monetary terms, but where a death has been caused through negligence , financial compensation can at least represent an acknowledgement of a relative’s loss and can reduce the financial impact.

A client of mine wasn’t entitled to a bereavement award under current laws in Englandwhen his daughter died as a result of hospital negligence

It is incredibly difficult to explain to a bereaved father that he isn’t entitled to a statutory bereavement award simply because he wasn’t married to his partner when his daughter was born, and despite raising the child and living with her from the child’s birth.

Each of my colleagues who specialises in fatal claims has similar experiences in applying the legal framework. Lucy Crawford has also found herself having to explain why someone has no recourse for compensation due to these outdated laws:

“The legal process should provide a framework to support people in these difficult times. Unfortunately as it currently stands, I find it is more of a hindrance.

I recently represented a family investigating the death of their new born baby boy. I think the Statutory Bereavement award is far too low in any event, but to then also have to explain to the Dad he is not even entitled to this because he was not married to the little boy’s mother is very difficult and doesn’t reflect society in 2021.”

Becky Randel has also experienced the same:

“It is so difficult to explain to a client that the compensation for their child or spouse’s life is just £15,120. It is even harder explaining to a parent that because their child was over 18 they are not entitled to any statutory compensation, as if they had stopped being a parent or loving their child as much once they reached the age of 18.

In one of my cases, due to hospital’s negligence, our client’s son had died aged 30. He was not married and, because he was over 18, his parents were not able to claim a bereavement award. This meant that their total compensation for losing their son due to a hospital’s negligence was less than £20,000.

Whilst a family’s main aim of bringing a claim when someone has died is rarely purely about financial compensation, the awarding of bereavement damages is an important acknowledgment that a loved one’s death was avoidable and that some accountability has been taken by the organisation responsible”.

Sadly our team’s experiences, and those of our clients, are replicated across the legal profession due to the outdated legal framework which currently applies to cases such as these.

Additionally, in July 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that the Government conducts a wider consultation on the law on bereavement damages after it concluded that the law ‘risks further legal challenge’.

The Joint Committee stated that ‘the current list of eligible claimants is unprincipled, discriminates against other family members in analogous positions to existing claimants and stigmatises children’. However, the Government has continued to resist any further review of the law.

As you can see, reform is necessary to provide fairness for families across the UK, bring current legislation up-to-date with modern society and modern family structures, and ensure that legislation is reflective of public attitude.

RWK Goodman is supporting APIL in their campaign calling for the Government to consider further review of the law on bereavement damages. For further information on the campaign, please visit APIL’s website or Twitter feed for regular updates.

For more information on what compensation might be awarded after a loved one dies, please see our bereavement section on our website and if you have been affected by bereavement, as you may find our bereavement resources and guide helpful.


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