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News & Knowledge

UK: Fatal accident claims – Compensation award disparities

24th July 2017
Stephanie Watson, Thorntons

The rules and regulations that govern health and safety and personal injury law are largely identical across the UK. One area where the law in personal injury claims differs between Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland is in relation to fatal accident claims. Stephanie Watson, solicitor at MSI's Scottish law member Thorntons, explains further.

The loss of a loved one is a devastating blow to any family especially when that loss is as a result of an accident and is sudden and unexpected. Family members are often left to deal with the resulting financial problems at a very difficult time. In England and Wales, the law is set down by The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.

The Fatal Accidents Act in England and Wales allows dependants to claim statutory damages resulting from the death of a close relative. Damages are presently capped at a maximum of £12,980. Bereavement damages can only be claimed in England and Wales by:

  • A spouse/civil partner of the deceased
  • By both parents if their child was legitimate; or by the mother only if the child was illegitimate. Such parental claims can only be made where the deceased was unmarried and under 18 at the date of death.

Where both parents claim, the £12,980 is divided between the parents (i.e. each receives £6,490). Further, parents cannot claim bereavement damages for a child injured whilst under 18 but who dies after the age of 18 as a result of these injuries. Many dependents will be unable to claim bereavement damages for the loss of a loved one as a result of a fatal accident, for example a child cannot claim bereavement damages for the loss of a parent despite the likely financial implications of their death.

In Northern Ireland, the Fatal Accidents (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, s3A applies. From 1 April 2016 the bereavement damages award increased from £11,800 to £14,400 in line with inflation and will be adjusted every three years. England and Wales therefore has the lowest level of bereavement damages in the UK.

In contrast to the position in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is no statutory limit for bereavement awards to close family members in fatal claims in Scotland. The Damages (Scotland) Act came into force on 7 July 2011. In terms of that Act, damages can be claimed by a wider category of people than in England and Wales. Claims can be made by spouses/civil partners, parents/children, siblings, grandparents/grandchildren (and those treated by the deceased or treated the deceased as such members of their households).

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