As a solicitor who, over the last 25 years of practice, has worked with families bereaved by the tragedy of fatal road traffic and other accidents, I have seen my fair share of exasperated faces on the loved ones of those who have died as I have tried to explain to them just what “the system” will allow them to recover following the death of a beloved partner or child.
In recent years, the anachronism that is the Fatal Accident Act 1976, which first introduced the concept of the “bereavement award”, has been reviled, reviewed and roundly criticised by the courts and practitioners alike.
From 1st May 2020, the “Statutory Bereavement Award” was increased from £12,980.00 to £15,120.00. Of course, it hasn’t been backdated and the increased figure only applies to deaths on after 1 May 2020.
Remember this is this is the only (and fixed) amount paid to compensate someone for the emotional effect (shock, loss, pain, grief) of being bereaved of a husband, wife or child due to someone else’s negligence.
The bereavement award, in and of itself, remains a subject of much debate – both moral and legal. Why is it still just £15,120.00? How should we value it? What is the right figure?
It remains an award that can only be paid to married couples or civil partners who have lost their spouse or the parents of a child who has died under the age of 18.
How many times have I had that conversation with the bereaved father of a 19 year old student with no dependants, explaining that, in his case, the claim is limited to the value of the clothes the “child” was wearing and the cost of the funeral?
How can it be that only one single award is payable – to be split between two devasted parents of a child who dies under the age of 18?
How, in 2020, can it be right that the award is still not payable to the father of a child who is deemed “illegitimate” and the mother receives the full, miserly, figure?
How can children, (under the age of 18 or otherwise) not receive an award to reflect the trauma of losing a parent in a road crash?
Why, if one crosses the boarder to our neighbours in Scotland, is the equivalent award far greater in amount and available to many other categories of beavered relatives (including grandparents and siblings)?
Thankfully, there have been glimpses of light that the Act is now, reluctantly, being dragged into the twenty first century.
In a case in 2017, the court of appeal found that failing to allow a bereavement award to a co-habitee (who had been living with the deceased for two years or more prior to the death) was incompatible the Human Rights Act.
Parliament has therefore been told by the courts to change the law to cover cohabitees – but, three years down the line, it hasn’t done it yet.
The law remains harsh and perhaps grossly unfair. A wholesale review of the Fatal Accidents Act is long overdue.