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Written on 2nd April 2020 by

The government has confirmed that from 1st May 2020 the statutory bereavement compensation payment which may be claimed by the spouse, civil partner, or minor child of someone who has died as a result of negligence, will increase to £15,120.

The change to the law follows years of campaigning by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) for a higher bereavement payment for those closest to the person who died. APIL’s President, Gordon Dalyell, reacted to the news of the frankly minimal increase, saying that it is simply not good enough.

What is the statutory bereavement damages award?

When someone dies as a result of negligence, whether that is medical negligence or in an accident at work or on the road, their family may be entitled to claim compensation for their losses arising from the deceased’s death.

The amount that can be claimed depends largely on the deceased’s individual circumstances and estate, and the financial costs and losses that their dependants have suffered as a result of their death.

However, in addition to the financial losses, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 allows a ‘statutory bereavement award’ to be paid to the deceased’s bereaved spouse or civil partner, or to the parents of a deceased child under the age of 18. This figure is known as the ‘statutory’ bereavement award because the sum is fixed by law.

For over seven years, this sum has been fixed at £12,890, a figure that is simply too low. As claimant lawyers acting for bereaved widows/widowers, civil partners and parents, we are often faced with the difficult task of trying to explain how this apparently insulting figure can in any way compensate them for their loved one’s death. All we can say is that we understand that it doesn’t, but it is the figure that is set by law.

What does the new law on bereavement damages mean for claimants?

The government has announced that the new law will increase the statutory bereavement damages payment from £12,980 to £15,120. This change to the law comes into force on 1st May 2020. The increased figure will only apply to claims relating to deaths which occurred on or after 1st May 2020.

Whilst any increase which benefits bereaved families represents a step in the right direction, the nominal increase to £15,120, after seven years of waiting and campaigning, is no cause for celebration.

APIL’s President, Gordon Dalyell, reacted to the news in a statement saying:

An inflationary increase to statutory bereavement damages in England and Wales is not good enough. The Government has taken only the smallest of steps to improve the law in this area, and it simply is not enough. The government must stop treating bereavement damages as a ‘token’. These damages are supposed to acknowledge that a life has been lost needlessly. The inflationary increase is still only a derisory sum, nor does it recognise that the impact of the loss of a loved one cannot be one size fits all. It is long overdue for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to adopt the Scottish system of assessing each claim on a case-by-case basis.

Is that it? - what compensation can be claimed after someone has died?

The full value of each claim depends on the deceased’s own circumstances and the financial impact of their death on their dependent family. The calculation of each fatal compensation claim is determined by two statutes - the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Depending on the circumstances of the case, compensation may be payable for one or more of the following:

  • the pain, suffering and disability suffered by the deceased as a result of the defendant’s negligence in the time leading up to their death;
  • financial costs or losses experienced by the deceased’s family or friends as a result of the negligent injury to the deceased before the deceased’s death, such as lost earnings or providing care;
  • reasonable funeral expenses paid either by the dependents or by the deceased’s estate;
  • the statutory bereavement award - fixed at £12,890 for deaths up to 30th April 2020, then £15,120 from 1st May 2020, payable only to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner or the parents of a deceased child under the age of 18 at the time of death;
  • a claim for loss of dependency  – often the largest part of the claim - which compensates the  dependants for their loss of the deceased’s income or replaces the cost of ‘services’ the deceased provided, such as childcare, housework, gardening and DIY.  

How Boyes Turner helps bereaved families

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence team have decades of experience in helping bereaved, dependant families recover compensation after a parent, civil partner or spouse has died as a result of negligence. We recognise that there are limitations to what money can do for grieving families, but our clients often find that interim payments and compensation payments are a lifeline to much needed help and financial security at what is otherwise an extremely difficult time.

If you or your family have lost a loved one as a result of negligence and would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email on mednegclaims@boyesturner.com.