the pain of bereavement damages
You may be surprised to learn of the relatively low level of bereavement damages paid in fatal accident cases. The Fatal Accidents Act, 1976 provides for bereavement damages to be paid in certain circumstances where the death of a loved one has resulted from the act of another. A claim can also be brought for funeral expenses if paid by the dependants. The figure fixed by parliament as the ‘appropriate’ figure to compensate for the loss of a loved one is £12,980. If the deceased had financial dependants, i.e. children or a dependant spouse, then an additional claim can be made to represent this loss. For deaths before 1st April 2013 bereavement damages is set at £11,800 and for deaths before 1st January 2008 the amount is £10,000
A large compensation payment would never make up for the loss of a loved one, but many bereaved people find their grief and heartache compounded by the knowledge that their loved one’s life is valued at such a relatively small sum.
For a bereavement payment to be made the fatality does not need to have arisen instantly. Death may occur months or years later, but it must be shown on the balance of probability that death resulted from the original event. The injury leading to the death need not be accidental either, it may result from an assault or from murder.
Those entitled to make a claim under the Act are limited too. The Act states:
(1) An action under this Act may consist of or include a claim for damages for bereavement.
(2) A claim for damages for bereavement shall only be for the benefit—
(a) of the wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased; and
(b) where the deceased was a minor, who was never married or a civil partner —
(i) of his parents, if he was legitimate; and
(ii) of his mother, if he was illegitimate.
The entitlement to claim is not extended to wider family members. A child for example cannot claim bereavement damages in respect of the death of a parent. A parent cannot claim bereavement damages where their child is over the age of 18 at the date of death. Where the child is under 18 when injured but does not die until after their 18th birthday, no bereavement damages can be claimed.
Obviously the issue is a delicate one, and lawyers learn to handle it with care and sensitivity.
Partner and Head of Accident Management