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7 November 2022 | Comment | Article by Sandeep Gill

Bereavement Damages: Out of touch with modern families

Sandeep Gill, Senior Associate in our serious injury department supports Apil’s John McQuater’s call for a re-think on who qualifies for a Bereavement Award under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (the Act).

As stipulated in section 1A of the Act only the following can advance a claim for bereavement damages:

  1. The spouse or civil partner of the deceased; and
  2. Where the deceased is under the age of 18 who was never married or a civil partner:
    (a) Either of the parents if the deceased was legitimate; and
    (b) The mother of the deceased if s/he was illegitimate.

John McQuater quite rightly suggests that the law on bereavement damages is out of step with modern society. It is hard to disagree with his assessment as “modern families” now come in various forms, from the typical nuclear family – which would have been the norm when the legislation was passed; to more common variations including single parent families, stepfamilies, extended families and same sex families. Whilst arguably a number of modern families members may still qualify, it is not always clear cut. Even the term “illegitimate” seems outdated. As John McQuater points out “by this definition, half of all babies born in 2021, for example, were illegitimate.”

The limited list contained in s1A of the Act means a number of people, who would consider themselves bereaved on a person’s death, are unable to claim the bereavement award.

The Act only provides for a current spouse or civil partner of the deceased, meaning that any former spouse or civil partner is excluded from claiming. A person living in the same household as the deceased as his or her partner, though not yet married is also excluded from the act. The length of time that the couple have lived together is not considered. Although there is an acceptance that living as a couple for at least two years will justify an award and is usually settled on human rights grounds.

However, there is no provision for the father of an “illegitimate” child, or the adoptive parents, or aunts/uncles/stepparents and grandparents that raise children as their own.

There is also no provision for the parent(s) of an 18+ year old child to seek a bereavement award. No parent should outlive their children, regardless of the age of the “child” the parent is without doubt bereaved, and should therefore qualify for an award

The modern family seen today has evolved and it is time for the law to evolve too, enabling a wider group of bereaved individuals to qualify for the bereavement award.

Hugh James specialises in supporting families after fatal incidents such as road traffic collisions and accident at work. We support charities such as Brake and RoadPeace and offer legal advice to bereaved families.

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If you would like more information, or would like to speak to someone from the serious injury team, please get in touch.

Author bio

Sandeep Gill


Sandeep is a Partner in our Serious Injury team, representing both adults and children who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, polytrauma and spinal injuries. In addition, Sandeep has extensive knowledge of handling fatal accident claims.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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