In the second part of a two-part blog on Bereavement Damages, Sandeep Gill, Senior Associate in our Neurolaw department comments on the disparity between the various Countries that make up the United Kingdom in terms of the bereavement damages awarded.
What price is placed on the value of life varies from one part of the United Kingdom to the other. It has been recognised for many years that you can receive a larger amount of compensation for a severe injury in England and Wales compared to a death. In addition, there is also a disparity on the amount of bereavement damages awarded depending on where you live in the United Kingdom. For instance, the bereavement damages are lower in England & Wales as opposed to Scotland or Northern Ireland.
In my earlier blog I commented on the limited list of family members who qualified for a bereavement award. It can be a difficult conversation explaining to a loved one that they do not qualify for this compensation. However, it can be even more challenging to inform the qualifying family member that the bereavement award is fixed at a set sum, and that the sum is currently less than £20,000.
In England and Wales, the bereavement award is set at £15,120. Whereas, in Northern Ireland the bereavement award is £17,200.*
To put this into context, the Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases recommends a bracket of £12,170 to £18,740 for the Total and Partial Loss of an Index Finger.
The low level of the bereavement award can often lead to uncomfortable conversations, and on occasion anger amongst relatives, as they feel they may have not been adequately compensated for the loss of a loved one. Whilst there are other heads of loss that can be claimed in addition, such as dependency on earnings and/or services, the low level of the bereavement award can often be hard to accept.
In Scotland, however, there is no maximum limit set for the bereavement award, as each case is considered on its own merits. This often leads to more meaningful awards to loved ones who are bereaved. Recent examples include a claim by a bereaved parent of their 28-year-old child. In England and Wales, the bereaved parent would receive nothing, as the child is over 18. However, in Scotland the parent received £100,000. Not only does the parent rightly qualify for a bereavement award, but the level of compensation also paid in this case, was over 5 times the award a qualifying parent would receive in England and Wales.
This disparity needs to end, with each case considered on its own merits.
* The Department of Justice has made an inflationary increase to the amount of statutory bereavement damages prescribed under Article 3A(3) of the Fatal Accidents (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, please find the link to the Damages for Bereavement (Variation of Sum) Order (Northern Ireland) 2022, which came into operation on 1 November.
Hugh James supports APIL’s call for an overhaul of the law on bereavement damages. The Act is in need of urgent reform, not only in terms of who qualifies but also in terms of the level of damages paid.
Hugh James specialises in supporting families after fatal incidents such as road traffic collisions and accidents at work. We support charities such as Brake and RoadPeace and offer legal advice to bereaved families.