The Court of Appeal has today handed down a judgment which could extend the classes of persons entitled to a bereavement award under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
In Smith (suing in her own right and as the surviving partner of Mr John Bullock, deceased) -v- Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & Ors the High Court initially ruled that Jakki Smith, who had been in a relationship with her deceased partner for 16 years, was not entitled to a bereavement award as she did not fall into one of the limited categories entitled to such an award under the Act.
Section 1A of the Act limits recovery of the award, currently set at £12,980, to:
• The wife or husband (or civil partner) of the deceased
• The parents of an unmarried legitimate child
• The mother of an unmarried illegitimate child
Only one award can be made per claim so it is shared if there is more than one person in the qualifying categories.
Notably, the Act prohibits claims by:
• Long term unmarried partners
• The father of an illegitimate child
• Parents of a child over the age of 18
• Children of the deceased
As long ago as 2009 the Law Commission made recommendations for extending the categories of those entitled to such an award and recommended further increases and individual entitlements up to a maximum of three claimants but this has never been enacted.
Ms Smith sought to overturn the High Court’s ruling, arguing that the Act is not compatible with her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and that the award should be available to anyone who had been in a relationship for at least two years.
The Court of Appeal agreed and has overturned the High Court judgment, opening up the possibility for bereavement awards to become available to a far greater number of people.
It remains to be seen whether the law will now be amended to include a wider spectrum of potential claimants and even multiple awards but, if it is, this will have a real impact on the value of damages in fatal claims. Langleys will continue to monitor the situation.