Proposed Amends to the Fatal Accidents Act

22 May 2019

Following a Court of Appeal ruling in 2017 that found the Fatal Accidents Act to be out of step with the Human Rights Act, the government has now revealed proposed changes to Section 1 of the Fatal Accidents Act. The amended law will entitle unmarried partners to claim bereavement damages following the death of their cohabiting partner as a result of the wrongful actions or omissions of someone else.

The Fatal Accidents Act Explained

The Fatal Accident Act is the area of the law that makes provision for those that have been fatally injured in an accident. This includes the right of the deceased's spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner to make a Fatal Accident Claim if the death was caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another person.

However, with respect to bereavement damages, currently cohabiting partners are not entitled to the same recognition for the loss of their loved one. The Fatal Accident Act stipulates who is entitled to claim bereavement damages following a death that has been caused by someone else's actions or omissions. Bereavement damages are fixed-sum payments of £12,980 made to the spouse or civil partner of the person who has died.

Until now, if a couple were not married or in a civil partnership, the surviving partner would not be eligible to claim bereavement damages. In 2017, however, a high profile case reached the Court of Appeal, which ruled that enforcing this law would be a breach of the Human Rights Act.

Supreme Court Ruling on Bereavement Damages

In 2011, John Bulloch died as a result of medical negligence, when he contracted an infection following a medical procedure. He left behind his partner, Jacqueline Smith, who he had been living with in a committed relationship for over 10 years. Ms Smith was refused bereavement damages simply because the couple were not married.

Ms Smith opened a legal case, arguing that this legislation was discriminatory on the basis of her marital status, and as such was in breach of her human rights. She initially lost her case but then took it to the Court of Appeal who ruled in her favour.

Since the landmark ruling, news of how the government will amend the law has been eagerly awaited. The government has now shared draft proposals of the changes. The key elements of the amendments are as follows:

  1. A partner who has been cohabiting with the deceased for at least two years leading up to the date of the death will be eligible to claim bereavement damages

    This brings the eligibility for bereavement damages in line with who is eligible to make a Fatal Accident Claim for compensation under the Act, as this already includes cohabiting partners.

  2. If the deceased was married to someone else but was separated and living with a new partner, if both the spouse and the partner are eligible to claim bereavement damages then they will divide this equally.

Bereavement Damages and Fatal Accident Compensation

If a death has been caused by the actions or negligence of another person, then it may be possible for the deceased's loved ones to bring a Fatal Accident Claim for compensation. Bereavement damages are separate to compensation claims, and a person's eligibility to claim bereavement damages will have no bearing on their eligibility to make a Fatal Accident Claim (and vice-versa).

If you believe that you may be entitled to make a Fatal Accident Claim following the death of a loved one, then speak to a Serious Injury Solicitor who specialises in Fatal Accident Claims and Inquests. At Co-op Legal Services, our Serious Injury and Medical Negligence Solicitors can assess your claim for free and talk you through the next steps you need to take. We can then support and guide you through the claims process from start to finish.

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