Bereavement damages not fit for the 21st Century

Northern Ireland and Scotland are separate legal jurisdictions in the United Kingdom. It has recently been announced that statutory compensation for bereaved close family in Northern Ireland will increase to £15,100. This followed a successful campaign by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers in 2016, which resulted in an initial increase in bereavement damages from £11,800 to £14,200. The increase has been possible because of the devolved power to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice. As a result the statutory amount in Northern Ireland has since overtaken England and Wales, where the amount remains £12,980.

In Scotland the law is based upon the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011 in which an award is made for loss of society (distress and anxiety, grief and sorrow, and loss of guidance). Awards to family members depend on the closeness of the relationship with the deceased, the life expectancy of the deceased and the circumstances of each case is considered on an individual basis rather than a prescribed figure for statutory bereavement damages. Awards can run into six figures which is a long distance from the award in England. As well as an award for bereavement damages certain categories of financial dependants of the deceased can claim damages for loss of financial dependency, which would include compensation to replace part of the earnings of the bread winner.

I have conducted many fatal accident cases over the course of the last 30 years and I quite frankly find it embarrassing to have to advise the bereaved spouse or parent, as I did only in the last week, that the award of damages for bereavement is fixed at £12,980. This award is equivalent to the sort of award that would be made for a moderate hand or arm injury. This compares to the most serious award of damages for pain and suffering in a personal injury case for those who sustained very severe brain damage or tetraplegia for which the maximum award is £354,260.

In conclusion, more consistency is needed within the United Kingdom and also damages for loss of a life should be more comparable with awards made in personal injury cases.