Compensation for the death of a patient in a clinical negligence claim can among other elements, include bereavement damages. Bereavement damages are currently fixed at the low sum of £15,120 under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and what’s more, it is only available to a narrow category of individuals.

To date, only the following individuals can make a claim for bereavement damages:

- the wife, husband or civil partner of the deceased; or

- where the deceased was under 18 who was never married or a civil partner, the parents of the deceased (or the mother only if the child was illegitimate).

This has led to growing concerns particularly over recent years. Whilst no amount of money could ever compensate for the loss of a loved one, bereavement damages are intended to provide an acknowledgement of the pain and suffering caused. Limiting these damages to select and somewhat outdated categories ignores among others the pain of cohabiting couples, the parents of 18 year olds and even children of the deceased. With the increased variety of family types within the UK, the law needs to adapt to accommodate wider categories of individuals

Changes to the Law

In a first step towards addressing this, an amendment to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 has been made. From tomorrow, 6 October 2020, a claim for bereavement damages by a cohabiting partner of the deceased will be allowed, on the condition that the couple had cohabited for at least two years before the date of death. The change in the law will come into effect England and Wales tomorrow on 6 October 2020 (and apply to causes of action which accrue on or after 6 October 2020).

Whilst this amendment to the law on fatal claims is a step in the right direction, we sincerely hope that there will be further changes in the coming months and years.

If you have any questions in respect of the subjects discussed in this article, or if you or a member of your family have suffered an injury or if you have lost a loved one as a result of potentially substandard treatment then then our specialist medical negligence solicitors may be able to help. Please contact our specialist team on 01865 781100 email clinicalnegligence@freeths.co.uk for free confidential initial advice.

The Freeths national clinical negligence team is headed by:-

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/London/Bristol/Milton Keynes) 0186 578 1019 or carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk 

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham/Manchester/Liverpool) 0845 274 6830 or karen.reynolds@freeths.co.uk 

Jane Williams, Partner (Nottingham/Leicester/Sheffield/Leeds) 0845 272 5724 or jane.williams@freeths.co.uk