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Fatal Accident Claims Guide

Overview

The death of a partner or family member is always difficult and coping with the loss when it could have been avoided can make it even harder to bear. It may be that the person has died in an accident that was the fault of someone else, for example another road user, a product manufacturer or employer; or it may be that a serious condition was not diagnosed or treated promptly enough to save the patient’s life. In such circumstances, there may be a claim that can be made against the person or organisation at fault.

Types of Fatal Injury Compensation

We know that no sum of money is compensation for death of a family member but replacement of financial loss with damages is sadly the only remedy that the law provides. There are two elements to a damages claim arising out a death. The first is a claim that the deceased could have made themselves, had they survived, for example, if they endured a long illness or significant disability from the time of the accident or negligence until they died. They would be entitled to damages for pain and suffering, loss of earnings, services, care or medical treatment provided up to the date of death. Claims for these losses can be pursued or continue to be pursued on behalf of the person’s Estate after they have passed away. A claim can be made for reasonable funeral expenses on behalf of the Estate.

The second type of claim is one made by the dependants of the deceased under the Fatal Accidents Act.

Dependency Claims

The definition of who can be a dependant is strictly set out in the law but can include the husband/wife or former husband/wife of the deceased, a civil partner or former civil partner, someone living in the same household for two years as a spouse or civil partner at the time of death, a parent or child (including grown up children) or anyone treated as a child of the deceased, or any children of a brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the deceased.

For someone who comes within the definition of a dependant, a claim may be able to be made for the earnings or pension the deceased would have received over his or her lifetime, subject to complex deductions to account for the cost of his or her own maintenance. A claim can also be made for the cost of replacing the deceased’s contribution to for example, housework, gardening and childcare. Sometimes, a claim can be made for gifts that were anticipated or for inheritance tax that would not have been payable had the deceased lived several years longer. Funeral expenses can also be claimed by the dependants if paid by them.

Statutory Bereavement Award: Who can claim?

A Fatal Accidents Act bereavement award for clinical negligence or other fatality claims is payable to the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, or in defined circumstances to the parents of a deceased child. The amount of such bereavement damages is currently set at £12,980.

Time Limits for bringing a claim

There are time limits to bringing such claims. A claim on behalf of a deceased’s Estate or dependants must be issued at court within three years of the date of death or the date of knowledge of the Personal Representatives. There are some exceptions, for example claims made by children, so it is always advisable to take legal advice as soon as possible if you believe there may be a claim. If the deceased was in the process of dealing with their personal injury or clinical negligence claim when they passed away, the 3 year deadline begins again from the date of their death to allow the family to continue with their claim.

Estate Claims and Probate

It is important to bear in mind that if a claim is being brought on behalf of the Estate, it will be necessary to obtain Grant of Probate (if the deceased left a Will) or a Grant of Letters of Administration (if the deceased died intestate). The process sounds daunting but we have a team of specialist lawyers who can assist with that process. View our main website Private Wealth & Tax page for further information.

Psychological Injury caused by the Death of a Family Member

We are acutely aware that being involved in litigation can extend the grieving process and delay healing in those who are bereaved. We therefore do all that we can to support clients through these difficult times and try as far as possible to settle claims as quickly as possible without the need for court proceedings.

In some circumstances, a loved one can make a separate claim in their own right, as a “secondary victim” if they suffer psychological injury as a result of the death of another. There are set criteria upon which you should take legal advice if you consider this may apply to you.