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APIL calls for end to disparity in bereavement damages within UK

I've written previously about the importance of changes to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 to ensure fairer treatment of people who suffer bereavement following a wrongful death, such as death as a result of medical negligence, industrial disease (such as mesothelioma) or an accident.

Since the remedial Order came into force in October 2020, cohabitees may now claim the same Statutory Bereavement Award in a personal injury claim as a spouse, but only if they have been together for more than two years.

Now, APIL – the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers – has issued a report entitled Bereavement damages: A dis-United Kingdom which highlights the geographical disparity of such awards in what it describes as a 'postcode lottery'.

APIL argues that this geographical lottery leaves England and Wales out of step with Scottish law and also public sentiment about who should receive compensation.

It says unmarried fathers, step-parents, parents of adults, brothers and sisters and unmarried couples who have lived together for less than two years as those unable to make claims, something it describes as 'woefully discriminatory and out of date'. The law in Scotland does not make this distinction, rather awarding compensation dependent on the facts of each case.

APIL is calling for ministers to further reform the Fatal Accidents Act to 'drag the rest of the UK into the 21st century', and criticises ministers for their short-sightedness.

The report states that the amount of support offered to the bereaved depends on whether they live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and cites opinions from survey it commissioned in 2019-20 that shows 85 per cent of British adults believed unmarried fathers should be compensated if their child died in the same way a married father would be.

The law around bereavement damages has changed slowly in recent years and amendments to the eligibility of cohabiting couples were only enforced after the Court of Appeal ruled that their exclusion breached the European Convention on Human Rights – but only included those who had been together for more than two years.

Statutory bereavement damages were increased in England and Wales from 1 May 2020 to £15,120.

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