APIL attacks north/south divide in bereavement damages

Stockwell: system out of step with public opinion

Bereaved people in Scotland are treated more fairly than those in England and Wales when claiming damages for their loss – in terms of both the sums awarded and the range of people who can claim them – according to views expressed in new research.

In the survey of 2,000 people, commissioned by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), 80% said the Scottish system for bereavement damages is fairer, prompting calls for the law in the rest of the UK to be reviewed.

“For years we have been calling for the law to be changed in this area, and this new survey has shown just how far out of step with public opinion the system for awarding bereavement damages really is,” said Matthew Stockwell, president of APIL.

“Everyone knows, of course, that nothing can ever replace a loved one who has died. But it’s important to remember that we are talking here about bereavement caused by the negligence of another party. The fact that the death is needless can only increase the sense of pain and loss.

“At the moment in England and Wales, this is recognised by payment of a fixed sum of £12,980, paid by those who have caused the death. In Scotland, cases are taken on their merits, damages are generally higher, and the law is much more flexible about who can receive them.”

The vast majority of those surveyed though the fixed sum was not high enough, with 57% saying a figure of more than £100,000 would be appropriate.

Currently bereavement damages in England and Wales are available to the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, the parents of an unmarried legitimate minor, and the mother of an unmarried illegitimate minor.

Many respondents suggested this list should be extended to include the parents of a child who is killed, regardless of the child’s age; children (including adopted children) of the person killed, regardless of the child’s age; the co-habitee of the person killed; and the fiancé of the person killed.

Mr Stockwell said most of these people are entitled to claim damages in Scotland. “It is particularly distasteful to me that parents of a child under the age of 18 should be entitled to bereavement damages but, once the child is 18, they are not. It is unnatural for a parent to suffer the loss of a child, and that loss is no less if the child happens to be over the age of 18.