The death of a loved one is an upsetting and stressful time in any circumstance, but when the death was due to the fault or negligence of a third party the effects are even more devastating. If a family member has died in a car accident, an accident at work or due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to make a claim. Whilst no amount of money can ever truly compensate for the death of a loved one, it may go some way to easing financial worries.
Who can claim compensation following a loved one's death?
Claim by the Executor
The law in England and Wales regarding who is entitled to following a death is contained in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and Fatal Accidents Act 1976. These acts state that it is the deceased's estate which is entitled to claim and is usually brought by the Executor on behalf of all dependants, but if no claim is brought within 6 months from the date of death, then a claim can be brought by any dependent of the deceased. Any compensation received by the estate is distributed in accordance with the Will or, if no Will was left, under the intestacy rules.
What compensation can the Executor claim?
•General damages - this compensates for the pain suffering and loss of amenity suffered by the deceased before their death.
•Medical expenses - if the deceased incurred any medical fees for private medical treatment prior to their death the cost of these will be recoverable. Receipts or invoices will be needed to evidence the cost.
•Travel expenses - family and friends who have been visiting the deceased at hospital or at home, over and above the amount they would have visited in normal circumstances, then they are entitled to claim reimbursements of their travel costs. Remember to keep taxi receipts and parking tickets.
•Past losses up to date of death - this will include any loss of earnings if the deceased was unable to work.
•Care and assistance - if help was provided in looking after a friend or loved one whilst they were at home or in hospital, such as helping them wash, assisting with meals, then the cost of the care can be claimed for. Even if no payment was made and the care was gratuitous, a claim can still be made.
•Funeral expenses - the reasonable funeral costs can be recovered if receipts are kept.
•Probate fees - if probate or other legal fees were incurred these are usually recoverable.
Claim by a Family Member or Dependant
What compensation can Relatives and Dependants Claim?
The law states certain relatives to the deceased are entitled to claim a bereavement award. The bereavement award can be claimed by the:
•wife, husband or civil partner of deceased
•where deceased is a minor, his parents where legitimate or mother where illegitimate
•children under 18 years on the death of their parent
•cohabitants of 2 years duration
•unmarried fathers with parental responsibility
Unfortunately the bereavement award is not available to former spouse, children over 18 years of age or step-children. However, there is an argument this may be in breach of rights under Human Rights legislation and you should speak to your lawyer regarding an entitlement to bereavement awarded in other circumstances.
The amount of the bereavement award is fixed by law. Many feel the level of the bereavement award is very low, but unfortunately the amount is fixed and is not a head of claim that is open to negotiation.
How much is the Bereavement Award for a Fatal Accident?
For deaths after 1 January 2008 the bereavement award is £11,800.
Financial and other support provided by the Deceased
For the purposes of a compensation claim, only people who fall within the legal definition of a dependent are entitled to claim compensation. A dependent is defined as the:
•spouse, civil partner, former spouse/ civil partner of the deceased
•cohabitants living as with the deceased as man and wife for at least 2 years prior to death
•parents of the deceased
•any person who the deceased treated as a parent
•any child or descendant of the deceased
•any person who although not the deceased's own child, by reason of marriage or civil partnership was treated by the deceased as a child of the family
•the brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the deceased.
If it can be established that someone is a dependent of the deceased they are entitled to claim compensation for:
Loss of earnings or Pension
Where the deceased was earning an income or private or state pension, from which the dependent benefited, claim can be made by the dependent for the financial loss. This would cover situations where the deceased was responsible for paying the mortgage or other utility bills. Wage slips and information from the department of work and pension will be needed to support the claim. The loss can be calculated up until the dependency would no longer exist. In the case of a spouse this would normally be until the deceased would have retired in the case of loss of earnings. In the case of a child this will normally be until they are 18 years or otherwise financially independent of the deceased.
Dependency of gifts, holidays, luxuries
Courts require clear evidence of proof of gifts and luxuries prior to death. Future levels of dependency will then be assessed by the past evidence.
Loss of services provided by the deceased
Where deceased provided services such as childcare, cooking, cleaning can claim for lost services.
Claiming compensation when a loved one has died due to an accident or negligence is an upsetting and stressful procedure. It is important that you choose specialist lawyers assist you with the legal process and make sure maximum compensation is recovered to ease the financial burden.