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Tristan Hallam: Has the law been left behind again? This time the fatal accidents act

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

For those of you who have followed my blogs, certainly those blogs that I wrote some time ago, I have taken time in trying to explain why certain laws have in my opinion, come about and how they have grown out of a response to changing social attitude, in particular within the workplace.I have also indicated that the law responds to those pressures but does so over time.I wish to comment however on a point which I find utterly bizarre.We have a situation in this country where if someone dies who is married at the time, say for example a husband or wife tragically dies leaving a spouse and children, the surviving spouse quite understandably and quite rightly is entitled to bring a claim for dependency, namely the monetary value of those lost years whereby their spouse would have provided financially for the family in earnings and pension.The dependency claim is brought under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 which one would have thought, given that the law came into effect in the mid to late 70s, would have been ‘bang up-to-date’ so far as the social attitude at that time was concerned.The Fatal Accidents Act also allows a claim to be brought where a partner is killed, however for a dependency claim to be brought by a surviving partner in a relationship rather than a spouse, the surviving partner has to establish that they were living in the same household ( effectively as man and wife) for at least 2 years prior to the death of their partner. If therefore one can only establish a period of 18 months living in the same household, and even if one was to establish a period of 18 months and the couple concerned had young children together, the Act will not allow a claim to be brought for dependency.  This strikes me as being nothing less than stupid.  It does not allow for and has not allowed for since the 70’s, the position that unmarried couples living together has become socially acceptable. How many couple have moved in together, had a child who is say a few months old at the time of one parent’s death, where the clear intention was for those child’s parents to build a home together and where the surviving parents cannot claim for the losses sustained on the death of their partner!  A law therefore that does not make allowances for the personal circumstances of the Claimant and sticks without waiver to a draconian measure but does nothing less than penalise the innocent party and in addition, fails to taking into account democratic and widespread social change, is in my view a bad law and needs to be looked at very carefully.There have been challenges to this position.  As far as I am aware none of the  challenges have been successful and perhaps it is time that this matter was taken to the European Court to take a view.  In my view the current provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act breach the Human Rights Act. Perhaps we really have failed to move on.  Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker.If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.