There is no simple or, indeed, correct answer. It is wholly artificial to value the life of a person in monetary terms. Alas, we cannot bring them back so the courts have to try to award a level of damages which seeks to, albeit it artificially, provide some financial redress.
Many of the different heads of damages in Fatal Accident Claims are mathematically calculable, for example: the future dependency of the family unit on the spouse/parent’s earnings. There is though one head of damage which seems to be valued in a wholly arbitrary way. That is, the Bereavement Award.
This resulted from the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Initially an award of £3,500 was made. It has increased over the years, through inflation, and now, since 1st April 2013, stands at £12,980.
So what is it for?
It is very hard to say. There appears to be neither any inherent sensitivity in the award or any clear mathematical logic.
The answer may lie in the identity of those who can claim it, namely;
1. The spouse of the deceased
2. The parents of an unmarried minor
But this is unsatisfactory for, as a result of such a limitation, the appalling situation can arise of a 19 year old single teenager being killed and no award being made; whereas if the accident had happened the day before his 18th birthday, or if he’d married the day before the accident an award would be made. It is a cold, emotionless world in which the loss of a child to a parent is time limited by the age of majority.
In Scotland sense prevails. There is a wider list of potential applicants and the damages are assessed more discreetly and at a far greater level to properly reflect the circumstances of the relationship of the claimant/deceased.
I fully agree with the call of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) for a review of this award and a move towards the more reasonable and appropriate approach north of the border in extending the category of recipients and the method of assessment.