New legislation recently introduced to the House of Commons could see a much needed improvement to how the law in England and Wales treats bereaved families and victims of psychiatric harm.
The Negligence and Damages Bill is a Private Member’s Bill by Labour MP for Middlesbrough, Andy McDonald. It aims to allow more bereaved families to seek justice by extending the list of relationships which have the ‘close tie of love and affection’ required to claim bereavement damages or compensation for psychological harm.
It will also see the law in England and Wales – currently very inflexible and impassionate – brought into line with the law in Scotland.
The Current Law in England and Wales
Losing a loved one is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through in their life.
When their death is as a result of someone else’s negligence, the sense of loss can be terrible.
Currently, in England and Wales, the law doesn’t do enough for bereaved families, people whose loved ones have been fatally injured in an accident through no fault of their own.
For example, a couple could have been living together for years – and perhaps even have children – but have decided that marriage is not for them. One of them sets off to work one day in their car and is tragically killed in a fatal road collision, caused by the negligent act of another driver. Under the law as it stands in England and Wales, the surviving cohabitee would not be able to claim bereavement damages, despite how long the couple have been living together – all because they were never married.
It’s a law totally out of sync with today’s definition of a modern family. Families who have lost loved ones excluded, not treated with any fairness or understanding and prevented from moving on with their lives all because the law hasn’t kept pace with modern life.
The law also currently discriminates against family members who have suffered serious psychological harm. For example, there could be a serious road collision that makes television news. The names of those fatally injured are read out and a close family member – say a sister who lives in a different part of the country but still very close to her family – finds out her brother has been killed. If the sister suffers from post-traumatic stress after hearing this awful news in this manner, she is currently prevented from claiming any damages for psychological harm, all because the current law in England and Wales doesn’t deem a brother and sister to be a close enough relationship.
Bereavement Damages in Scotland
No amount of money can ever replace a loved one but, as far as the treatment of bereaved families goes, the law in Scotland fairs much better.
Each personal injury claim is judged on its own merit and Scottish courts can choose how much bereavement damages to award, based on the individual requirements of each case.
A 2013 APIL survey revealed that 80% of people think the Scottish system is much fairer. The same survey revealed that three quarters of people think the law in England and Wales should allow bereavement damages to be awarded on a case by case basis, as it is in Scotland.
A very interesting APIL video revealed a shocking statistic that really hammers home the need for a change in the law – a bereaved family member can receive more compensation for a seriously injured thumb than they can for the loss of a loved one! As you can imagine, much more people surveyed by APIL believe this is completely wrong!
It really is time that this archaic law is changed and brought into line with the law north of the border. I welcome Andy McDonald’s Negligence and Damages Bill, and will be watching with great interest as it passes its way through Parliament.