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New rules on damages for co-habiting in fatal cases

New rules on damages for co-habiting in fatal cases

Historically, co-habiting partners were unable to claim bereavement awards as part of any claim arising from death of their partner from an accident or medical negligence.

The bereavement award is provided for under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

The current award is set at £12,980 but is under review.

Up until the end of May 2019 the award could only be claimed by the spouse or civil partner of the deceased and the parents of a deceased child up to the age of 18.

There have been many unsuccessful attempts to extend the class of person who can claim the award. But until 2017 this had not happened and it had not become law.

That is until the case of Smith v Secretary of State for Justice.

Jakki Smith had been living with her partner, John Bulloch, for 16 years prior to his death as a result of clinical negligence.  As they were not married Jakki had no statutory entitlement to the award for bereavement.  She pursued a claim against the government for those damages arguing that to deny her the award was a breach of her Human Rights.

She was successful.

Despite that success the law was not amended until now.

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2019 has now come into being.


…it does not apply to all co-habiting couples.

Section 3 of the remedial order limits the extension of eligibility to those who have been living with the deceased in the same household for at least two years before the date of death.

This is in direct contrast to the law in Scotland which allows a claim for bereavement damages by a cohabitee without the need for a minimum cohabitation period.

Melanie Lidstone-Land, Senior Associate in the Medical Negligence team at Swain & Co says:

“I welcome the amendment but am so disappointed that it does not include all co-habiting couples.  This still means that a lot of bereaved partners will remain excluded and it seems unfair that this is recognised in Scotland, but not England.”

Pressure groups such as The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) continue to campaign for further amendments to the Act.

Melanie is one of our expert lawyers who help bereaved families get answers. Where deaths arise from accidents and medical mistakes, you need someone to get those answers while you grieve.

Our lawyers care about you, and are here to listen. But, we are not afraid to fight to get your questions answered.

For a no obligation chat, call us on 02392 483322


Fill out our enquiry form and we will contact you back, at your convenience.

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