I have previously written about a much needed review on the law on bereavement damages in England and Wales and whether it should be brought in line with the law as it is in Scotland. Sadly there has been little change and the inadequacies of the law are only highlighted again by the tragic case of Robert and Christianne Shepherd who died from carbon monoxide poisoning whilst on a Thomas Cook holiday with their family in Corfu during 2006.
The inquest has finished and the media have focussed on the manner in which Thomas Cook failed to show any compassion for the family of these two innocent young children. There has also been considerable press coverage over the multi million pound compensation payment made to Thomas Cook for lost profit and reputation. Morally, there is no doubt that is wrong. Why should Thomas Cook be compensated for such a failure, with the family receiving very little? Many have asked that question, but the fact is that under the current law in England and Wales the family of the two young children are entitled to very little. Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, the parents of a child under the age of 18 are entitled to only £12,980 in bereavement damages, with possibly damages for funeral costs. Any claim brought by the family would be through the Package Travel Regulations 1992, which in normal circumstances afford a better outcome than pursuing a claim directly in the country where the accident occurred. However, in this particular case, the family may well have been served better in pursuing a claim under Greek law, where the law on bereavement damages is more favourable.
The award is not intended to be indicative of the worth of the life, but as simply an acknowledgement that someone has died as a result of another’s negligence. It will never be possible to place a price on the loss of a loved one. For many who find themselves in such a tragic situation, a show of sympathy and compassion from the wrongdoer at the outset is worth so much. However that rarely happens and never more so than by Thomas Cook, who took over 9 years to apologise to the family and only after condemnation by the media.
The whole situation just serves to highlight what is an ongoing injustice in the British legal system. Compare a large corporation receiving a significant sum in compensation for loss of reputation and profits and a family receiving less than £13,000 per child lost. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) have campaigned tirelessly for a change in the law, pressing for a change akin to the judge-led approach within the Scottish system. However, despite the inadequacies in the law and the clear need for change, the Government does not have this at the top of political agenda. Following a consultation in 2007 nothing has happened and the reality is, it is highly unlikely anything near to justice will occur.