A limited class of people are entitled to claim bereavement damages under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 if it can be established that their partner or child was fatally injured through the fault of a third party. Unfortunately, the award, which is fixed by statute and currently £12,980, is paltry and could never compensate for the loss, but these claims are by no means any easier to bring.
Often the reason why family members bring these claims is because they want the person or organisation responsible for the death punished in some way when the criminal proceedings do not go far enough. Financial recompense can seem to be some recognition of wrong-doing and help them move forward.
So when insurers drag their heels over such claims it adds to the distress of the bereaved family and makes the whole claims process even more stressful.
My client, Mr N whose case I recently settled was no exception. His late wife was fatally injured in a road traffic accident. She had been crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing and had crossed the first lane successfully but just as she stepped into the second lane, she was struck by a motorbike. She had knocked to the ground and suffered fatal head injuries leading to her death later that day.
CCTV footage from a bus showed that lights for traffic were red as the bus was approaching the crossing and changed to flashing amber when Mrs N was struck by the motorbike. Despite this evidence, in his police interview, the bike rider was adamant that the lights were already green in his favour as he overtook the bus. He acknowledged that he noted the bus was slowing as if to stop but he did not know or think why that might be.
There was insufficient evidence to bring any criminal proceedings, though an inquest was held more than a year later. My client was understandably distraught.
I was instructed to bring a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act for bereavement damages as well as damages for loss of love and affection and loss of my client’s wife’s services among other claims. My client and his wife had been married for 42 years at the time of the fatality and he was devastated by her death. They were a traditional couple with his wife doing the majority of the housework.
When the insurers denied liability and alleged that the victim was to blame, it was difficult for my client to accept. He had never known his late wife to put herself in danger. They had lived in the area for more than 40 years and she would not have just stepped out if she thought it was unsafe to do so.
My client was, however, sensible and appreciated that there were some risks with his claim and that a judge might find his late wife was partly to blame. I was instructed to make an offer on the liability of a 75/25 split in his favour. This was rejected and it became necessary for me to issue court proceedings. Shortly after, we made a monetary offer in settlement of the claim which took into consideration the risk of contributory negligence and litigation risk. That was ignored and my client was made to go through the agony of making a detailed statement, reliving the events of that terrible day.
We had by the date of the settlement reached a stage when all we were awaiting was the trial that was listed for July when the insurers finally saw sense and made an offer, but without any admission of liability. This was apparently because the bike rider did not want to go through the ordeal of the trial or put my client through it. Their offer was more than the monetary offer we had previously made and whilst my client wanted the motorcyclist’s version of events corrected in court, he decided, on my advice, to accept the offer.
This was a case that could have easily settled much earlier and saved my client a lot of stress and anxiety but for the insurers’ lack of insight.