Andy McDonald MP, the Labour member for Middlesbrough, introduced the Negligence and Damages Bill to the House of Commons in October 2015.
The Negligence and Damages Bill is a Private Members’ Bill which aims to allow more families who are bereaved to seek justice as it extends the list of relationships which have the ‘close tie of love and affection’ required to claim bereavement damages or compensation for psychological harm.
Andy McDonald has served on the House of Commons Justice Select Committee since December 2012. Before being elected to Parliament, he was the Serious Injury Solicitor for Thompson’s Solicitors in Middlesbrough.
Private Members’ Bills are public Bills which are introduced by MPs and members of the House of Lords who are not Government ministers. Only a minority of Private Members’ Bills become law, in part because they are not allotted as much Parliamentary time as Government Bills. However a small number of these Bills do become law. They can also affect legislation indirectly by creating publicity around an issue and applying pressure on the Government to amend existing law.
At present, if a person dies as a result of another party’s negligence, the capacity for the deceased’s family to claim compensation for psychological harm is limited, as law in England and Wales has a narrow definition of what is a close enough family relationship to warrant compensation. Currently, siblings and long-term partners cannot claim compensation for psychological harm which relates to a bereavement. The Negligence and Damages Bill seeks to broaden the list of relationships which have the ‘close tie of love and affection’.
The Bill will bring law in England and Wales into line with law in Scotland. Scottish law already allows courts to decide the quantity of bereavement damages to award based on an individual's needs.
The Bill makes provision about liability for negligence in relation to psychiatric illness; to amend the law relating to damages in respect of personal injuries and death; and for connected purposes.
Close tie – duty of care: The Bill imposes a duty of care for the purposes of the tort of negligence. It requires that a person (the defendant) owes a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing another person (the claimant) to suffer a recognisable psychiatric illness as a result of the death, injury or imperilment of a third person (the immediate victim) if it is reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s act or omission might cause the claimant to suffer such an illness.
Close tie - duty of care if defendant is victim: A person (the defendant) owes a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing another person (the claimant) to suffer a recognisable psychiatric illness as a result of the death, injury or imperilment of the defendant if it is reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s act or omission might cause the claimant to suffer such an illness.
Meaning of close tie: The claimant could claim damages of the basis of being:
- The immediate victim’s spouse.
- Any child of the immediate victim.
- Any brother or sister of the immediate victim.
- The civil partner of the immediate victim.
- The fiancée of the immediate victim.
- A person living with the immediate victim as if married.
- A person who accepted the immediate victim as their child.
- A person brought up in the same household as the immediate victim and accepted as a child of the family.
- A grandparent or grandchild of the immediate victim, a person who accepted the immediate victim as a grandchild or as a grandparent.
- An aunt or uncle of the immediate victim.
- A child or other issue of a brother or sister of the immediate victim, or uncle or aunt of the immediate victim.
- A former spouse or civil partner of the immediate victim having become so by the virtue of the divorce or (as the case may be) dissolution of the partnership.
- Colleagues of the immediate victim.
- Friends of the immediate victim.
Damages for personal injury
Damages to injured person whose expectation of life is diminished: This section applies to an action for damages in respect of personal injuries suffered by a claimant whose date of death is expected to be earlier than had the injuries not been suffered. If the claimant was at any time, is, or is likely to become, aware of the reduced expectation of life, the court is to have regard to the extent to which the claimant, in consequence of that awareness, has suffered, or is likely to suffer, in assessing the amount of damages by way of pain, suffering and loss of amenity.
State of play
The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 13 October 2015. The Bill’s Second Reading was initially scheduled to take place on 22 January 2016, however this stage was delayed and is now scheduled for 11 March 2016. Depending on how much Parliamentary time is allocated to the Bill, and its support, there is a possibility that it could pass through the Commons and the Lords by the end of 2016.