Who would have known that it could be so cheap to kill someone?
Bereaved families know this too well. But few others do.
Introduced by the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, the government stated that statutory bereavement damages
constitute a token payment in acknowledgement of grief and are not intended to reflect the value of a life or to inflict a punishment for causing a death (MOJ, 2007).
In April 2013, bereavement damages were increased from £11,800 to £12,980.
This is 1% of the human costs (£1,225, 630) estimated involved in a road death.
Who qualifies and more importantly, who doesn’t?
Bereavement damages are basically restricted to:
• Husbands, wives and civil partners
• Parents of a child aged under 18, or
• someone who was financially dependent on the victim.
These restrictions have caused untold suffering. RoadPeace was founded by bereaved parents, most of whom had had grown children killed. So bereavement damages have been a problem and a priority from the start. It was a key issue in our Justice Campaign Manifesto, launched in 1998.
Devastated by the sudden and violent death of their grown child, parents are often unable to return to work for months, if ever. Yet apart from funeral expenses, parents receive no compensation for the wrongful death of their grown child. Damages for psychological stress are separate and a long exhausting process which many refuse to even consider.
RoadPeace responded to the MOJ’s 2007 consultation on the Law on Damages, arguing that the age restrictions should be removed.
The Law Society agreed with this, as did the Justice Committee who stated:
The death of a child at any age is a tragedy for the parents. The function of bereavement damages is to acknowledge the grief and loss that arises from a death caused by another's negligence. In our view, it is better to "overcompensate" the very small number of parents who do not feel profound bereavement on the death of their child rather than deny the overwhelming majority who have strong and enduring ties to their children this formal recognition of their loss. We recommend that parents should be eligible for bereavement damages regardless of the age of the deceased child.
Close ties of love and affection do not cease or weaken when a child reaches 18, as witnessed by the large numbers of people who live with, and care for, their elderly parents. This is not a legal argument. The parent-child relationship is unique and is usually characterised by lifelong support, love and guidance. We therefore recommend that Parliament should recognise the on-going importance of that relationship by extending eligibility for bereavement damages to all children who lose a parent in circumstances where another has negligently caused that death.
Unfortunately, the MOJ did not agree. And so families are still shocked and insulted at being denied even a token acknowledgement of a wrongful death. And RoadPeace continues to call for bereavement damages to be increased and extended, so that they are appropriate for the 21st century, which appreciates and recognises the importance of children over-18 years and other members of the family.