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Blog: Fairness for families of people injured or killed: why the law must change

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Fairness for families of people injured or killed: why the law must change
Lorraine Gwinnutt | 16 Oct 2015

It should not be cheaper to kill than to maim.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet the amount of statutory damages available following a death in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is lower than the amount you can claim for a severely injured thumb.

We’re not talking about accidental death here, but needless, avoidable, premature death due to someone else’s negligence. The civil law offers a statutory sum of £12,980 to a limited number of bereaved relatives in England and Wales (£11,800 in Northern Ireland). If you suffer a severe injury to a thumb you would be entitled to claim up to around £29,000 if you live in England and Wales.

In Scotland, the law is much fairer to families, basing the level of damages payable on a proper examination of the closeness of the deceased to bereaved relatives. Research commissioned by APIL found that 80 per cent of people asked believed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the Scottish system is fairer.

It goes without saying that no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one. But if damages are to be available, then at least let’s make them fair and just, rather than an insult to the memory of the deceased.

This issue has been on APIL’s campaign agenda for many years and so we are delighted that, earlier this week, Andrew McDonald MP introduced a Private Member’s Bill which will address this postcode lottery. We will be offering Mr McDonald our full-throated support.

The Negligence and Damages Bill also tackles another long-standing injustice relating to people who suffer serious psychiatric illness when someone they love is killed or seriously injured. Again, we are not talking about accidents, but about needless death and injury caused by negligence. Nor is this about the devastating sadness of losing a loved one or seeing someone you love injured, but circumstances where that sadness develops into a recognisable psychiatric illness.

The system for claiming damages for this kind of psychiatric injury emerged from the Hillsborough stadium disaster 26 years ago. It is rigid and limited and has been considered by many to be unfair for years. For example, the law only recognises a ‘close tie of love and affection’ between parents and children, spouses and fiancées. What about brothers and sisters? Grandparents and grandchildren? Cousins?

The law also expects the person suffering psychiatric illness to have suffered some kind of shock. But what about the parent who has watched a child die slowly as a result of medical negligence? It cannot be right that a person who suffers psychiatric damage over a long period of time is denied damages when a person who suffers an illness due to one event, however shocking, is able to obtain damages. Medical science has developed enormously in the last 26 years.

It’s high time the law caught up.

For more on these issues, see APIL’s short video here:

Lorraine Gwinnutt
Head of Public Affairs

Past blog entries

Accident and negligence: what’s the difference and why does it matter? , 02 Aug 2021
Patient safety problems risk waning public confidence in the NHS , 20 May 2021
Consumers will not benefit from Do-it-Yourself whiplash reforms, 28 Jan 2021
Effects of a change in the discount rate: what happens when a review is expected? , 16 Dec 2020
Three per cent drop in premiums does not reflect massive insurer savings, 09 Nov 2020
What help is out there for families when someone is injured?, 02 Nov 2020
Blindly heading into the unknown for injured people?, 09 Dec 2019
Lessons in looking after one another , 18 Nov 2019

About this blog

Lorraine Gwinnutt

Lorraine Gwinnutt is Head of Public Affairs at APIL.