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What Compensation is Available for Fatal Accident Claims?

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What is Available for Fatal Accident Compensation Claims?

Losing someone you love in a fatal accident can be devastating emotionally but also economically if you were financially dependent on the deceased. During this difficult time, compensation may be available to help families deal with their changing circumstances.

Pursuing compensation in fatal accident claims can be complex and time-consuming during what undoubtedly is a very distressing time for the family.  We understand this and use our experience and dedication to process your claim as quickly and compassionately as possible.

Number of fatal accidents in the UK

In Great Britain in 2022, there were:

an estimated 1,711 fatalities in reported road collisions, including  

  • 788 car occupant fatalities 
  • 385 pedestrian fatalities  
  • 91 pedal cyclist fatalities  
  • 350 motorcycle fatalities  

(source: Department for Transport) 

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), in 2022/23 there were 135 workers killed in work-related injuries.  

Fatal accident claims occur whenever a family member sues for compensation on behalf of the deceased and for support they themselves lose upon the death of their loved one. The Compensation Experts’ panel of fatal accident claims lawyers can help you in successfully pursuing compensation on behalf of those killed at work, in road accidents, in a criminal attack such as murder or manslaughter, or as a result of medical negligence in hospital.

When can fatal accident claims for compensation be made?

Fatal accident claims differ from other types of personal injury compensation claims because there is no one route to compensation, but two. Put simply, a claim for fatal accident compensation can be brought either:

  • By the “estate” of the deceased for the losses suffered by the deceased during his lifetime
  • By the dependants of the deceased under the Fatal Accident Act 1976.

Often these groups of people are the same, that is, the spouse, children and/or parents of the deceased. The two pathways are not mutually exclusive and in most cases, a deceased’s next of kin will pursue both avenues of compensation at the same time.

Fatal accident claims on behalf of the estate of the deceased

The “estate” are the deceased’s beneficiaries – the people who become entitled to the deceased assets on his or her death. The identity of the beneficiaries will be set out in the deceased’s will or if there is no will, identified in accordance with the rules of intestacy.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the deceased’s estate comprises close family relatives such as a husband, wife, children and parents.

Fatal accident claims made by the estate essentially are claims for damages that, had the deceased survived from his injuries, he would have been able to recover in his own right. They are determined in the same way as other types of personal injury claims, which means the estate must prove:

  • The accident was caused by the negligence of another person, for example by an employer at work or a driver in a fatal road traffic accident
  • The deceased person was injured as a direct result of the accident and died in consequence of such injury
  • At the time the person died, he or she had the right to recover damages from the at-fault party.

As with all types of personal injury claim, if the deceased was fully at fault for the accident that caused their death, there is usually no compensation available to the remaining family members.

How much compensation is awarded in “estate” fatal accident claims?

If the claim is proven, then the estate can claim the following compensation:

  • Damages for the pain and suffering of the deceased during his lifetime
  • Financial expenses suffered before death such as medical treatment costs, travel expenses and lost wages
  • Funeral or cremation expenses

Where death is instantaneous following a fatal accident, there will be no award for pain and suffering.

Most fatal accident claims are settled out of court and damages are agreed by negotiation, so there is no exact science for calculating the compensation amount. If the estate wins the right to damages, then the financial settlement will be divided among the beneficiaries according to the deceased’s will or the rules of intestacy.

Dependency claims under The Fatal Accident Act 1976

The Fatal Accident Act 1976 provides an avenue for the “dependents” of the deceased to make a claim for compensation in their own right. It is a claim for damages not for the deceased himself but for the losses of the family after death.

A dependant can be any of the following people who were financially or emotionally dependent on the deceased:

  • The husband or wife of the deceased
  • An ex-husband or ex-wife of the deceased
  • A civil partner or former civil partner of the deceased
  • A person who was living with the deceased as if they were husband or wife for at least two years prior to the death
  • A child or grandchild of the deceased (including stepchildren and step-grandchildren)
  • A person who, while not a biological child of deceased, was treated as a child of the deceased’s marriage
  • A parent or grandparent of the deceased
  • A person treated by the deceased as a parent
  • A sibling (including half-siblings) aunt, uncle, nephew, niece or cousin of the deceased.

How much compensation is awarded in “dependency” fatal accident claims?

The aim of dependency compensation is to leave the deceased’s family with a sum of money which, if managed properly, will be enough give them roughly the same standard of living they would have enjoyed had their loved one not suffered a fatal accident. In simple terms, the court will try to ensure that the dependants will not be worse off following their family member’s death.

To find the appropriate compensation amount, the courts typically will apply a three-stage test:

Step one: Quantify the income of the deceased (wages, investments, pension, company car, healthcare benefits and so on), and deduct a reasonable amount that the deceased would usually have spent on himself, for example, 30%. The resulting figure is the amount that would have been available for joint family use. This figure is known as the “multiplicand.”

Step two: Multiply the multiplicand by the estimated number of years the claimant would have been financially dependent on the deceased. The “multiplier” reflects many factors such as the deceased’s profession, their age at death, and their expected retirement age.

Step three: Make reasonable adjustments to the multiplicand or the multiplier depending on the family’s specific circumstances. For example, if the parent of young children dies, the courts may award an amount for the non-financial support that the parent gave and the family were dependent on such as childcare, housekeeping or DIY.

The dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act is usually the largest part of the compensation in a fatal accident claim but it can be very complicated. It is important to always instruct a specialist fatal accident claims solicitor who can help you get the maximum possible assessment for your claim.

What is a statutory bereavement award?

A bereavement award is a statutory payment made following the death of a loved one involved in an accident that was someone else’s fault. The award is a token amount made to the husband, wife or partner of the deceased or the parents of a deceased child under the age of 18. The current statutory bereavement award is £12,980.

The payment is not made automatically but rather must be claimed for.  Many people enlist the help of a lawyer to process the claim rather than trying to do it themselves at such a difficult time.

What happens at an inquest?

When someone dies and it is not from natural causes, the death is reported to the coroner who will arrange for an inquest. A coroner is a lawyer or doctor (and often both) appointed by the local authority to investigate deaths in the area.

The coroner’s inquest is not a criminal trial and it does not award personal injury compensation for fatal accident claims. The coroner does not seek to apportion blame. Rather, the inquest is a fact-finding hearing to investigate the circumstances that led to the death.

When the coroner has considered the evidence, he or she will return a verdict such as death by natural causes or accidental death. The verdict will depend on many factors including the postmortem examination, the police report, the evidence of witnesses and a meeting with the deceased’s next of kin.

Family members are entitled to attend the inquest and ask questions of the witnesses. Most bereaved families find it helpful to have legal representation during this inquest, as the process can be upsetting. Our solicitors are very experienced in attending inquests and would be pleased to represent you.

The inquest, and the coroner’s narrative and verdict, can often help with proving compensation. The inquest offers an opportunity to hear the police evidence very early in the compensation claim and to assess and question the witnesses.

The defendant will often be represented as well, and they too will be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your compensation claim.

Fatal accident claims compensation following a criminal act

If the death was the result of violent crime in England, Wales or Scotland, then a claim may be made to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). CICA was established by the government for the sole purpose of compensating the innocent victims of violent crime.

Claims can be made even if the identity of the assailant is not known. The perpetrator does not need to have been caught, charged, prosecuted or convicted in order for CICA to pay compensation.

You can submit a claim to CICA and make a fatal accident claim against the assailant directly; however, in the unlikely event that you receive any compensation from the guilty party, you will have to pay the award back to CICA. The maximum amount that you can claim from CICA is £500,000.

Claims must be made within two years of the criminal incident. This is less than the usual time limit for personal injury claims, so it is important that you speak with a solicitor as soon as possible after the accident.

Can I claim compensation if I witnessed my loved one’s fatal accident?

If you were unfortunate enough to be involved in the fatal accident or witnessed its immediate aftermath, then you may be able to seek compensation for your own physical and psychological trauma. This claim would be separate from the fatal accident dependency claim.

If you would like to learn more about making a claim for the psychological trauma associated with a fatal accident, one of our advisers would be happy to help you.

When must fatal accident claims be made?

There is a three-year time limit for making a claim. The time starts running from the date of the injury which in many cases will also be the point of death.

If the deceased person survives the accident but dies within three years, then the time limit begins on the date of death, not the date of injury.

For certain industrial diseases claims, the three-year period starts on the date the deceased first became aware of his illness and made the connection his illness and the conditions of his employment. In some cases, this will be the point of death.

The issue of time limits can be very complicated in fatal injury claims and there are exceptions to the three-year rule for certain categories of claimants. It is important that you speak with a solicitor as soon as possible to explore your options and to decide whether a claim may be made.

Next steps

The Compensation Experts have many years of experience acting for people who have lost loved ones on the road, in the workplace, in sporting accidents, or on holiday.

We understand that you may have questions and offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your options. To arrange your free consultation, call us or arrange a call back at a time that suits you.