Business Law: Michael Wangermann highlights a recent ruling favouring the families of fatal accident victims

Michael Wangermann of Ashton KCJ.

Michael Wangermann of Ashton KCJ. - Credit: Archant

The families of fatal accident victims will benefit from a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court has overturned House of Lords judgments from the 1970s and 1980s to make outcomes fairer for those claiming compensation for fatal accident victims.

The change relates to the date used for calculating how much is due to the victim’s estate to help provide for the future of those family members who were financially dependent on them when they died. In the past this calculation included a discount which was based on the date of death but now in future the discount will start on the date on which the hearing to determine compensation takes place.

he Supreme Court Judges said the law as it stood previously was “illogical” and that it “results in unfair outcomes” and would lead to “under-compensation in most cases.”

The case at the centre of the new ruling concerned a Mrs Knauer who died aged 46 after contracting mesothelioma, an incurable form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. She was exposed to this while working at a prison.

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Liability was admitted and her husband claimed losses including a future loss of dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. He is likely to receive about £58,000 more than he would have done under the old rules as a result of this ruling.

This removes uncertainty on the proper calculation and will be fairer to the families of those who die in these unfortunate circumstances. There are, however, still a number of areas where reform is overdue. The list of potential claimants who can claim the statutory bereavement award is limited and seems out of date with our modern society. The bereavement award itself of £12,980 is also widely criticised.

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In mesothelioma cases, death usually occurs within two years of diagnosis although like many asbestos related illnesses, the time between the exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms, let alone a diagnosis, can often be several decades. Most people who have been exposed to asbestos never suffer any illness, but those who do develop symptoms 20, 30 or 40 years afterwards, so we are now seeing the results of exposure in the past.

:: Michael Wangermann is a personal injury claim specialist at Ashton KCJ.

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