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"Outdated and Unfair"

View profile for Melanie Reynolds
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"Outdated and Unfair"

Call for Reform of Bereavement Laws

The leader of our specialist Medical Negligence Team, Melanie Reynolds, has welcomed the news of positive steps being made to draw attention to the need to revisit laws that support bereaved families.

At the start of the year, I was pleased to read a report from the Chief Executive of The Association for Personal Injury Lawyers, Mike Benner, about a parliamentary reception that was held by APIL to promote ‘Fairness4Families’ – a campaign that is very close to both my professional work and personal beliefs.

Promoting the findings of a report published in April 2021, Fairness4Families highlights the fact that the law regarding bereavement damages have not been reviewed or updated significantly for over forty years.

Entitled ‘Bereavement Damages: a Dis-United Kingdom’, the report also revealed that the many cases of bereaved people from close families being excluded from any kind of financial compensation were from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  So why not Scotland?

North of the border, claims for compensation following a bereavement take into account the relationships and personal circumstances of each individual case, allowing laws to develop in accordance with the evolution of the modern family, and recognise the variety of, and closeness between different family members.

In the rest of the UK, the law only recognises the entitlement of a spouse/civil partner, parents of children under the age of 18, or a cohabitee of at least two years to make any kind of claim after the loss of a family member.

Even then, any successful claim is fixed at just over £15,000 which cannot be enough to acknowledge an unnecessary death or hold a wrongdoer to account. The Ministry of Justice has told APIL bereavement damages were just a ‘token award’, which feels monstrously callous.

At the parliamentary reception, Benner recounted how  MPs got to meet Sabiha Ozseker, who was not eligible for bereavement damages after the death of her father due to clinical negligence while undergoing dialysis. She was his carer and cleaner, despite working full time for an insurance company. The compensation for the family covered mainly funeral costs, as Sabiha and her siblings were not eligible.

Amelia Gladstone, who lost her partner Jordan in a car crash also told MPs how she was denied bereavement damages, even though they had lived together for eighteen months and she was pregnant with his child.

This is just wrong. The government has previously brushed off APIL’s calls for action, despite a survey showing 73% of British adults think the amount of compensation for grief and trauma should vary according to circumstances, and a majority believe the statutory amount is too low.

I fully support the campaign for a formal campaign in parliament and urge colleagues, associates and members of the public alike to contact their local MPs, follow the #Fairness4Families campaign

and write to sam.ellis@apil.org.uk if they have examples, experience or knowledge to share.