Fatal accident payouts aren’t punitive

THERE is a common belief that the more shocking and terrible the circumstances of a fatal accident, the higher damages ought to be and the sums should also act as a punishment for those responsible; unfortunately, this is not correct.

When a court considers how much compensation to award in a fatal accident case, it looks purely at the relative making the claim and the relationship with the dead person, and decides what level award is fair. There is no element of punishment towards the responsible party.

Members of the immediate family can claim compensation for their distress in thinking of the deceased’s sufferings, their own grief, and for the loss of his or her company. The court fixes the amount by looking at the level of awards in previous similar cases. Widows and widowers tend to receive the highest amounts, particularly if the marriage was a long and happy one, with awards of £50,000 to £100,000 not being unusual.

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Parents who lose children also come in for high awards but by contrast, children left parent-less tend to get very much less. The reasoning is not always easy to follow. Sometimes it might be said very young children barely knew their parents, and in cases involving the death of an elderly parent, it could be said that the final curtain was going to fall shortly anyway.

Therefore, death caused by a shocking accident will not necessarily result in higher compensation. If a child is too young to have known his or her mother, it will make no difference that she was killed in a particularly horrifying manner. Terrible accidents may, ironically, also result in mercifully quick deaths, resulting in lower awards based on minimal suffering on the dead person’s part.

In addition, all relatives can claim compensation if they were being supported by the dead person and the level of the award will reflect the amount of support which was being given.

Spouses and children tend to receive higher awards under this head, but for obvious reasons it is rare for parents to have any such claim.

It is very much to be hoped that the families of the victims of fatal accidents are able to settle their claims without difficulty, and move on from what is a dark chapter of their lives.

• Richard Godden is a partner with Blackadders, solicitors


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