There are many injustices in our system.
But there is one which has been a consistent presence throughout my life as a lawyer; damages for the bereaved.
There can be little that comes near the suffering of those who lose a loved one in an accident or due to medical negligence. And yet the way the law treats these victims has never been far short of scandalous. Admittedly it was once far worse. I remember a time when there was no entitlement at all to bereavement damages. The right was created by statute in 1982 so that from 1st January 1983 it was possible to recover the nominal sum of £2500.00.
The figure has crept up over the last 30 years or so and is now at £12,980.00. Many would say that this bears no relation to the actual level of suffering. To set this in context you would expect damages at that level if you suffered moderate post traumatic stress disorder which was largely recovered with any lingering effects not grossly disabling. Most people never recover from the effects of a tragic or sudden bereavement.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has recently published results of a survey which suggests that a majority would support a huge increase in the amount recoverable – even as high as £100k –
Surely the time has now come for a root and branch re-assessment of the damages to be paid to victims.
But the injustice does not stop there. What is worse is the very restricted group of people who can be ‘bereaved’. The entitlement to this compensation was created by an Act of Parliament under which only the surviving spouse (or civil partner) or the parent of a child under 18 can recover.
I once advised the parents of a student who had been killed in a car accident just days after his 18th birthday. How do you tell them that their bereavement does not count? What made their bereavement any less painful? Children who lose a parent get nothing at all.
I anticipate that the insurance industry would be less than enthusiastic about any change. But this has been a running sore for too long.
It is about time that politicians grasped the nettle and brought about a fair and realistuic change – once and for all.