Why is a human life worth so little?

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How much is the life of your child or partner worth? According to the government, it’s £15,120.

In England and Wales, it has been decided that £15,120 is the amount of money needed to compensate someone who has lost a spouse or child as a result of someone else’s negligence.

These payments, also known as a bereavement awards, were introduced in 1991 under the Fatal Accidents Act. They were brought in as a way of compensating for the grief and sorrow that is felt after the death of a loved one.

At Ashtons Legal, we firmly believe that the system that awards these payments is outdated, discriminatory and urgently needs to be changed.

Up until very recently, those able to claim for a bereavement was limited to the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, or the married parents of a child under the age of 18.

When a child of an unmarried couple dies, only the mother is able to claim.

After recognition that more and more couples are choosing not to marry, this was recently amended to include partners who had cohabitated for two or more years.

However even with this change, the system fails to appreciate that familial relationships are not always this straightforward. Sometimes it is the grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings that take on the role of a parent, yet their grief is not taken into consideration under the current system.

Similarly, the grief that follows the death of a child is only recognised if the child was under the age of 18.

Yet of course, losing a child at any age is completely devastating.

We strongly believe that parents should be entitled to receive compensation if their child dies as a result of negligence, no matter their age.

Another heavily criticised aspect of the system is the sum of money that is awarded. Whilst no amount of money can every truly compensate for a death that was avoidable, £15,120 seems remarkably low.

As a result, one of the biggest questions that arises from our system of compensation is: “How do you quantify the loss of a loved one?”

In 1991, bereavement awards were initially set at just £3,500. That rose to £11,800 in 2008 and then to £12,980 in 2013, before reaching the current figure of £15,120 in May 2020.

Mark White is a medical negligence specialist at Ashtons Legal.

“One of the most difficult parts of my job is explaining to bereaving families why the death of their loved one is worth so little in the eyes of the law.” Mark explains.

“Despite the Government extending the class of individuals to couples who are cohabitating, the current system continues to be rigid and discriminatory, and in no way reflects the reality of family units or the individual circumstances involved.”

We want to see England and Wales scrap the current system, and instead introduce one similar to that used in Scotland.

In Scotland, bereavement damages are assessed on a case-by-case basis. The circumstances surrounding the death and the relationships of the deceased are taken into account when calculating how much compensation is to be paid out. There is no upper limit, with damages of over £100,000 having been given out to bereaved families in the past.


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