Bereavement damages: an award or an insult?
When someone dies as a result of negligence, their Estate and dependents (their partner, children or other relatives) are usually entitled to compensation. Receiving compensation may be vitally important if the deceased had been contributing financially to their household, taking care of children, or looking after disabled or elderly relatives, before their death.
We frequently assist clients to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved ones and to obtain substantial awards of compensation. Common questions raised:
A claim for compensation can be brought in any situation in which someone has died because of the negligence of another person or an organisation. Circumstances which often give rise to claims include:
It is always necessary to prove that the death was caused by negligence. Sometimes this is immediately apparent but in other situations it is necessary to make a detailed investigation into the circumstances of the person’s death in order to establish whether negligence played any part.
In some cases the deceased is injured because of negligence and dies from their injuries at a later date which can be months or even several years after they were injured. In these circumstances it is usually still possible to bring a claim following the deceased’s death.
The claim can be brought by the Executor(s) of the deceased’s estate or may be brought by the deceased’s dependants, if the Executor(s) do not begin the claim within six months of the death.
In almost all cases the deadline for starting Court proceedings is three years from the date of the deceased’s death. However, if you are considering bringing a claim, it is advisable to contact solicitors as soon as possible beforehand, in order to allow time for the claim to be investigated before this time limit is reached.
If the claim cannot be resolved by agreement with the Defendant (the person or organisation against whom the claim is brought), it will be decided by the Court at a trial. However, this is very rare. In most successful claims, a settlement is agreed with the Defendant at an earlier stage. Whenever possible, our approach is to investigate claims and begin negotiations with the Defendant early. By doing so, we are often able to agree settlements for our clients before the Court process begins.
The amount of compensation which can be claimed will depend upon the personal circumstances of the deceased. Compensation (sometimes called “damages”) is often claimed for:
A legal claim can be used to obtain financial compensation. In some cases, the defendant will also provide an explanation of the circumstances of the deceased’s death or offer an apology; however, they are not required to do so.
At the outset of any case, we will discuss with clients the goals which they are seeking to achieve and help them to consider whether a legal claim is appropriate.
Where the deceased’s relatives wish to find out more about the circumstances of the death, identify changes which could be made to prevent other deaths in future or to receive an apology, there are other routes which may be used. This might include making a complaint, being involved in a serious incident investigation (often held by organisations such as a hospitals in response to a serious event) or by participating in an Inquest.
An Inquest is held by a Coroner when it is necessary to establish the facts of the deceased’s death. It usually takes the form of a hearing in which witnesses, called by the Coroner, give evidence and any relevant documents are read out. The purpose of an Inquest is not to place blame on any individual or organisation. However, the Coroner may give a report identifying changes which could be made to prevent the same happening again.
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