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Law prohibits cohabitee from claiming bereavement damages under Fatal Accidents Act

Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust [2016] EWHC 2208

The High Court found that while the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 prevented unmarried couples from claiming an entitlement to bereavement damages, the right to privacy and family life under the Convention was not engaged.  The Court indicated that it hoped the outcome of this case would provoke further discussion in Parliament about possible reform of the law.

The claimant lived with her partner for around eleven years when he died as a result of the negligence of the first and second defendants.  She had made a dependency claim which had been extended by amendment to include persons cohabiting for over 2 years.  However, the bereavement damages provisions only apply to spouses and civil partners.  The applicant sought a declaration that the relevant provision should be read in such a way as to allow her compensation; alternatively, she applied for a declaration that the provision was incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. 

The Court dismissed her claim.  The compensatory scope of the Fatal Accidents Act was only for those who suffered bereavement due to the tortious actions of another party.  However, there was no justification for a distinction between dependency damages and bereavement damages.  The Court found that Article 8 was not engaged.

‘…[as] the bereavement damages regime does not indicate any disapproval by the state of the way that she and the deceased chose to live, the complaint does not achieve the level of serious impact required to put it within the ambit of Article 8.’

Read UK Human Rights Blog article here.

Discrimination, ECHR Art. 8