Though a compensation claim may not be one of your first considerations during a time of grief, the death of someone who is the primary income provider for the family could force you to take quicker action than you would like.
Classes of fatal injury and compensation
A fatal injury claim for compensation is made on behalf of the deceased’s estate and dependents. The claim, generally with the help of a lawyer, is conducted by the person authorised to make a claim on behalf of the deceased’s estate. They will need a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.
Fatal injuries can occur in many different types of accident or circumstances follows:
- Road traffic accidents – as a car driver, passenger, on a bicycle or as a pedestrian.
- Industrial diseases – some diseases contracted in the workplace result in death such as mesothelioma.
- Workplace accidents – some jobs are more hazardous than others. However, this does not mean that employers should not take necessary precautions to ensure their workers safety. If an employer doesn’t and causes the death of an employee or a work colleague causes the death of an employee a claim for compensation can be made.
- Sports injuries – claims may be made if there is faulty sports equipment, unsafe premises, insufficient tuition or inadequate control resulting in death.
- Criminal acts – murder and manslaughter.
There are generally three types of compensation you can claim for a fatal injury:
- A bereavement award – this is a fixed amount set by Statute and is currently £12,890.00.
- Dependency – if you relied on the deceased for financial support or service you can make a dependency claim.
- Funeral expenses – the cost of a funeral can be claimed.
Individuals who are eligible to claim
Obviously the person, who has suffered the fatal injury, cannot be the one who claims in the case of a fatal accident. There are thus strict rules on who can claim, generally a close family member.
There are strict rules on who can claim, and it's usually a close family member.
The exact categories are as follows:
- Husband, wife or civil partner – there is no minimum number of years the marriage has to have lasted for and former, estranged and even annulled, partners are included.
- Cohabiting partner – you must have been living with your partner, with that relationship, for at least two continuous years prior to the fatal injury occurring.
- Parents or ascendants – grandparents, great-grandparents etc. are included.
- Child or descendants – this includes not only blood related children and grandchildren, but also adopted and marriage related descendants.
- Brother, sister, aunt or uncle.
Exceptions – for a criminal claim only immediate parents and children can claim.
The maximum time after which a claim can be lodged
The period of mourning for a loved one who becomes the victim of a fatal injury can be lengthy; Most never truly cease to be affected by the grief.
Unless financial circumstances or seeking justice coerce you into prompt action it could be some time before you gather the strength to begin a fatal accident compensation claim.
The time period in which you are able to make a claim for fatal injury compensation extends for three years after the occurrence of the death.
- Industrial diseases – because the deceased may not have been aware that they had a fatal disease until many years subsequent to contracting it, the time period generally begins from the point of death. However, if they were alive when they knew or ought to have known that the disease is as a consequence of their work (date of knowledge) it is three years from the date of knowledge.
- Medical negligence – If the death occurred in a medical setting the claim must be made within three years of the date of death. However, if they were alive when they knew of the medical error the time for claiming is three years from the date they knew of that error
- Injury occurring on a ship or aircraft – the time period for a fatal compensation claim when the injury occurred on a ship or aircraft is 2 years, though this can be dependent on the injury and the specifics of the craft.
- Criminal acts – if the claim is directly against the person who caused the death then no variation applies, however, if you wish to claim from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) then you only have a 2 year period that the CICA operate.
Find a fatal injury lawyer
In order to choose the right lawyer for your fatal injury compensation claim you need to know certain things. It is unlikely that you will find a solicitor who specialises solely in fatal injury claims – the closest kind is personal injury lawyers.
Although, they generally specialise in one area of personal injury law, the best option is to choose a lawyer who specialises in the area of the injury that caused the death and has successfully conducted fatal accident claims.
This is essential as claims for fatal injury compensation are complex and knowing what can and cannot be claimed is important. Hence you would benefit from choosing a lawyer who has handled fatal accident compensation cases that have involved high compensation settlements.
Though it is perhaps difficult to know which lawyers are the most experienced, there are a couple of places you can look in order to give you some idea. The first is the Law Society website; this will be able to tell you if the lawyer you are choosing is accredited as a personal injury lawyer by the Law Society. There are similar websites for the Law Societies of Scotland and Northern Ireland too. Secondly, you should also peruse the website of the law firm who employ the lawyer you are considering; you will generally find information detailing their experience.
Do not settle on a lawyer if you are not confident with their representation, if their personality and working practices are not to your liking then you are free to go to other solicitors and see what they can offer you.
do not settle on a lawyer if you are not confident with their representation
Funding a fatal injury claim
In the absence of paying a lawyer from your own pockets, there are a few options that may or may not work for you:
- legal expenses insurance (LEI) cover – check the insurance policies that both you and the deceased held, home, personal and life etc., they may include cover that you can use to pay for legal fees
- no win, no fee – the lawyer you choose may be able to offer you a no win, no fee agreement meaning you will not have to pay legal fees should the claim be unsuccessful.
The rules on who can claim for bereavement compensation differ slightly. You must be an immediately close family member to claim bereavement compensation. If the deceased was under 18 and illegitimate then only the mother can claim.
The amount for a bereavement claim is fixed by state at £12,890; this is if one person is claiming. If two or more are eligible to claim then the amount stays the same and is shared. Dependency and funeral expenses are claimed in addition to the bereavement award.
If the deceased had a will, then his executors administer the deceased’s estate. In the case of the injured party dying whilst a compensation claim for injuries is being processed, the estate can continue with the claim.
Determining the cause of death
The role of a coroner is to determine when and why death occurred, and if needed, who the deceased is. A coroner only has a duty to investigate a death if they suspect that it was unnatural or violent, the cause is unknown, or the deceased died whilst in the custody of the state. These sections include most deaths that happen in road traffic accidents, sporting accidents, workplace accidents, medical accidents, death at birth, and acts of criminal violence.
the role of a coroner is to determine when and why death occurred
If an investigation is required, this is the procedure:
- The body of the deceased is placed under the control of the coroner’s office until the investigation is complete.
- Post-mortem – despite what you may imagine, a post-mortem is not always necessary; a coroner may request a qualified medical practitioner to perform one if they have to investigate, or if they feel they need a post-mortem to decide whether to or not a death needs to be further investigated. A coroner will generally consult the family of the deceased prior to performing a post-mortem to secure their consent to the procedure.
- Discontinuation of investigation – if the post-mortem reveals the cause of death and the coroner has no reason to continue the investigation then it can be stopped at after the post-mortem. However, if the death was violent or unnatural or in occurred when the deceased was in the custody of the state then the coroner will be compelled to continue with the investigation.
- Inquest – the purpose of an inquest, which is generally held without a jury but in certain cases has one, is to determine whether there was a criminal or civil liability for the death, i.e.: whether another party was at fault and to what degree. Family members are allowed to attend an inquest.
- Outcome of inquest – though there are several specific verdicts that a coroner can give, two of the most common are unlawful killing, and accidental death (or death by misadventure).
- Unlawful killing includes not only violent criminal acts but also situations where someone was at fault due to serious negligence, such as a severe disregard for safety provisions at work or an act of dangerous driving. In the case of this verdict, there should be a strong case for compensation.
- Accidental death does not mean that no one was at fault for the death — though this is a possibility, it merely means that there was no intention of causing harm. However, you may be able to claim compensation if this is the verdict returned by the coroner. You should contact a solicitor who can give you advice on your specific case to see if it is worth trying to claim.
Possibility of further investigation – if, in the unlikely case, the death needs further investigation, such as if the coroner believes they may have been a murder, and then he will inform the relevant authorities who can pick up the investigation and continue it. If there is no need of this then the coroner’s role is over and the burial of the deceased can take place.