fatal accidents

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Formerly, at common law, the death of either party extinguished the right to bring an action in tort. In addition, a person who caused death was not liable to compensate the deceased's relatives and others who suffered loss because of the death. Both rules have now been abolished by statute.

By the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934, a right of action by (or against) a deceased person survives his death and can be brought for the benefit of (or against) his estate. Thus if a person is killed in a motor accident due to the negligence of the driver, an action can be brought against the driver in the name of the deceased; any damages obtained become part of the deceased's estate. Actions for defamation of a deceased person and claims for certain types of loss are excluded from the Act and do not survive death.

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976, amended by the Administration of Justice Act 1982 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004, confers the right to recover damages for loss of support on the dependants of a person who has been killed in an accident, if the deceased would have been able to recover damages for injury but for his death. The class of dependants who may sue is defined by statute and includes such persons as spouses, former spouses, civil partners, former civil partners, common law spouses, parents, children, brothers, and sisters. The main purpose of the action is to compensate dependants for loss of the financial support they could have expected to receive from the deceased. However, damages for bereavement may be claimed on the death of a spouse or civil partner by the surviving spouse or civil partner, or on the death of an unmarried minor child by the parents; other relatives have to claim. The amount awarded is currently fixed at £11,800. Funeral expenses can be recovered if incurred.

Subjects: Law.

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