A new Private Members’ Bill published this week calls for greater fairness for bereaved people and victims of psychiatric harm.
The Negligence and Damages Bill has been introduced by Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald and is supported by national not-for-profit campaign group the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
“In England and Wales the laws which are supposed to help both bereaved families and people suffering from psychiatric harm are woefully inflexible,” said APIL president Jonathan Wheeler.
“The relatives of people who are killed wrongfully, at work for example, can make a claim for statutory bereavement damages of just £12,980. Such a low sum means that in England and Wales it is actually cheaper to kill someone than it is to maim them. Also, only spouses and parents of children under 18 years-old are eligible to receive bereavement damages. In reality, the tragic loss of a child does not diminish once the child has passed his or her 18th birthday.
“In Scotland the system is much fairer as each case is judged on its own merits. Bereavement damages in the UK are a lottery based on where the death happens”.
“Some aspects of the law affecting people who have been injured or bereaved through no fault of their own are out of date and unjust, and my Bill aims to address this,” said Mr McDonald. “The law in England and Wales treats bereaved families like second class citizens. Most people agree that there is a fairer and more sensible way to do things, and this is what my Bill aims to do. It’s about justice and making the law fit for purpose.”
The Bill also addresses long-standing concerns about how people are treated when they suffer psychological illness after the needless death or serious injury of their loved ones. The law in this area emerged after the Hillsborough disaster 26 years ago and has remained unchanged ever since.
“People can suffer serious, debilitating mental illness after the death or injury of a loved one and yet the law still makes them jump through very high hoops to obtain any kind of redress,” said Mr McDonald.
Mr Wheeler explained: “People whose loved ones are wrongfully killed or injured and who then go on to suffer psychiatric damage as a result cannot claim compensation unless they have what is deemed to be ‘a close tie of love and affection’ to the person harmed or killed in the event. For example, brothers and sisters aren’t assumed to have a close enough relationship which is, frankly, ridiculous,” he said.
Mr McDonald’s Private Members’ Bill will change the law by extending the statutory list of relationships in which it is assumed there is a close tie of love and affection. It will also extend the list of family members who should be eligible for bereavement damages to include, among others, civil partners and children over the age of 18.
“People claiming compensation simply want to put their lives back on track,” said Mr Wheeler. “These events should never happen in the first place. But when they do happen they should be treated with fairness and understanding by the justice system.”
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