Tackling The Unfairness Of Proportionality Arguments

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The Law of... dealing with low value fatal accident claims

With wide ranging changes set to hit the Personal Injury industry, Rose Gibson – Partner in Complex PI – outlines the unfair nature of a legal system that unfairly discriminates against those involved in fatal accidents.

Tackling The Unfairness Of Proportionality Arguments

How Dependencies Can Affect Claims

Under current UK law, as outlined by the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, claims from fatal accidents can fall under three definitions:

  • Dependency claims: This covers the economic loss to those who depended on the deceased
  • Bereavement claims: This covers compensation for the grief felt by the family of the deceased
  • Funeral expenses: This covers any costs or expenses for the funeral of the deceased

While these definitions may seem to clearly outline claims for fatal accidents, the technicalities of the law means difficult circumstances arising in cases where the deceased do not have dependents, as Rose explains:

"Fatal accident claims without dependencies are possibly some of the most challenging cases to deal with, especially compared to large loss dependency claims, as I frequently meet arguments on my profit costs in terms of value and proportionality."

"How is it fair that just because a family has lost a loved one that did not leave behind any form of dependency, we meet an argument by a costs lawyer that it was unreasonable to represent the family at inquest? They normally make this argument just because their claim is 'only' worth a few thousand pounds"

"If anything, these families struggle the most to understand the fact that it is cheaper for insurance companies if a family member dies, rather than surviving."

Costs Lawyers Questioning Claims

In many low value fatal accident claims there is a struggle on two fronts for the families making the claim, as not only is their compensation cut if the deceased member does not hold any dependencies, but also because costs lawyers for insurance companies question the solicitors representing the families affected.

Rose comments on how families affected by low value fatal accident claims can usually incur higher legal costs to insurance companies:

"The way fatal accident claims are currently handled is an insult for family members of those without dependencies."

"These clients actually take up more of my time than those with dependencies, because explaining our unfair legal system tends to leave them reeling with shock."

As the bereavement award outlined in the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 is capped at £12,980, families of those without dependencies – such as parents who lose their children in a fatal accident – can only recover this amount and any funeral expenses.

Representing clients that fall into the category of low value fatal accident claims can be emotionally challenging, as Rose says:

"I know that we are not counsellors, but we have to deal with our clients sensitively."

"I sometimes wonder how file handlers in insurance companies or costs negotiators would handle sitting in front of a bereaved parent or spouse and see if they can ‘wrap up’ a meeting in 30 minutes."

"Whilst the proposals to wipe out general damages for soft tissue injuries worth up to £5000 may not apply to fatal accident claims – although I would not be surprised if these too were to be caught up in the government's plans – I feel that this topic is a prime example of how unfair and unjust proportionality arguments can be."

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