Co-Habitee Wins Legal Battle Over Bereavement Damages


The Law Of… Fighting For Co-Habitee Equality

The bereaved, unmarried partner of John Bulloch, Jakki Smith, has won a landmark battle that could change the way the law recognises couples who are not married.

Alison Hills, Medical Negligence specialist, explains the case and how it could affect couples for years to come.

co-habitee bereavement damages claim

Establishing The Case

Jakki Smith, an NHS worker from Chorley in Lancashire, sadly lost her partner of 16 years, John Bulloch, in 2011. Mr Bulloch had undergone the removal of a benign tumour on his right foot in August 2011 before falling ill whilst on holiday in Turkey. Medics failed to register that he had a serious infection and he sadly passed away soon afterwards.

After a fatal accident, it is possible for the husband or wife of the person who has suffered the fatal injury to claim for damages.

Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, there are three possible heads of damage. Namely;

  1. A dependency claim for the financial losses suffered by the dependants of the deceased
  2. An award of bereavement damages
  3. A claim for the funeral expenses if paid by the dependants.

Until the current judgment, the only people entitled to claim bereavement damages are a spouse,civil partner or parents of an unmarried, deceased minor.

Jakki Smith and her legal team set about making a change so that she would be entitled to claim a bereavement award on her partner's behalf.

High Court Judgement

The legal team, on behalf of Ms Smith, argued that the current legislation was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Court of Appeal allowed Ms Smith’s challenge against the High Court ruling that previously dismissed her claim.

Lawyers acting for Ms Smith commented after the hearing that this decision was long overdue and they have called on Parliament to change the law and “bring legislation into the 21st century."

The Law Commission previously recommended in 2009 that co-habiting couples should be entitled to a bereavement award and a draft bill was produced by the Government following this, but unfortunately no further progress was made.

Ms Smith said:

“Nothing will bring John back, but he was a firm believer in everyone being treated equally and I think he would have agreed with me that this is worth fighting for."

"Just because John and I hadn’t said vows to each other and didn’t wear wedding rings, didn’t mean that we weren’t completely committed to each other. My fight has never been for the money; it’s about having meaningful relationships recognised."

A Brighter Future For Co-Habiting Couples

This landmark ruling gives hope to those co-habiting couples who have made the decision not to get married or enter into a civil partnership. It is now hoped that Parliament will change current legislation to allow co-habiting partners of people who have suffered from a personal injury to claim a bereavement award on their behalf, making personal injury claims easier.

Alison says:

“Family dynamics have drastically changed since the inception of the Fatal Accidents Act."

"The law needs to recognise that many couples are in a long-term, committed relationship without getting married or entering into a civil partnership."

"The lack of a formal ceremony certainly does not mean that couples are any less committed to each other, and it simply cannot be justified in the modern era to allow access to the bereavement award for those who are married or in a civil partnership but not for co-habitees."

"This is certainly a welcome judgment and we can only hope that the Government now recognise the incompatibility with the ECHR and update legislation accordingly."

If you have any questions regarding a bereavement award or a personal injury claim on behalf of someone else, contact our helpline today for a free initial consultation.

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