Michael Wangermann: Supreme Court ruling will lead to fairer settlements for families of fatal accident victims

Michael Wangermann of Ashton KCJ

Michael Wangermann of Ashton KCJ - Credit: Archant

Families of fatal accident victims will benefit from a recent Supreme Court ruling, overturning House of Lords judgments from the 1970s and 1980s.

The change relates to the date used for calculating how much is due to the victim's estate to help provide for the future of their dependents. Previously, this was based on the date of death but now will be based on the compensation hearing date.

The Supreme Court Judges said the law was 'illogical', leading to 'under-compen- sation in most cases.'

The case at the centre of the new ruling concerned Mrs Knauer who died aged 46 after contracting mesothelioma, an incurable form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. She was exposed to this while working at a prison. Liability was admitted and her husband, Mr Knauer, claimed losses including a future loss of dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. He is likely to receive about £58,000 more than he would have under the old rules.

This decision is welcome. It removes uncertainty on the proper calculation and will be fairer to the families of those who die in these unfortunate circumstances. There are however still a number of areas where reform is overdue. The list of potential claimants who can claim the statutory bereavement award is limited and seems out of date with our modern society. The bereavement award itself of £12,980.00 is also widely criticised.

In mesothelioma cases, death usually occurs within two years of diagnosis although like many asbestos-related illnesses, the time between the exposure and the onset of symptoms, let alone a diagnosis, can often be decades. Most people who have been exposed to asbestos never suffer any illness, but those who do develop symptoms up to 40 years afterwards, so we are now seeing the results of exposure in the past.