30 November 2017

Legal battle could mark major change in law for unmarried couples

Senior solicitor at Wilkin Chapman solicitors Jonathan Baker looks at how the case of an NHS worker who was awarded bereavement damages following her partner’s death could mark a major change in the law.

The case of an NHS worker who was awarded bereavement damages following her partner’s death could mark a major change in the law, says a regional expert.

Senior Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire solicitor Jonathan Baker specialises in medical negligence and read the recent national case with close interest. Like others in his field, he is now waiting to see if the case will be appealed or if indeed this landmark judgment represents a change in the law as it currently stands.

The case which has hit the national headlines involves Lancashire lady Jakki Smith who claimed that her human rights were breached in denying her bereavement damages after her partner's death. Her partner of 16 years, John Bullock, died in 2011 after an infection was missed.

A fixed sum of £12,980 is awarded for bereavement damages if a person dies as a result of negligence – but only to spouses or civil partners, or to the deceased's parents if the deceased was below 18.

In court, her legal team argued the current legislation was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the award should be available to anyone who had been in a relationship for at least two years. The Law Commission previously recommended co-habiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages and the government also produced a draft bill in 2009, although it was never progressed, it was revealed.

Ms Smith won the case and is now hoping the decision will mark a change in legislation by the Government.

Reflecting on the judgment, Mr Baker, who practices with leading regional law firm Wilkin Chapman solicitors, said: “If this is not appealed, then it is likely to represent an overdue major change in the law."

“This decision appears to broaden the definition of those entitled to bereavement damages from what was previously very restrictive, and not reflective of everyday society”

Mr Baker added how the change would bring legislation in line with those who claim financial dependency after someone's death.

“This decision closely follows the definition we have for a financial dependant, where you claim your reliance on the deceased’s finances. You could qualify for this if you were living with them for two continuous years prior to the death,” he explained.

For further information on this or any other medical negligence legal concern, contact Jonathan Baker on 01522 515966 or email, jonathan.baker@wilkinchapman.co.uk.

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