Losing a loved one is hard but can be even harder if caused by an accident. Amid the grief and confusion, other issues can surface, such as financial worries. While it might feel awkward to seek early advice on compensation claims it could help you to manage.
The role of post-mortems
An unexpected death may trigger a post-mortem. This is a medical examination to determine the cause of the death. Families can appoint a medical professional to attend. If they are dissatisfied with the findings, they can ask the coroner to arrange an independent examination. After the post-mortem, the coroner usually issues an interim death certificate, which allows the family to deal with financial matters and to bury or cremate the deceased. A final death certificate will be issued only after the inquest has delivered a verdict.
The role of inquests
All suspicious or unexpected deaths are reported to the local coroner. In the case of an accident an inquest will usually be called. This is not to establish fault but to determine who has died, where, when and how. The coroner will invite relevant parties to give evidence. For a family this is an opportunity to understand what happened and to ask questions. Legal representation can be useful, whether you intend to claim compensation or not - but good advice will help you decide if it is appropriate. After hearing the evidence, the coroner gives a verdict. The possible verdicts at an inquest include:
- death by natural causes
- accidental death
- unlawful killing
- lawful killing
- industrial disease
- an open verdict where the evidence is insufficient or inconclusive.
The rules on who can claim compensation after a fatal accident
The law of compensation following a fatal accident is complicated and includes rules on who can claim and what they can claim. First it has to be established that the accident was caused by some other party’s negligence. The estate of the deceased person can then claim for funeral expenses, pain and suffering if death was not immediate, and more. Everybody who dies leaves an estate even if they had no assets or will. Any compensation is distributed to the beneficiaries of the will or those identified by the intestacy rules.
Certain family members can claim bereavement damages, fixed at £12,980 where the deceased died before 1 May 2020 and at £15,120 where the death occurred on or after that date. The family members who can claim are:
- a spouse
- civil partner
- the mother of a child who was under 18 and had never married or, if they were married, both parents of a child who was under 18 and had never married
- If the death occurred on or after 6 October 2020, a cohabiting partner of the deceased will also be entitled to claim the fixed bereavement damages award provided they were living with the deceased for at least 2 years prior to their death.
Other people, including spouses, former civil partners, grandparents and siblings can also bring a claim if they can prove they were dependent on the deceased or could reasonably have expected to benefit in future. Their claims might include loss of income or free services such as childcare and domestic help.
All claims have strict time limits, so it is always best to seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible. At Tees we have an experienced team of experts who specialise in fatal accidents and are able to advise on Wills, probate, and financial worries; as well as supporting families with specialist advice through the inquest process and fatal accident compensation claims.
Call us on 0800 013 1165 for a free initial chat, at no obligation, or fill out our enquiry form and a solicitor will get in touch.
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Chat to the Author, Isobel Foenander
Associate, Medical Negligence, Bishop's Stortford officeMeet Isobel