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Can Funeral Expenses always be recovered in Fatal Accident Cases?

Articles | Mon 8th Feb, 2016

While funeral expenses should be pleaded in all fatal accidents cases, Cyrus Katrak warns practitioners to beware of Brown –v- Hamid [2013] EWHC 4067 (QB). In that case the Defendant was found to have accelerated the Claimant’s pre-existing symptoms and death. The judge found that the period of acceleration was around 12 months.

When considering the claim for funeral expenses, the Judge noted: “However although damages for the recovery of funeral expenses “may” be recovered and indeed usually are recovered under s.3(5) of the 1976 Act, in the circumstances of this case, namely the acceleration of the symptoms associated with a pre-existing condition by a relatively short period of time, I do not consider that it would be appropriate to make such an award.”

I do not consider that this was a correct decision. We all die, so in a sense every Fatal Accident Claim is an accelerated death case. As to that period of acceleration, does death 1 day / 1 month / 1 year earlier prevent an award of funeral expenses? This seems completely arbitrary.

The Judge’s reasoning also seems at odds given that he awarded bereavement damages under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

There is also conflict on this point in respect of living Claimant’s whose life expectancy has been shortened. In Bateman v. Hydro Agri (UK) Ltd (September 15, 1995) a High Court judge held that funeral expenses were a valid claim. The claimant was suffering from mesothelioma and was likely to die within three months of the date of the trial.

However, in Watson –v- Cakebread Robey Ltd [2009] EWHC 1695 (QB) the Judge held that funeral expenses are not recoverable by a living claimant whose life expectancy was reduced by 9 months, although of course, once the Claimant died a claim could presumably have been brought under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.

Thus there is plenty of scope for Claimants to argue these points should they be raised by Defendants in their defence or at trial.

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