Fatal accident: damages awarded to relatives
Currie & Ors v Esure Services Ltd
Court of Session, Outer House
The claimants were the father, mother and older brother of a young man in his twenties who died in December 2011 after being struck by a car. Liability was admitted and there was no question of contributory negligence.
In Scotland, various relatives of a deceased may be entitled to claim damages, commonly referred to as an award for “loss of society”. This covers a number of aspects such as the relative’s grief and sorrow as a result of the death and the loss of the deceased’s company and guidance. In this case, the valuation of the loss of society claims was in dispute. The court heard evidence from all three claimants about their relationship with the deceased.
By reference to a number of recent cases in which the awards made by juries were compared to those made by judges sitting alone, the claimants sought payments of £65,000 for each of the deceased’s parents and £35,000 for his elder brother.
The defenders argued, however, that the deceased’s parents should receive £27,000 each and his brother should receive £18,000. The defenders also referred to awards in previous cases in support of their valuation.
There was no dispute that the deceased had enjoyed a happy and settled family life and that the family relationship had been a close one. The deceased had a promising career as an electrician and had begun working away from home regularly. The dispute between the parties about the valuation of the awards stemmed from a long standing concern about the inconsistency between awards made by juries and those made by judges sitting alone.
The judge decided to award £42,000 to each of the deceased’s parents with interest on 50% of that sum at 4% a year from the date of the accident and to award £22,500 to the deceased’s brother with interest on the same basis.
The judge had to determine what could be regarded as “just compensation”, for the loss of society, in this case principally the grief and sorrow, which the deceased’s relatives had suffered. It was agreed that there was no basis for distinguishing between the deceased’s parents in this regard and that his brother’s award should be lower than that made to his parents. This was in line with a reasonably well established hierarchy of awards accepted by the courts over a long period.
In reaching her decision, the judge acknowledged that it had been made clear in the case of Hamilton v Ferguson Transport (Spean Bridge) Limited (2012) SC 486 that “previous jury awards must be treated with great caution, just as previous judicial decisions are to be seen as having made awards that ‘markedly undervalue’ loss of society claims”. As there were no recent comparable jury awards, the judge’s starting point was a comparable judicial award. Although it was accepted that there was a very close family relationship in this case, in the years before the accident the deceased had started to become more independent. He had been working away from home and had formed a serious relationship so it seemed likely that, eventually, he would have left the family home and started his own family. However, the claimants had lost the years of the deceased’s companionship and the close relationship that was likely to have continued if the accident had not occurred.
For further information please contact Catherine Hart, Associate on 0141 228 8000
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