This post by Helen Waller explains the recent amendment to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, which extends the eligibility for bereavement awards to those who cohabited with the Deceased for the two years up to their date of date.
Whilst 2020 has been a bit of a stagnant year for so many and so much thanks to the pandemic, it has been a year of change for the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. As blogged about earlier in the year, the statutory award for bereavement damages increased to £15,120 for causes of action that accrue from 1 May 2020. Last week, on 6 October, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2020 came into force, bringing in amendments for causes of action accruing on or after that date.
The key change is that section 1A of the Act now benefits from the addition of a provision allowing cohabiting partners of the deceased entitlement to bereavement damages. The term, “cohabiting partner”, is further defined in the new section 1A(2A) of the Act. This is an amendment following Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  EWCA Civ 1916. In that case the Court of Appeal made a declaration that the exclusion of cohabiting partners from the categories of persons entitled to bereavement awards was incompatible with Articles 14 and 8 of the ECHR.
A second amendment that may be of relevance to fatal industrial disease claims is that at section 1A(4), which now provides that where more than one person is entitled to bereavement damages, the sum awarded shall be divided equally between them. Previously this section provided that any award must be divided between both parents of the deceased, where they were entitled. This will bite where the deceased was living separately – but not divorced – from his/her spouse and had been cohabiting with a new partner of long enough standing to satisfy the definition at section 1A(2A). The scenario of a deceased minor who had never married or entered into a civil partnership, but had cohabited with a partner for at least 2 years so as to satisfy section 1A(2A) seems unlikely to arise in the context of asbestos litigation.