Judgment was handed down on 3 November 2021 following a two-day assessment of damages hearing before Ritchie J in this unusual fatal mesothelioma claim where the applicable law was Scots law. Judgment for the First Claimant, Charmaine Haggerty-Garton (the widow), was given in the sum of £614,040. Dushal Mehta of Fieldfisher and John Paul Swoboda or 12 KBW represented the First Claimant and her three children.
The judgment can be found here.
An article provide more information on the facts of the case can be found here.
This claim was unusual as Scots law was the applicable law despite being tried in England. This gives PI practitioners north and south of the border a chance to consider what is the same and what is different in personal injury actions. There are two huge differences: awards of general damages for ‘loss of society’ for relatives and interest.
Loss of society is a head of loss completely unknown to English law which allows for a general damages award for close relatives who can establish a sufficient relationship with the deceased. In this case there were nine relatives who made such a claim. Five relatives (two daughter from a first marriage, two sisters, and a granddaughter) were joined into the action two days prior to trial and settled their claims one day prior to trial. The other four relatives were the widow Charmaine Haggerty-Garton and her three sons. Their loss of society awards for (a) distress and anxiety endured in contemplation of the deceased’s suffering, (b) grief and sorrow caused by the deceased’s death and (c) the loss of such non-pecuniary benefit as they may have derived from the deceased’s “society and guidance” fell to be determined by Ritchie J. He made an award of £115,000 for the widow Charmaine and awarded between £40,000 to £35,000 for each son. By contrast no general damages award would have been made under English law and there would have been a statutory entitlement to £12,980 for bereavement for the widow only.
Ought the Scots law approach to be adopted in English law? There is certainly a case to be made but it is ultimately a question of policy as to whether English law should follow Scots law in allowing general damages claims for relatives when a loved one has died as a result of a tort. It is however undeniably the case that Scots law is more generous in the assessment of general damages for relatives in fatal cases and it is not wholly satisfactory that there should be such divergence between the Scots and English law on this issue.
The other huge difference between the approach under Scots law and English law is in respect of interest rates. Whilst English law interest rates languish at 0.025% in respect of special damages and 2% for general damages Scots law is much more generous with interest being claimable at 8% and 4% depending on the head of loss. Interest in this case amounted to over £40,000. It is inconceivable that anything like this amount would have been recovered under English law.
Two other points from the judgment may be of broader interest to PI practitioners. Firstly, in respect of the claim for loss personal services (equivalent to a services dependency claim) Ritchie J found the ONS paper “2016 Household Satellite account on household service work done through the UK” which provided a figure of £18,932 on the value of unpaid household service work undertaken per person was “helpful” but said he had difficulty in understanding what the survey meant. The extent to which this ONS paper (which suggests many services dependency claims have been undervalued where impressionistic awards were made) influences future claims is still a matter for debate (and future cases).
Secondly, the Court also had to consider what the appropriate award for Solatium (the Scots law equivalent to PSLA) was. This was a case where the deceased suffered terribly particularly towards the end of his life. He endured the symptoms of mesothelioma for some 13 months. An award of £97,250 was made confirming the trend that most awards in mesothelioma cases are likely to fall in the higher part of the JC bracket.