Breakthrough for Families of Deceased Victims

The Supreme Court has changed the law in relation to how compensation is calculated for Fatal Accidents - where the victim dies as a result of the accident. The case of Knauer v Ministry of Justice was heard on 28 January 2016.

Mr Knauer's wife died of mesothelioma in 2009. Mr Knauer's lawyers argued that the current law was wrong in that it worked out future losses by application of a formula that applied from the date of death when in fact it would be fairer to apply it from the date of settlement or court award. The effect of the current approach was less compensation for victims and, in Mr Knauer's case, made a difference of over £50,000 to his overall entitlement to compensation.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the current approach to assessing the financial losses suffered by the dependant of a person who is wrongfully killed properly reflects the fundamental principle of full compensation, and if it does not whether they should depart from previous decisions of the House of Lords.

The Supreme Court accepted the arguments put forward by Mr Knauer's legal team and found that the current system of calculation was unfair. In reaching their decision the appeal judges found that previous Appeal Court decisions which had influenced the law for so long were decided "in a different era" and were now out of date. There was no need to ask Parliament to change the statue books as the Judges were able to make decisions to reflect developments in the law. Further, there should not be "too rigid adherence to precedent" in cases where there are overwhelming reasons to change to law. All seven appeal judges were in agreement.

In the light of this decision, lawyers across the country acting for compensators or claimants dealing with fatal accident claims will need to get their calculators out and work through the figures again.

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