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“Please perform a U-turn when possible” – Damages in Fatal Accident Claims

In Knauer (Widower and Administrator of the Estate of Sally Ann Knaur) v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 9, the Supreme Court has held that the correct date as at which to assess the multiplier when fixing damages for future loss in claims under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 should be the date of trial and not the date of death.

This is a decision of huge significance in the assessment of damages, with the Supreme Court overturning their own judgment (House of Lords) in the age-old case of Cookson-v-Knowles – one that had been good law for decades!

The Court outlined the argument against the long standing approach to take the date of death as the relevant date, for two reasons. Firstly, in many cases the old approach leads to under compensation and therefore offends the aim of damages which is to put the victim insofar as possible in the position he would have been in had the harm not been done. In addition, the previous authorities on this point were handed down in a different legal landscape – one where “the calculation of damages in cases of personal injury or death was wholly scientific.”

So what does the decision mean in practice?

First and foremost, this decision brings the approach in fatal accident claims in line with that in other personal injury cases – a tick for consistency. For claimants, it will also lead to increased damages (though whether the increase is unlikely to be significant in most cases remains open to question!) In the meantime, where schedules have been pleaded on the “old” basis it is expected that figures will have to be revisited and where there are Part 36 offers in place it may be wise for the offering party to satisfy itself that the offer remains appropriate.