Supreme Court Overturns Damages Assessment Rulings In Fatal Accident Claims

Leading Law Firm Irwin Mitchell Applauds Landmark Decision


Kate Rawlings, Press Officer | 0114 274 4238

Expert lawyers at leading national law firm Irwin Mitchell have welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court to overturn two House of Lords judgements that will change the way damages are assessed in fatal accident claims. 

The case, brought by Ian Knauer following the death of his wife Sally, challenged the way the courts calculate compensation for a fatal accidents, medical negligence deaths and industrial disease deaths - and is expected to cost the insurance industry millions in extra damages each year.

Mrs Knauer died from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related disease, in August 2009, aged just 46, after being exposed to asbestos during her career as an administrator at Guy's Marsh Prison in Shaftesbury.

Her husband took legal action against the Ministry of Justice, claiming they were negligent in allowing Mrs Knauer to be exposed to asbestos.

In 2014 Mr Knauer was awarded High Court damages from the Government, of £647,840 – which were calculated as his loss from the date of her death, rather than the date the judgement was passed.

Mr Knauer appealed the decision as it meant his 'future loss' was effectively being watered down by being back-dated and, as a result, he and his family were being offered less than they were entitled to in terms of financial compensation.

The Supreme Court agreed with Mr Knauer and ordered for the rules to be changed.

The decision, delivered by Lord Neuberger and Lady Hale, said there was "an overwhelming case for changing the law" relating to the way financial losses of dependants are assessed.

Colin Ettinger, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell with vast experience dealing with fatal claims, said that Mr Knauer’s refusal to settle out of court, meant that he won an extra £52,000 in damages for those five years, effectively changing the law for everyone else.

If you have lost a loved one in an accident, our serious injury claims team could help you to claim compensation to help get the answers you deserve. Visit our Fatal Accident Claims page for more information.

Expert Opinion
Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court is an extremely welcome one and corrects a problem many people who have lost loved ones have faced since 1979 when bring legal claims.

The decision supports what we have been arguing in our fatal cases for several years, namely that the law should be changed to reflect the very real emotional and financial impact the loss of a loved one can have on families, who often struggle to rebuild their lives.

The Supreme Court’s decision supports a basic principle that has been with us for many, many years to compensate people, so far as money can, so that they are restored to the position they were in before the death of a loved one.
Colin Ettinger, Partner