Landmark Ruling for Unmarried Couples as Government Loses Bereavement Damages Case

NHS worker Jakki Smith has won a legal battle against the government to win better rights for unmarried people who lost their long-term partners.

According to the BBC, Jakki Smith, from Chorley, UK, sued the government for denying her bereavement compensation after her partner of 16 years, John Bulloch, died from an infection that medics had missed. According to Jakki, the government had violated her human rights, under the European Convention on Human Rights, to be awarded bereavement damages.

Any married individual or civil partner is entitled to this when medical negligence takes place, at a fixed sum of £12,980. Jakki Smith and John Bulloch were together for 16 years, yet unmarried.

A court of appeal allowed her to challenge the High Court Ruling against her claim. Although Jakki will not get the sum in retrospect, this victory is important for unmarried and committed couples.

Sue Bowler, Partner and Head of services for vulnerable and disabled people at law firm Coffin Mew, comments: “Until the landmark court decision in Jakki Smith’s case, the law discriminated against unmarried couples when one of them died because of someone else’s negligence. The sum of £12,980 is paid out to spouses or civil partners for the death of a partner, but this did not apply to unmarried partners who received nothing for a negligent death. The Fatal Accidents Act 1976, which contains the relevant provisions, has now been declared in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Court.

“Finally, the balance has been redressed so that unmarried partners can be compensated for the death of a partner as a result of road traffic accidents, accidents at work or medical negligence. It has taken this long because this is the first case to be taken to the Court of Appeal since the European Convention on Human Rights became law in the UK.

“The sum of £12,890 goes nowhere near providing full compensation for the loss of a partner, but at least unmarried partners will now be treated the same by the law for this purpose as those who are married or in a civil partnership. Unfortunately, previously concluded claims cannot be reopened but, in all other cases, proceedings must normally be commenced within three years of the date of death.”

Do you think this law should still apply only to married couples or civil partners, or should extend to committed long-term couples too? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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