In a classic example of the law moving on to meet the ever-changing requirements of modern life, the Supreme Court has corrected a legal anomaly which had for many years resulted in the loved ones of fatal accident victims being under-compensated.
The widow of a man who worked as an administrative assistant in a prison launched proceedings after he died from asbestos-related cancer. Liability was admitted by the Ministry of Justice. However, the value of her claim was disputed and a particular issue arose as to whether her loss of dependency claim should be calculated by reference to the date of her husband’s death or the date of the trial of the action.
The judge in the lower court felt constrained to take the former course on the basis that he was bound by a House of Lords decision to that effect, dating back to 1979. Calculating the widow’s claim from the date of death meant that her damages were discounted for early receipt although, in fact, she did not receive any money until after the trial. As in many other similar cases, the end result was that she was under-compensated.
The Supreme Court had no hesitation in allowing the widow’s appeal and increasing her award accordingly. It noted that the legal landscape had been transformed since 1979 and that methods of calculating damages in personal injury cases had greatly increased in sophistication. Ruling that the date of trial should in future be used in assessing loss of dependency awards, the Court found that to persist in following a precedent which dated back almost 40 years would result in illogical and unfair outcomes.