The award of damages is commonly referred to as a Loss of Society Award. The relatives that are entitled to make a claim include the partner, parents, child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild of the deceased or someone accepted and treated as one of those relatives by the deceased. The damages are intended to compensate relatives for the distress, anxiety, grief and sorrow caused by the wrongful death of their loved one, together with any loss of support, guidance or society.
Whilst in many cases the level of damages is set by a Judge it is also possible that a civil jury can award damages. Historically, there has been a wide gulf between the awards made by Judges and awards made by members of the public sitting on a jury, with juries awarding far higher sums.
The higher jury awards have been highlighted by the two most recent jury decisions in this area of the law. In 2015, in Claire Anderson & Others v Brig Brae Garage Limited, a jury made the largest award of civil damages in Scottish legal history when they awarded £140,000 to the widow of a man who died, aged 33, when he lost control of quad bike that he had been manoeuvring at his employer's premises. The deceased's father was awarded £80,000 and his daughter, who was only 6 weeks old at the time of the accident, was awarded £80,000. Following this, in 2016, in Hamish Stanger & Others v Flaws & Proctor, the jury considered loss of society awards for the family of a 64 year old woman who was killed instantly following a road traffic accident. The jury awarded £120,000 to the widower (aged 72 at trial), £50,000 to each of her sons (aged 46 and 49 at trial) and between £15,000 and £20,000 to each of her three teenage grandchildren.
Recent Judicial Award
Whilst these decisions highlight the apparently ever increasing awards juries will make, awards made by Judges are in comparison far lower. In the recent case of George Manson & Others v Robb Limited, a Judge awarded £75,000 to the widow of a man who died as a result of mesothelioma caused as a result of occupational exposure to asbestos and £30,000 to each of his two sons, aged 55 and 59.
The value of these claims would appear to be far from settled and we await further decisions with interest. In terms of advising our clients, it is always important to consider whether or not a case is suitable for a jury trial. Whilst there may be the potential for a higher award, if the jury do not empathise with the pursuers on hearing their evidence in relation to the familial relationships, or if the circumstances of the case are at all complicated, a lower award may ultimately be made. Therefore, careful consideration needs to be taken and it is a case of weighing up the risks of a jury trial with the potential for a larger award and deciding upon the best course of action.