Expense Recovery With Fatal Accident Claims

By | September 26, 2016

The law is contained in the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.

1. Expenses Incurred Prior to Death

The LRMPA allows recovery of funeral expenses by virtue of section 1(2)(c) which provides for the deceased’s estate to claim these. In addition, other expenses may also be claimed under the LRMPA. These are limited to what the deceased himself could have claimed had he lived. Section 1(1) LRMPA states:

Subject to the provisions of this section on the death of any person after the commencement of this Act all causes of action subsisting against or vested in him shall survive against, or, as the case may be, for the benefit of, his estate.

2. Defining “Funeral Expenses”

“Funeral expenses” are not defined in either Act. Neither does case law give us an exhaustive definition. What is clear from the case law is that in claims under both the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the LRMPA 1934, the funeral expenses must be ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’. The test seems to be the same under both Acts. The relevant circumstances will include the deceased’s station in life, occupation and racial origin (Goldstein v Salvation Army Assurance Society [1917] 2 KB 291; Hart v Griffiths-Jones [1948] 2 All ER 729 at 731 per Streatfield J; Gammell v Wilson [1982] AC 27, [1980] 2 All ER 557, CA).

Some examples of what has been deemed to be (a) a funeral expense and (b) a reasonable or unreasonable funeral expense through the case law include:

Reasonable

St George v Turner [2003] CLY 936 – an exceptional case in which damages were recovered for funeral expenses in Japan exceeding £50,000, including a family Buddhist altar and fittings; funeral costs; the cost of a Buddhist renaming ceremony for the dead; payments for attendance by Buddhist monks; a gravestone and works; a memorial day reception; and an anniversary reception. A Japanese woman had been murdered by her English Husband. McGregor on Damages comments upon this case “It is thought that this is far too extreme to be upheld; even murder cannot influence the level of recovery for funeral expenses”

Smith v Marchioness/Bowbelle (27 January 1993) – a reception was allowed as reasonable. ‘A claimant cannot ignore the social obligation to provide some refreshments to guests’. Social decencies must be observed and the £400 spent was recovered. See also St George v Turner (10 May 2003, unreported). Contrast Gammell v Wilson [1982] AC 27, CA

Gammell v Wilson (at first instance) – a headstone or gravestone would be considered a reasonable expense. Also, reasonable funeral expenses may include the costs of a burial in another country if that is from where the deceased comes (see also St George v Turner above)

Schneider v Eisovitch [1960] 2QB 430 – the expenses of two family members who travelled to France to arrange for the return of the (brother’s) body were reasonable. Paull J ruled that the services provided had to be necessary and as the expenses would have occurred in any event, they were reasonable.

Hart v Griffiths Jones [1948] 2 All ER 729 – embalming a four year old child’s body was a reasonable expense.

Goldstein v Salvation Army Assurance Society [1917] 2 KB 291 – the cost of a tombstone was reasonable.

Unreasonable

Harding v Scott-Moncrieff [2004] EWHC 1733 (QB) – funeral expenses did not include the expenses of a memorial service, solicitors’ fees, accountants’ fees and a valuer’s report.

Quainoo v Brent and Harrow Area Health Authority (1982) 132 NLJ 1100 AND Gammell v Wilson [1982] AC 27, CA– expenses of an over-elaborate wake failed.

Gammell v Wilson [1982] AC 27, CA – The Court of Appeal upheld, with some hesitation, the trial judge’s award of £595 for a headstone in respect of a funeral which had taken place in 1976. One member of the court observed that “the tombstone… in this case was very near the boundary between a headstone and a memorial”. The Court of Appeal approved the approach ‘that there is a distinction between a headstone finishing off, describing and marking the grave, which is part of the funeral expense, and a memorial, which is not’. Expenses for an elaborate wake and mourning clothes were unrecoverable.

Stanton v Ewart F Youldon Ltd [1960] 1 All ER 429, [1960] 1 WLR 543 – expense on a memorial or monument was not in the circumstances reasonable but a simple gravestone would be allowed. McNair J said “‘The legal position is that a stone over a grave may properly be considered as part of the funeral expenses if it is a reasonable expenditure for the persons in the position of the deceased and of the relatives who are responsible for the actual ordering of the stone; but in so far as it is merely a memorial set up as a sign of love and affection, then it should not be included.a”

The claim also included £5 paid to the minister for attending the funeral, £8 for two additional limousine cars at the funeral, and £5 for removing the body to the house. These payments were also included as reasonable funeral expenses in the damages recovered.

Sadly, there is no definitive definition of funeral expenses, or, more importantly, reasonable funeral expenses. When considering these items in a fatal accidents claim, it will be a case of considering the case law and the two acts for guidance, and making a reasoned judgement based on this.

Source by Sue Jarvis

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