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Claiming compensation after the unlawful death of a loved one

If you have suffered the devastating loss of a relative which was caused by the reckless or criminal behaviour of someone else, then you may be entitled to claim compensation.

While no amount of money can ever make up for their presence in your life, it may help you to face the future knowing that the person or organisation responsible has been held to account, and by ensuring that you and your family have some degree of financial security.

A claim for compensation may be possible where your loved one has died in an accident at work, a road traffic collision, a sporting accident or a mishap in a public place, or where their death was due to a medical mistake, a criminal act or a terrorist attack.

The route to securing compensation will vary depending on the circumstances of your relative’s death.  For that reason, it is always best to seek legal advice from a solicitor who understands the legal system, who can support you through the claims process, and who has the knowledge and expertise needed to maximise your chances of achieving an out-of-court settlement.

How can a solicitor help?

A solicitor will be able to advise you on:

  • how much compensation you can claim on your loved one’s behalf if their death was not instantaneous, to reflect their pain and suffering as well as any financial losses or expenses that they sustained;
  • how much compensation you can claim for yourself or another family member, to reflect your shock and grief as well as the loss of any financial support that your loved one could otherwise have been expected to provide;
  • how much compensation you can claim for yourself or another family member where you are in the awful position of having witnessed your loved one’s death, and where as a result of this you have suffered psychological harm; and  
  • whether you or another family member should investigate your entitlement to receive a statutory bereavement award or any other state-funded help or benefits payment.

A solicitor can also advise you on whether you meet the eligibility criteria to make a fatal accident or unlawful death claim, and whether an application can be made by you personally or whether it must be instigated by your loved one’s executor or administrator.

In most cases, it is only close family members and long-term partners who have the right to be compensated and in cases where a payment from the state is requested there may also be a need to satisfy nationality criteria before a claim can be pursued.

Compensation for an accident

Where your relative died in an accident that was not their fault, then it may be possible for you to make a compensation claim against the person or organisation responsible for the accident. This will usually be settled by their insurer or by a specialist scheme, such as that operated by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) to cover road traffic accidents caused by an uninsured driver.

Compensation for a medical mistake

Where the death of your loved one is due to a medical mistake or general neglect by a GP, NHS hospital, NHS community service or a private healthcare provider, then it may be possible for you to make a claim against the individual practitioner, their employer or an NHS trust.

Claims against the NHS will usually be dealt with by NHS Resolution (formerly known as the NHS Litigation Authority).  Claims against private medical practitioners and private clinics will usually be dealt with by their professional insurer.

Compensation for a criminal act or terrorist attack

Where your loved one has died as a result of a violent criminal act, sexual or physical abuse, or because of a terrorist attack which took place on UK soil or abroad, then it may be possible for you to claim compensation from the Government under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.  Where death occurred because of a domestic attack involving a motor vehicle then it may also be possible to make a claim under a specialist scheme operated by the MIB.

Time limits

There are strict time limits that apply to compensation claims arising from someone’s death and for this reason it is vitally important that you seek legal advice as soon as you possibly can.

In most cases, you will need to make your claim within three years of the date of death, or within three years of you realising that death occurred due to someone else’s actions.

However, there are exceptions to this which can mean that the relevant time limit may be shorter or longer than three years.  This includes where a claim is being made on behalf of a child, where the claim relates to incidents of historic sexual abuse or in some cases where a claim is being pursued through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

To find out more, please contact our dispute resolution team on 01905 721600 or via email:


This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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