Fatal accident claims and divorce proceedings
The recent case of CC (Widow & Dependant of JC (Deceased) on behalf of herself and dependents v TD highlights an interesting point on the issue of divorce and its impact on fatal accident claims.
CC brought claims under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 (as amended) and Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (as amended) for herself and her three children following the death of her husband, JC in a road traffic accident in June 2014. JC had died instantly after being struck by the defendant whilst crossing a road. The defendant had been driving more than twice the speed limit at 86mph and there was no question over primary liability. An allegation of contributory negligence was made against JC for his failure to use a nearby crossing, but rejected by the court. It was held that JC could not have anticipated not being able to cross safely considering the distance (more than 200m) between him and the defendant when he started crossing. According to the evidence, it was in the early hours of the morning, traffic was light and JC could have crossed safely but for the speed of the defendant’s vehicle. The court therefore found the insurers to be fully liable.
The assessment of the compensation due was complicated by the fact that at the time of his death, JC and CC were separated and living apart after their marriage ran into difficulties. And despite CC’s assertion to the contrary, there was every evidence to suggest they would have divorced but for JC’s untimely death. Indeed, CC had consulted solicitors who had issued divorce proceedings and these were not defended by JC. Furthermore, a decree nisi was issued six weeks after his death. Following Davies v Taylor  AC 207, the court held that a reconciliation was no more than a “speculative” possibility.
Accordingly, CC’s claim for loss of financial dependency was limited to what she would have received by way of maintenance payment until 2020 when their youngest child turned 18. This was £10,500 per year based on the financial evidence provided. The three children were each awarded £5,000 for loss of intangible benefits having been denied the benefit of their father’s love and affection. In addition, bereavement damages of £12,980, funeral expenses and the cost of a memorial stone were awarded.
In this tragic case divorce proceedings were pending at the time of the fatal accident and the evidence was more or less conclusive that these would have been finalised but for the death. This affected the quantification of the claim, reducing the overall value significantly, saving the insurers a substantial sum of money.