Bereaved woman wins landmark ruling for unmarried couples

An unmarried woman has won the right to receive compensation after her long-term partner died due to medical negligence.

Jacqueline Smith lived with her partner John Bulloch for 16 years until he died in 2011. His doctors had failed to diagnose that he was suffering from an infection.

If he had been married, his wife would have received compensation of £12,980 following a medical negligence claim. However, under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, this right did not extend to his partner, Ms Smith.

She took legal action, claiming the Act contravened her human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case went all the way to the Court of Appeal, which has ruled in her favour.

It held that the very fact that bereavement damages were limited to the spouse or civil partner of the deceased showed that they were intended to reflect the grief that ordinarily flowed from the intimate relationship between husband and wife and civil partners.

Someone like Ms Smith, who was in a long-term relationship in every respect equal to a marriage in terms of love, loyalty and commitment, was in such a similar position to that of a surviving spouse as to be on a par with them.

It was also relevant that parliament had treated cohabitees of over two years as being in a stable and long-term relationship comparable to that of spouses and civil partners for the purposes of dependency damages, and had not provided any justification for the different treatment of such cohabitees under the Fatal Accidents Act.

Ms Smith’s human rights had therefore been breached.

The case has been hailed as landmark ruling and a breakthrough for cohabiting couples.

Please contact us on 01228 516666 if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

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