As of May 1st, 2013, the Province of Alberta under the Fatal Accidents Act, has increased the amount of bereavement surviving family members may claim for the wrongful death of a loved one in a fatal car collision.
Bereavement is defined as the, “grief, loss of care, guidance and companionship of the loved one”. The amounts have been legislated to avoid an innocent victim being cross-examined about the extent of their grief and their loss. We believe this is a better approach than other jurisdictions where wrongful death claims have the victim’s cross-examined about the grief they have suffered. However, unfortunately we believe that the bereavement amounts, even though they have been slightly increased, are still too low.
Alberta Fatal Accident Claims for Bereavement
The spouse or “interdependent partner” previously would receive $75,000.00 and now after May 1st, 2013 will receive $82,000.00. The children who lose a parent in a fatal accident will each receive $49,000.00 when previously it was $45,000.00. Finally the parents who lose a “child”, even an adult child, will now split equally between the parents $82,000.00 rather than $75,000.00.
Unfortunately, unlike other provinces in Canada, brothers and sisters still do not receive bereavement amounts, nor do stepchildren when there is a fatality.
Bereavement amounts are only one small part of a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a loved one as there are several other “heads of damage” which can be very large especially if the deceased was the primary income earner as the surviving spouse and children may bring a claim for the long term future loss of the deceased’s income they were dependent upon.
Although bereavement amounts are set by statute, namely the Fatal Accidents Act, they are rarely straightforward in a fatal car or truck crash due to the fact that the defendant insurance company will often raise issues such as contributory negligence on the part of the deceased driver. If, for example, the deceased is found 25% contributory negligent for the fatal accident, then the bereavement amounts for each individual will be reduced by 25%. Similarly, if the deceased did not wear a seatbelt, and this may have contributed to his or her death, there is a deduction for contributory negligence, which ranges in Alberta from 10% to normally a high of 25%, although one case at trial went as high as 50% and was subsequently overturned on appeal. There are many other defenses that the defendant insurance company will raise such as the speed of driving for the road conditions with the end result that the bereavement amounts may not be paid in the way one would think would be a fairly straightforward fashion.
Finally, one should be aware that the bereavement amounts are not paid interim or before a final settlement. They are only paid as part of a complete settlement of the fatal accident claim with all of the other heads of damages agreed and settled upon in exchange for a final release.