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Supreme Court Judgment in Knauer case

The Supreme Court has unanimously allowed an appeal in the case of Knauer v Ministry of Justice which concerned the appropriate date for the assessment of multipliers in claims for future loss under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

This overturns the previous decision by the House of Lords in Cookson v Knowles and has important implications for defendants in such cases.

What happened in the case?

Mrs Knauer contracted mesothelioma during the course of her employment at a prison. Mr Knauer made a claim for future loss of dependency under the Fatal Accidents Act. The Ministry of Justice admitted liability in December 2013.

The annual income figure and the services lost were agreed by the parties. However, there was a dispute about whether the number of years that figure was to be multiplied by was calculated from the date of death or from the date of trial.

The trial judge held they were bound to follow the House of Lords decision in Cookson v Knowles which applied the multiplier from the date of death. The judge did, however, make it clear that the approach recommended by the Law Commission in their report “Claims for Wrongful Death” was to calculate the multiplier from the date of trial and that he would have preferred to follow that approach. For that reason he allowed an appeal straight to the Supreme Court.

What did the Supreme Court say?

There was established case law that the multiplier should be assessed from the date of death. However, the Supreme Court decided to apply the 1966 Practice Statement which allows them to depart from precedent to achieve justice. The reason for this was that in the current legal climate, the application of the reasoning in the House of Lords decisions is illogical and its application also results in unfair outcomes.

The Supreme Court therefore found that the multiplier should be applied from the date of trial.

What does this mean for defendants?

For claims made under the Fatal Accidents Act, defendants will lose the benefit of the discount applied by the multiplier in respect of past losses for the period between the date of death and the date of trial. This will result in an increase in the value of Fatal Accidents claims.

How can Ward Hadaway help?

For further information on the implications of this judgment or on any of the issues raised by this update, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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