When someone dies due to the negligence of another, the law will compensate their family for the loss of the services they would have provided had they lived. In a case which clarified the law, a woman whose husband died from asbestos-related cancer received more than £900,000 in damages, the majority of which related to the care he would otherwise have provided to their foster children.
After the husband died at the age of 55 from mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer that is almost always associated with asbestos exposure – his widow launched legal proceedings against a company for which he had worked as a general labourer in the 1990s. The company's insurers did not dispute their liability to compensate his widow, but took issue with the value of her claim.
Having no offspring of their own, the couple had chosen to become foster parents to two children with special needs. Their intention was that the children would be permanent members of their family, that the husband would give up work to become their primary carer and that the wife would continue to pursue her career in nursing. It was, however, common ground that the foster children had no independent right to compensation in respect of the loss of the husband's childcare services under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
In ruling on the matter, the High Court found that the couple were very happily married and would have remained together into old age. Although they were paid for fostering the children, their motive for giving them a home was not financial. Once the husband became debilitated by his illness, it became necessary for the wife to give up work and replace him as the children's primary carer.
In those circumstances, the Court found that the reality of the family's situation was that the wife, rather than the foster children, was dependent on the husband's childcare services and it was she who had suffered the loss arising from his inability to provide those services.
The wife was awarded £666,181 in respect of the childcare, domestic and household services the husband would otherwise have provided. Her total award, including £97,500 for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity her husband endured before his death, came to £928,857.