Inquests are held in a separate jurisdiction to civil claims and, by statute, coroners (and inquest juries) are prohibited from making findings of negligence. Notwithstanding this, families are increasingly legally represented at inquests and bring civil claims against healthcare providers alongside, or after, the inquest process. We hope this fact sheet will help you to consider some of the key considerations when dealing with claims arising from inquest proceedings.
Admissions of liability pre-inquest
It can be advisable to make an admission of liability in advance of the inquest hearing (even if a claim has not been intimated or particularised).
This should be considered if expert evidence or the findings of a SI or RCA report suggest that there has been breach of duty and/or that death was avoidable.
Making an admission of liability may:
1. Narrow the issues for consideration at an inquest.
2. Ensure your organisation has complied with its statutory duty of candour.
3. Reduce the amount of legal costs in respect of the inquest that are recoverable as part of the civil claim.
Dealing with claims post-inquest
If the coroner or jury return critical findings or a critical conclusion, this does not automatically mean that you will need to compromise a civil claim. For example, the coroner may not have had the benefit of expert evidence.
However, it is difficult to challenge an inquest conclusion and criticisms at inquest may make it more difficult to continue to defend the civil claim.
1. Claims brought under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and Fatal Accidents Act 1976 must be brought within three years of the date of the deceased's death.
2. Claims brought under the Human Rights Act 1998 must be brought within one year of the alleged breach of the deceased's human rights.
Often, claimants will seek to agree a limitation amnesty in respect of a Human Rights Act claim in line with the timetable for the rest of a civil claim. They may also seek an extension to the limitation period for the entire claim until after the conclusion of the inquest (so that they have the benefit of the inquest evidence when particularising their claim). Depending on the duration of the extension sought, it is usually advisable to agree to this.
Claims may be brought pursuant to:
a. Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and/or Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
A claim in negligence will need to be established arising from the circumstances giving rise to the deceased's death. A claim under the LR(MP)A 1934 can be brought by the executor and/or administrator of the deceased's estate. A claim under the FAA 1976 can be brought by the executor and/or administrator of the deceased's estate or, if there is no such person, by anyone who would have had the benefit of being executor or administrator.
b. Human Rights 1998.
Section 6 of the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for a public authority (which includes health trusts) to act in a way incompatible with convention rights. A victim of that violation can bring a claim against a public authority with compensation being a relief provided for by the Act.
A claimant needs to establish both:
1. A breach of the deceased's (and/ or their bereaved relative's) convention rights, most commonly:
a. Article 2 (right to life)
b. Article 3 (right to not be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment)
c. Article 8 (right to private and family life)
2. Causation: that there was a real prospect or substantial chance of avoiding the outcome (a different test to a claim in negligence).
It may be easier to establish a HRA claim where the inquest was one to which Article 2 applied.
Quantifying claims arising from inquests
We set out below the heads of damage that may be sought in these claims:
1. Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934:
a. PSLA from the time of the injury to the time of death
b. Any other financial loss incurred between the date of the injury and time of death e.g. loss of earnings until that date, private treatment costs, care costs, travel costs
c. Funeral expenses
2. Fatal Accidents Act 1976:
a. Funeral expenses if paid for by the dependents
b. Financial dependency (including past and anticipated future loss of income or other financial benefits)
c. Loss of gratuitous services (e.g. DIY, gardening, or provision of care)
d. Bereavement award: currently £12,980 - for deaths on or after 1 May 2020 this has increased to £15,120. There is only one award, which must be shared if more than one person is capable of recovering it. The following are entitled to the statutory bereavement award:
i. Wife or husband of the deceased
ii. The parents of a legitimate minor child who was never married or the mother of an illegitimate minor child who was never married
3. Regan -v- Williamson  1 WLR 305:
a. Award for 'intangible loss of a parent': this has received a mixed welcome in the courts. If awarded, it will be a small lump sum only
4. Human Rights Act 1998:
a. A sum for breach of convention rights - see Rabone - v- Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust  UKSC 2
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.