The widow of a British army officer who died in a cycling accident whilst serving in Germany will have her compensation substantially reduced after the Supreme Court ruled that less generous principles of German law applied to the assessment of her damages.
The widow was suing the insurers of a German driver who knocked down and killed her husband as he rode along a road verge. She has since remarried and had two children by her new husband. Liability was not in dispute; however, an issue arose as to whether her damages should be calculated under German or English law.
The Court of Appeal held that the terms of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 had no application to the case and that German damages rules should hold sway by analogy. That meant that the widow was not entitled to a statutory bereavement award and would have to give credit to the insurers for maintenance that she received from her new husband.
In dismissing her appeal against that ruling, the Court found that the Act laid down procedural, rather than substantive, principles of English law which did not have extra-territorial effect. The terms of the Act could not be applied irrespective of ordinary rules of private international law and were irrelevant to a claim that would be assessed under the substantive laws of Germany.