The Wrongful Death Accountability Act (WDAA) embodies an integrated series of statutory reforms designed to ensure that the twin goals of fair compensation and meaningful deterrence are satisfied in every situation where a person is killed by the negligent conduct of another. From the adoption of Lord Campbell’s Act in 1846 through to the Family Compensation Act of the modern day, British Columbia’s legal framework for assessing remedies arising from a wrongful death has preserved a perverse distinction – the fact that it often is cheaper for a defendant to kill someone than to merely injure them. Not only is such a distinction profoundly at odds with contemporary societal values, it leaves many surviving family members of wrongful death victims feeling as though their loved ones are worthless in the eyes of the law. The British Columbia Wrongful Death Law Reform Society (BCWDLRS) and supporting organizations contend that the time for meaningful, comprehensive reform to our province’s regime for fatal accident compensation is long overdue. The WDAA offers a roadmap for implementing reforms which balance accountability, compassion and public cost while ensuring that British Columbia’s most vulnerable families – those who have lost a member through the wrongful conduct of others – receive adequate recognition and protection under the law.
The WDAA is designed to replace both the current Family Compensation Act scheme and remedies available under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act with a single, consolidated action for wrongful death. Claims for wrongful death will be prosecuted in the name of the deceased person, through their estate’s personal representative. In addition for claims arising for losses suffered by the deceased person, the consolidated action will also resolve claims accruing to a broadly defined class of statutory beneficiaries – persons capable of establishing that they sustained compensable economic or non-economic losses arising from the decedent’s death.
The categories of allowable damages under the WDAA are more expansive than those presently available under the Family Compensation Act scheme. The most notable change from the present system of fatality compensation is that the WDAA allows for the decedent’s estate to seek damages for loss of anticipated earnings to the estate that the decedent would have contributed but for the death. By structuring the remedy to focus on loss to the estate rather than loss to beneficiaries, the WDAA resolves the ‘cheaper to kill than injure’ paradox that has bedeviled provincial law and frustrated surviving family members [since 1846].
Upon entry of judgment, the sums awarded by a court in connection with a wrongful death action under the WDAA will be distributed in two phases:
First, claims identified as losses sustained by “beneficiaries” shall be paid in full.
Second, the decedent’s estate will have access to the remaining proceeds of the action, to ensure that the estate’s creditors and other liabilities are fully paid.
The WDAA represents a significant advance over the present system of fatality compensation in British Columbia. It expands the classes of beneficiaries under the law to include surviving victims who may currently be overlooked by the Family Compensation Act, such as ex-spouses or siblings reliant upon a decedent for support. It protects creditors by helping ensure that a decedent’s estate has access to adequate damages from which the debts of the wrongful death victim can be settled.
For far too long, British Columbia’s legal system has shielded negligent parties from the full public and private costs associated with wrongful death. The WDAA offers a common sense approach which demands accountability from wrongdoers while providing compensation and compassion to the surviving families of fatal negligence victims. The WDAA is an act whose time has come.
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