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Wife wins damages over the death of her husband despite pending divorce

A woman has been awarded damages over the accidental death of her husband, despite the fact that she was divorcing him.

The case, Craven v Davies, was heard by His Honour Judge Freedman in the High Court in April. It concerned a claim for damages by Cathryn Craven, the widow of Jayson Craven, who was killed in a road traffic accident in June 2014. Mr Craven was killed whilst crossing a road when he was struck by a car driven by the defendant, Terry Davies. It was calculated that Mr Davies was driving at about 86 mph, in a 40 mph limit. Unsurprisingly, His Honour Judge Freedman was entirely satisfied that the accident was caused wholly by the negligent driving of Mr Davies.

The question, therefore, was: how much should Mrs Craven receive in damages? This turned upon the issue of the divorce, with it being argued on behalf of the defendant that the damages should be reduced, as Mrs Craven was not so financially dependent upon Mr Craven as she would have been had the marriage not broken down.

Mrs Craven countered this by arguing that, despite her having applied for the Decree Nisi prior to Mr Craven’s death, it was still likely that there would have been a reconciliation, and the marriage would have been saved.

Judge Freedman had to decide whether this was the case.

Obviously, Judge Freedman needed to look at the history of the marriage and, in particular, its breakdown. The parties met in about 1986, although they were not married until 2004. They had three children, now aged 22, 18 and 15. Mr Craven was the main “breadwinner” during the marriage.

The marriage first ran into difficulties in about 2010, for reasons I do not need to detail here, and Mr and Mrs Craven began attending Relate in about 2012. In November 2013 Mrs Craven consulted a solicitor about possible divorce proceedings. In January 2014 Mr Craven was said to be drinking heavily and being verbally abusive, and Mrs Craven discovered that he had been having an affair. Mrs Craven moved out of the matrimonial home, with the two youngest children.

In February 2014 Mrs Craven commenced divorce proceedings, citing, amongst other things, Mr Craven’s failure to provide appropriate care for the children and his behaviour, which involved excessive amounts of alcohol leading to verbal abuse and domestic violence. It was said that Mr Craven did not want the divorce, but he did not defend it. Mrs Craven applied for it to proceed, and the Decree Nisi was pronounced approximately 6 weeks after the fatal accident.

It should perhaps be noted that on the night of the accident Mr Craven had been out drinking with his ‘mistress’ (as Judge Freedman described her).

Notwithstanding all of the above, Mrs Craven claimed that it was more than likely that she would not finalise the divorce. She said, in particular, that she had not fully considered the financial consequences of the divorce, and that she would have sought advice upon this before finalising the divorce. Having received that advice in connection with the damages claim, she said that it was 80% likely that she would have opted to save the marriage and reconcile with her husband.

Judge Freedman did not accept this. He found that Mrs Craven was determined to proceed with the divorce and would have done so, whatever advice she received, whether financial or otherwise. In these circumstances, he was unable to find that there was a significant chance that, but for Mr Craven’s death, Mr and Mrs Craven would have been reconciled.

But that was not the end of the matter, it simply meant that Mrs Craven’s claim for loss of financial dependency was limited to what she would have received by way of maintenance payments from her late husband. For this, Judge Freedman took the sum of £10,500 per annum, calculated from the date of the death until the youngest child’ 18th birthday in 2020. Added to other sums covering bereavement, funeral expenses and awards to the children, this made the total damages awarded £101,514, including interest.

You can read the full report of the judgment here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers.

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