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Kotke v Saffarini, Court of Appeal, 9 March 2005

11 March 2005
The issues

Fatal Accident Claims – Cohabitation – Section 1(3)(b) Fatal Accidents Act 1976

The facts

The Claimant and Mr Snowdon were walking on a pavement across a bridge in Bath in March 2000 when the Defendant lost control of the car he was driving and hit Mr Snowdon and the Claimant. The Claimant was severely injured. Mr Snowdon was hurled over the parapet wall over the bridge into the river Avon below and died.

The Claimant brought a claim for loss of dependency under Section 1(3)(b) Fatal Accidents Act 1976 on the basis that whilst she was not the spouse of Mr Snowdon she had lived with him in the same household as his wife for a period of at least 2 years before the date of his death. The Defendant denied her entitlement to claim and the matter was heard before the Judge as a preliminary issue. The Judge found that the Claimant was not entitled. The Claimant appealed.

The decision

The Claimant and Mr Snowdon had been friends for several years. In 1995 the friendship ripened into a sexual relationship. They then owned and lived in separate properties in Sheffield and Doncaster. They used to stay together at weekends at one or other of the houses. Mr Snowdon had toiletries and casual clothes and some spare work shirts and ties at the Claimant’s house.

In late 1996 there was talk of them buying a house together when finances permitted. In summer 1997 at the time of the Claimant’s 40th birthday she said that she did not wish to get married. Mr Snowdon’s position according to the Claimant was that at that time he had made his choice to be with her and he wanted to be with her regardless. In early 1998 the deceased and the Claimant looked at houses together with a view to purchasing a property. In June 1998 the Claimant became pregnant. It came as a shock to both of them and after that the Claimant said that they really began to make plans.

In April 1999 he completed a form for his employers setting out the expressions of his wish in the event of death benefit being payable if he were to die in service. He said that 80% of the benefits should go to the baby boy that was born in March 1999, 10% to the Claimant and 5% to each of his brothers.

In October 1999 having let his property he changed his address to that of the Claimant’s property. The Claimant said that at that time she continued to pay mortgage and Council tax on the basis that they had made the decision not to change that until they had decided precisely what their intentions were.

On New Year’s Eve in an offhand way he obliquely invited her to marry him and she deflected the question. Two months later Mr Snowdon was killed. The Judge found that the keeping of separate houses and separate homes was not consistent with the parties living in the same household. He found that in Mr Snowdon’s “centre of gravity” had not shifted by March 1998 and did not start to shift until after the pregnancy was discovered which was in July 1998, less than two years prior to Mr Snowdon’s death. The Judge has not misdirected himself and had considered all the relevant evidence and law.

The Claimant’s case was that the Judge had reached the wrong conclusion on the facts. The Judge had correctly identified that the issue was whether or not the parties were living together by March 1998. He had correctly drawn a distinction between wanting and intending to live in the same household – between planning to do so and actually doing so. On the evidence before him he had decided that the relationship with the parties did not cross the statutory threshold into the final stage. The evidence showed that the deceased retained his home in Doncaster leaving his wardrobe and possessions there and lived in effect out of an overnight bag at Sheffield until such time as he could dispose of his own house or purchase a new home with the Claimant. That situation together with the Claimant’s acknowledgement was only after the pregnancy that they really began to plan a life together was sufficient to justify the Judge’s finding that the situation changed only after the pregnancy.

The mere sharing of shopping expenses when the Claimant and deceased were together at the Claimant’s property was evidence of a sharing relationship but one which fell short of the establishment of a joint household.

Comments

Appeal Dismissed

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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