Who wants to live forever?

The Office of National Statistics has reported that life expectancy in the UK did not improve at all between 2015 and 2017, remaining at 79.2 years…

The Office of National Statistics has reported that life expectancy in the UK did not improve at all between 2015 and 2017, remaining at 79.2 years for men and 82.9 years for women. There was a decline of 0.1 years for men and women in Scotland and Wales, and for males in Northern Ireland.

The slowdown in increased life expectancy reportedly began in 2011 as a result of an ageing society, complex health issues and cuts to NHS and social care funding (the latter obviously disputed by Government ministers). Furthermore, the slowdown was affected by the reported high number of deaths from 2015 to 2017 which coincided with a bad flu season and excessive winter deaths.

A number of factors impact on life expectancy including, gender, age, employment status, genetics, access to healthcare, hygiene, diet and nutrition, exercise and lifestyle. There is a significant geographical disparity between different parts of the UK. The Government have reported that there is a gap in life expectancy of 9.3 years for males and 7.3 years for females between the most and least deprived areas of England.

It is well established that as social/economic status decreases so does life expectancy. Economic status can affect a person’s ability to access adequate medical care and their participation in a healthy lifestyle, exercising more, smoking less and maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity is a major lifestyle factor that affects mortality; approximately 70% of adults are overweight in today’s society compared with approximately 46% in 1962.

Many argue that the Government need to conduct urgent research into life expectancy in order to address these disparities. When and if this will occur is a subject for another day. In the meantime social and economic factors will continue to impact upon life expectancy.

As technology gets better and medical research develops ways to prevent or reduce the effects of illnesses, we will inevitably live longer. However, this will only be effective if poorer areas of society also have access to the best medical care and technology available via the NHS.

An individual’s life expectancy will have a significant impact upon damages awarded should the individual be unfortunate enough to have a catastrophic personal injury; so how will the levelling off in life expectancy affect claims? Is every claimant’s life expectancy to be determined on a bespoke basis thereby frustrating the use of the Ogden Tables?

The tables are habitually used by all personal injury lawyers in order to determine a claimant’s life expectancy. It is inevitable that when the tables are updated they will reflect the changing trend in society. Nonetheless they remain limited. The tables only provide the statistical average results for males and females on a national basis. There are no discount factors to take into account regional variations in life expectancy and an individual’s economic and educational status and how that might impact on the individual’s life expectancy. One would hope that this might be corrected in the future but in the meantime lawyers must continue to obtain life expectancy evidence (clinical and/or statistical).

They should also obtain evidence around geography and lifestyle so the court can consider the issue of life expectancy based upon a claimant’s particular circumstances rather than very broad national averages. However, one has to sound a note of caution for defendant lawyers. If they deploy arguments in a case that a claimant`s life expectancy would have been less than the statistical norm, then be prepared for the counter argument on another case that life expectancy should exceed the statistical norm.

It is clear that if life expectancy figures continue to stall this will impact on damages awarded. However, one suspects that claimant lawyers will find other creative ways of maximizing any award so claims inflation will continue.

For further information or assistance on any of these issues please contact:

Dave Cottam, Partner dave.cottam@weightmans.com 0116 242 8924

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