The Fatal Accidents Act 1846

TT Arvind and Jenny Steele (eds), Tort Law and the Legislature (Hart 2012) 131-157

33 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2017

See all articles by Donal Nolan

Donal Nolan

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 21, 2012


This chapter is a historical analysis of the Fatal Accidents Act 1846, which for the first time gave the relatives of a person who had been wrongfully killed a right to compensation from the wrongdoer. I argue that criticisms of the 1846 Act are largely groundless, and that giving the relatives of the deceased claims in tort was a pragmatic and rational response to the problem of wrongful death in the mid-nineteenth century. Furthermore, I argue that from the standpoint of legal analysis, the formula for recovery employed in the legislation was appropriate and effective, and that the legislation was a progressive measure, which had beneficial social effects. It is shown that the immediate catalyst for the legislation was the desire to protect the interests of the families of those who perished in mining accidents, and more generally it is argued that the passage of the Act was motivated by the humanitarian desire to reduce the incidence of fatal accidents and to make provision for those affected by them when they did occur. I conclude that the advent of the wrongful death action was an important and welcome development in the law of tort, which was appropriately brought about through legislative intervention.

Keywords: tort law, English legal history, wrongful death, occupational death, Fatal Accidents Act 1846, legislative reform

Suggested Citation

Nolan, Donal, The Fatal Accidents Act 1846 (December 21, 2012). TT Arvind and Jenny Steele (eds), Tort Law and the Legislature (Hart 2012) 131-157. Available at SSRN:

Donal Nolan (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

Worcester College
Oxford, OX1 2HB
United Kingdom


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