Death in service to widow

Braganza v BP Shipping Ltd and another [2015] UKSC 17

The Supreme Court has ordered a death- in- service benefit to be paid to a widow, despite an exclusion clause in the contract preventing a claim if the deceased was at fault for their death.

Facts

Mr Braganza was employed by BP Shipping Ltd (‘BP’) as a ship engineer. He disappeared on a voyage and was later presumed dead; the reason for the disappearance was unclear, but the employer concluded that the most likely explanation was suicide.

The employee’s contract provided for a death- in- service benefit, but clause 7.3 of that contract contained an exclusion clause for deaths resulting from the employee’s ‘wilful act, default or misconduct’ at sea. Mr Braganza’s widow brought a claim on the basis that she was entitled to the benefit.

At first instance, the High Court upheld the claim on the basis that it was for BP to prove that their conclusion that Mr Braganza had committed suicide was reasonable; the court held it was not.

BP appealed.

The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal, finding that BP’s conclusion that Mr Braganza had committed suicide was not unreasonable.

The Decision

The Supreme Court upheld Mrs Braganza’s appeal and ordered BP to pay the death- in- service benefit. The conclusion of suicide was Wednesbury unreasonable on the basis of insufficient evidence.