Legal systems differ markedly on how they treat the emotional harm suffered by close family members of crime or accident victims. This paper reports the results of two empirical studies examining how citizens whose child, partner, or parent was killed or seriously injured as a result of violent crime or tort (secondary victims) perceive a monetary award for their own non-economic harm relating to the death or injury of their loved one. The objective of our research was to test the Dutch legislator’s assumption that a (modest) monetary award for secondary victims’ emotional harm can have a meaningful symbolic value by providing recognition and satisfaction. Until then, no compensation was available for such harm under Dutch law. In addition, we examined whether victims’ relatives preferred standardization or individuation in determining the amount of the award, how they evaluated the amount, and the manner in which such awards might be offered. In a first quantitative survey study conducted in the Netherlands, 726 secondary victims were asked for their evaluations of such awards for the emotional harm they suffered as a result of the death or injury of their family member. We also asked our representative sample about their actual experience of the legal process in order to put their evaluations of such awards into context. In a second qualitative study, conducted in Belgium, interviews were held with 14 secondary victims who had actually received an award for their own emotional harm under Belgian law (study 2). Results suggest that secondary victims regard an award for emotional harm as a positive gesture and may interpret it as helping to satisfy relatives’ psychological concerns by seeing it, for example, as an acknowledgment of loss and responsibility. Overall findings suggest that victims’ relatives may be seeking acknowledgement of their emotional losses and the norm violation.
Hulst, Liesbeth and Akkermans, Arno J., Can Money Symbolize Acknowledgement? How Victims’ Relatives Perceive Monetary Awards for Their Emotional Harm (September 9, 2011). Psychological Injury and Law, Vol. 4, November 2011.