Court rules medical records in months following accident are ‘not only relevant but invariably crucial’ to claim
A farmer suing a mart over alleged injuries to his shin caused by a bull has been ordered by the court to provide the mart with his medical records for five months after the alleged accident.
James Egan, of Ballymacurley, Co Roscommon, claimed Castlerea Co-Operative Livestock Mart Ltd should only see the medical report upon which his claim for damages relies. He argued it should not have access to other medical records from after the alleged incident. He was happy to disclose all of his pre-accident medical records.
Delivering judgment on Tuesday, Mr Justice Michael Twomey said he did not believe the provision of a medical report from the plaintiff’s consultant was sufficient. He said this would deprive the defendant of other post-accident records.
These, said the judge, provide the best evidence of the plaintiff’s medical condition after the accident and may address which of his complaints relate to the accident and which relate to other medical issues.
While noting there is a “significant breach of privacy” involved in disclosing very personal medical documents, Mr Justice Twomey said a plaintiff who decides to seek damages from a defendant for personal injuries waives his right to privacy for his medical condition.
Disclosure of a plaintiff’s medical records has a role in keeping that party honest, he added. This is particularly relevant to personal injuries claims, 97 per cent of which settle before coming to court when medical experts can be cross-examined.
It seemed to the court a plaintiff’s medical records are “not only relevant but invariably crucial” to every personal injuries claim.
In his personal injuries action against the mart, Mr Egan claims a bull damaged his left shin at the mart on November 13th, 2017. He says he has ongoing leg and lower back pain due to the accident.
He disclosed to the mart that he has a history of back pain and a spinal disk bulge and underwent spinal surgery in the 1980s.
At the hearing of the preliminary application, the mart said it needed access to post-accident records to understand the nature and extent of difficulties experienced by Mr Egan in his left leg due to compression of a spinal disk.
It wants to determine for itself which of Mr Egan’s injuries are attributable to the accident and which are not, and the extent of the overlap between pre- and post-accident injuries.
Mr Egan’s counsel did not argue the post-accident medical records are not relevant, instead submitting it was not necessary to disclose them to the defendant, the judge said.
Mr Justice Twomey said there were additional reasons that warranted disclosure of Mr Egan’s records, namely that he had a history of back pain and underwent spinal surgery. It seems clear, he said, that there was a possible overlap between his back and leg complaints arising from the accident and his prior history of disk complaints.
In a personal injuries case there is nothing to stop a plaintiff from going to more than one consultant and relying on only one of their reports in the action. The plaintiff is also in complete control of the medical history he provides to that consultant.
A defendant should not be restricted to a chosen medical report, as there are certain instances where solicitors, rather than general practitioners, refer clients to consultants even though this is in direct contravention of a principle laid out in a High Court judgment, the judge continued.
While it seems clear the majority of solicitors do not contravene this judgment, it is evident that some solicitors continue to do so, he said, citing six instances from the past three years. In such instances a consultant may not have sight of the plaintiff’s GP records or have correct information, the judge added.
There was no evidence before the court to suggest Mr Egan’s solicitor, rather than his GP, had referred him to a consultant.
While the mart was initially seeking discovery of records with no time limit, it subsequently sought post-accident medical records for only five months. Mr Justice Twomey granted discovery for this period.
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