Can I claim if an injury made a pre-existing condition worse?

Updated: October 2, 2020

If you are injured in an accident at work then it should be possible to claim financial compensation for any pain, suffering and loss of amenity. But what happens if you suffered more serious injuries (than you might have otherwise experienced) due to a pre-existing injury?

Pre-existing health conditions

You may live with a health condition that causes you pain and discomfort, or prevents you from doing certain things.

If an injury makes the symptoms of a pre-existing condition worse, it can certainly add complexity to the injury claim process.

To make a successful compensation claim it will be necessary to establish which symptoms were accelerated or made worse by the accident.

When making an injury claim, your solicitor will arrange for a medical examination with a ‘medico-legal expert’. The examination will consider all of the information available when seeking to establish what effect the accident has had on any existing condition. The exam will also consider the prognosis for recovery and any future care or treatments that may be needed.

The medical examination will also take into account your existing medical records as well as any medical attention you received after the accident.

What if I wasn’t aware of a pre-existing condition?

You may have a pre-existing condition that you were not aware of until you sought medical attention at after your accident.

It may be that the accident caused the pre-existing condition to become symptomatic. The accident might also have accelerated the manifestation of symptoms. Probably the most common example of this is back injury. Most people's spinal discs degenerate as they age. Around one-third of people have some degree of disc degeneration by the age of 35. This increases to nine out of ten people by the age of 60.

An injury claimant will undergo various scans and x-rays at the medical assessment. The results of the scans could establish that an injury brought on or accelerated symptoms that would have manifested in the future in any event.

If, for example, the medical evidence showed that you could have expected the symptoms within 10 years if the accident had not occurred, then your compensation would be calculated with a 10-year horizon rather than a lifetime one. This often comes as a shock to a claimant who was previously unaware of the condition.

However, a good solicitor will make the counter-argument that you might have made lifestyle changes that could have arrested the progression of the condition - perhaps even averting it.

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The ‘eggshell skull’ rule

If your symptoms or injuries are more severe than they would have been if there was no pre-existing condition, the ‘eggshell skull’ principle may apply. This well-established principle, also known as the ‘eggshell rule’, means that a court will ‘take a claimant as they find them’. In other words, the fragility of the claimant is not a defence.

The eggshell skull rule recognises that even if your injuries are worse due to a pre-existing health condition, you would not have been injured at all were it not for the defendant's negligence.

For example, you might have been injured by a falling object at work. If you had brittle-bone disease and you suffered more extensive injuries because you are more susceptible to broken bones than a ‘normal person’, your employer would be liable for the full extent of your injuries.

Seek medical attention without delay

If you have an accident at work, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Even if you think your injury was not severe enough to justify a visit to a hospital or your GP, you should seek medical attention anyway.

It may be that you are at risk of delayed symptoms, such as delayed concussion. You may also be at risk of making the injury worse without a proper diagnosis.

Getting medical help as soon as possible after an accident creates a record of your injury that could add vital evidence in support of your claim.

Have you been injured at work?

If you have been injured at work in the last 3 years, you may be able to claim financial compensation.

Find out more about making a work accident claim:

  • Do you qualify?
  • How much compensation could you get?
  • How does No Win, No Fee work?

Read more: Work accident claim guide

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