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

Nurse talking to injured patient

It is possible to make a compensation claim if a pre-existing medical condition, illness, or injury was made worse or aggravated by a subsequent injury.

Apportioning the correct percentage of your symptoms to the accident is more challenging than establishing causation with a new injury. The medical evidence will, therefore, be pivotal when making a claim.

Seek medical advice ASAP

Seeking medical attention as soon as possible after an accident should be your first concern. Establishing the cause and, if possible, the date of the start of the deterioration of any pre-existing symptoms will help support your claim.

The longer the period between the accident and medical attention, the harder it can be to prove that the deterioration of your symptoms was caused by the accident.

Make sure you keep any paperwork and medical reports as the results of a medical examination can provide invaluable evidence if you decide to make a claim.

The cost of medical treatment, including additional physiotherapy, can generally be included in a claim for compensation, so you should keep proof of any costs relating to this treatment, such as travel expenses.

The eggshell skull rule

Regardless of the type and severity of an injury, the frailty and fragility of a claimant will not make a successful defence in a personal injury claim.

The eggshell skull rule (also known as the 'thin skull rule' or the 'you take your victim as you find them' rule) is a legal principle that allows a defendant to be held liable in certain scenarios.

The defendant's actions or negligence might have resulted in minor injuries for most people. If the claimant's predisposition or pre-existing condition resulted in more serious injuries, the defendant would be liable for the full extent of the injury.

For example, a negligent driver may cause a collision that results in another driver sustaining minor injuries and a heart attack. Even if the injured driver had a pre-existing condition that made a heart attack more likely, the negligent driver may still liable for the minor injuries and the heart attack. It would, however, need to be proved that the heart attack was brought on by the accident.

The eggshell skull rule implies that the rule only applies to head injuries. In fact, the principle has been successfully applied in many types of injury claims.

What if the claimant was unaware of their pre-existing condition?

It may be that a claimant was unaware of an underlying health issue or predisposition. The underlying condition may only be revealed to the claimant when seeking medical attention after the accident.

The eggshell rule would still apply even if the claimant was unaware of any pre-existing health condition.

What if the accident accelerates the onset of a medical condition?

It is also possible to claim compensation if an accident accelerates the onset of an illness or medical condition.

An example might be when if an employee sustains a degree of hearing loss after working in a loud environment. A medical professional might determine that due to various factors, such as your age, history of medication, and family heredity, some hearing loss may have occurred in any event.

If, however, it is concluded that that the noisy working environment accelerated the deterioration in your hearing, a compensation claim will still be possible. In this example, general damages compensation may be awarded on the basis of any loss of amenity for the period between the early onset of the condition, and the point that your condition would have arisen had you not been exposed to the noisy environment.

Predicting when a condition might have arisen in the future if the accident had not occurred is often complicated. Getting medical attention as early as possible may help provide critical evidence.

See also:

Can I claim for an injury if I didn't get medical attention?

What happens during a medical examination for an injury claim?

What happened?

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher