How does a pre-existing medical condition affect a claim?
Sometimes a cycling accident does not just cause new injuries. It can also make an existing condition worse. For example, a cyclist may have a degenerative knee condition and then further injure their knee by coming off the bicycle in a collision with another vehicle.
Although you cannot claim compensation for a pre-existing medical condition, it is possible to make a claim if the accident makes the condition or injury worse.
The principle of the "eggshell skull"
The "eggshell skull" rule states that a Defendant who harms another person is liable for whatever injuries that person suffers, even if their injuries are much worse than expected.
The rule describes an imaginary person who has an extremely fragile skull, even though he looks normal. If this person is hit on the head, he might die, whereas a normal person would only be bruised by the hit.
Suppose, for example, that a Claimant's bicycle has been negligently repaired. Unknown to the repairman, the cyclist has a pre-existing heart condition. While out on the road, the bicycle breaks because it was not fixed correctly. The cyclist falls and scrapes his knee; he also has a heart attack due to the existing heart condition.
In this scenario, the repair person may be liable for both the minor cuts and also the unlikely heart attack. By law, the Defendant must take the Claimant as he finds him, pre-existing medical conditions and all. This applies even if the Claimant was unaware that he had a medical problem before the accident.
The importance of expert medical evidence
Exacerbated injury claims can be harder to evaluate than fresh-injury claims. Often, there may be no way of knowing for certain whether an injury would have gotten worse on its own or whether the accident caused the deterioration.
The outcome of the claim relies on expert medical evidence; specifically, whether a doctor thinks that a pre-existing injury was made worse by the cycling accident.
If a link is established, the medical expert will usually be asked to put a time frame on the aggravated injury. Using the example of the cyclist with the pre-existing knee condition, the medical report may conclude that the accident accelerated the symptoms of the degenerative knee disease by five years.
The medical report is crucial evidence in making sure that you recover the right amount of compensation for your injuries. The longer you delay in making a claim, the more difficult it will be for the medical examiner to establish a link between the accident and the additional pain or degeneration that you have suffered.
It is important to contact a specialist solicitor as soon as possible after your accident. Your solicitor can refer you to the right type of medical expert and get the medical examination underway.
What if the accident accelerates the onset of a medical condition?
It is also possible to make a claim if the accident accelerates the onset of a condition that you would have suffered in later life anyway, such as arthritis. While an accident will not necessarily be the root cause of the condition, it can cause you to experience symptoms that you might not have experienced for several years.
In such a situation, damages are calculated on the basis of loss of amenity - the impact the accident has on your enjoyment of life - for the period between the premature onset of the condition and the time that the condition would have arisen anyway.
Damages under this head are often difficult to assess. Getting an expert medical assessment soon after the accident can make the process easier and improve the chances of making a successful claim.