If you are pursuing a personal injury claim, such as an Accident at Work claim, obtaining medical evidence is a critical step of the process. Unless your injuries are very minor, it’s likely this step will involve being examined by a medical expert. The medical expert’s job is to act as an impartial assessor of your injuries and to prepare a medical report.
Arranging an appointment with a medical expert
Your solicitor will usually arrange an examination only when they are confident your claim will succeed, or when the party you are claiming from (‘the other side’) has admitted fault for the accident. Often, a solicitor will instruct a medical expert through a medical agency.
The type of medical expert instructed will be determined by the nature of your injuries: in road traffic accident (RTA) claims (in which the most common injury is whiplash) it is likely that you will be examined by a GP. For more minor injuries, it is unlikely that the GP will want to see your medical records.
As a general rule, you will usually be examined by the type of medical expert who has been providing you with care after your accident. So, for example, if you have been treated by a consultant hand surgeon then a report from an independent consultant hand surgeon is likely to be required. Note that it will not actually be the same medical expert as this may lead the other side to object that the expert is not impartial.
For more severe injuries, you will usually be examined by more senior and experienced medical experts – a consultant orthopaedic surgeon for injuries involving fractures, for example. A consultant expert is more likely to want to see your medical records when preparing their report, such as GP records, hospital notes, and particularly any investigations such as x-rays or scans.
In high-value claims, the medical experts may also wish to see your occupational health and personnel records. Such records may indicate whether you have experienced any relevant health problems before the accident.
The medical examination
The examination will involve the expert asking you a number of questions about your injuries. It may also involve a physical inspection of your injuries, if appropriate.
It’s not unusual for clients to comment that the medical examination doesn’t last very long. Unless warned in advance, many clients have been surprised that the expert isn’t particularly caring and have felt that they are ‘on a conveyor belt’. This is not everyone’s experience but it’s worth remembering that the medical expert isn’t acting as your doctor; they are there as an independent consultant.
There is no need to worry about the examination. However, it is important to inform the expert all of the injuries and symptoms you have suffered, and continue to suffer. Don’t assume that the expert will know about your symptoms without you telling them. In our experience, this is one of the most common mistakes personal injury claimants make!
The medical examination and report are important to your claim, but they can also prove very useful to you in other ways. The medical expert will be dedicating some time to your injuries and may often spot issues which your own doctors haven’t identified.
The medical report
Some weeks after the medical examination, the medical report will be passed to your solicitors. It is the job of your solicitor to scrutinise the report in order to verify that it is broadly correct and to identify any relevant issues. Properly analysing a medical report is quite a specialist task. The solicitor should consider a number of questions about your case and the report, including:
- Does the description of your accident mirror what you have previously described?
- What are the injuries which you have sustained?
- How long will your injuries last?
- What impact has the accident had upon you and your lifestyle?
- Does the medical expert need to see any medical records?
- Does the medical expert make any recommendations in terms of rehabilitation?
- Does the medical expert recommend that you are examined by any other types of medical expert?
- Are there additional financial losses identified by the medical expert?
- How many hours of care and assistance have you received?
- Has the medical expert dealt adequately with the psychological element of your injuries (if applicable)?
If you or your solicitor spot factual errors in the report, then it will be returned to the expert for correction. We have had a case at Truth Legal in which the expert stated that the client had suffered an injury to his left foot, when it was clear from the client, the photographs of the injuries, and the hospital records that the injury was, in fact, to the right foot!
Unfortunately, mistakes are all too common in medical reports and so it’s very important that your solicitor reads and re-reads the report to catch them. At Truth Legal, your case will be handled by a specialist solicitor, not an unqualified “case handler” in a call centre with 400 cases on the go at the same time. By providing a personalised service from a solicitor or qualified Legal Executive who is familiar with you and your case, we are more able to make sure mistakes are noticed and corrected. If you feel that your current legal representatives have not been providing you with this standard of service, you can switch solicitors and transfer your case to Truth Legal. It’s fairly easy to change lawyers in a personal injury claim.
In the process of a claim, facts can be challenged, but it is much more difficult to challenge the expert’s diagnosis and prognosis. Personal injury solicitors are of course not medically qualified, but experienced solicitors usually get a feeling when the expert hasn’t done a particularly good job. If your solicitor considers that the expert’s diagnosis or prognosis needs to be questioned, then it is usually worth your solicitor writing to the medical expert in order to challenge their conclusions. This is because the severity of an injury, as stated in the medical report, determines the value of the ‘general damages’ (the legal term which refers to pain, suffering and loss of amenity) as well as the ‘special damages’ (the legal term for financial and associated losses).
You should always approve the contents of a medical report before it is disclosed to the other side. If an unhelpful report is disclosed to the other side, it is likely they will be most unwilling to accept a more favourable report if one is later produced. In complex, multi-injury claims, it is common for several different experts to prepare a number of reports on your injuries. On top of this, in high-value claims, the other side’s representatives may wish to instruct their own experts in the hope that ‘their’ expert’s report is less favourable to you and therefore reduces the value of your claim. Some medical experts are known to be claimant-friendly, whereas other medical experts are often regarded to be the opposite – the latter are known by claimant solicitors as ‘hatchet men’. This is a sad state of affairs, as the experts should be there to assist the administration of justice.
It is very important, then, that medical evidence is interrogated by your solicitor. It is also essential that you analyse the report and pass your comments, usually in writing, to your solicitor.
At Truth Legal, we have always had concerns that some factory law firms, in which very many claims are handled simultaneously by unqualified staff, are not properly analysing medical evidence. As a result, we fear that many claims are being undervalued. Worse, unless provisional compensation is paid, a personal injury claim cannot be reopened once it is settled. If your claim has been under-settled by the kind of ‘nightmare’ law firm described here, you may be able to make a professional negligence claim against them to recover your losses.
By providing a personalised and thorough service, we at Truth Legal strive to ensure you are paid the right amount in compensation for the injuries you have suffered.
If you would like to discuss your injury claim with a qualified solicitor or qualified legal executive, free of charge and on a confidential, no-obligation basis, contact us today.