POST ACCIDENT MEDICAL DISCOVERY
JAMES EGAN V CASTLEREA CO-OPERATIVE LIVESTOCK MART LIMITED
JUDGMENT OF MS JUSTICE BUTLER DELIVERED ON THE 9TH DAY OF OCTOBER 2023
The Court of Appeal upheld a High Court Order for Discovery in Personal Injury proceedings which directed disclosure of the Plaintiff’s post-accident medical records.
The accident occurred on the 13th of November 2017 at the Defendant’s premises being a livestock mart. The Plaintiff claims to have been standing in a designated safe area when a bullock collided with his left leg and caused him injury. The Defendant disputes this and denies vicarious liability for the actions of a bullock owned by a Third Party and pleads contributory negligence on the basis that the Plaintiff failed to remain in the safety pens and was standing in a part of the mart where animals were kept, and through which they were moved.
The Plaintiff issued proceedings wherein it was claimed that he sustained a soft tissue injury to his left leg, which was swollen and bruised in the aftermath of the accident, and it was also pleaded that he continued to suffer pain and had difficulty standing, climbing stairs and walking.
Updated Particulars of Personal Injury which radically altered the case were subsequently delivered. These suggested that the Plaintiff had suffered a far more complex injury, and that his ongoing complaints were due to a combination of his leg injury and his pre-existing back problem, which may or may not have been reactivated by the accident itself.
The Defendants sought voluntary Discovery of the Plaintiff’s medical records which included 5 years pre-accident medical records and 5 months post-accident. The Plaintiff agreed to the pre-accident medical records subject to the qualification that this category would include the Plaintiff’s initial medical attendance post-accident but nothing thereafter. The Defendant’s subsequently issued a Motion for discovery.
High Court Decision
Judge Twomey ordered that Discovery of the post-accident medical records were both relevant and necessary and concluded that the post-accident medical records were not just relevant but “invariably crucial to every Personal Injuries claim”. The Court held that such records in this case were particularly relevant, given the possible overlap between the injury suffered to the Plaintiff’s leg on foot of the accident, and his pre-existing back problem.
Court of Appeal Decision
The Plaintiff’s appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. Ms. Justice Butler delivered Judgment on the 9th of October 2023 in the matter and the following was noted:
- The letter seeking voluntary Discovery did establish a sufficient basis for the Court to be satisfied that the discovery of these relevant medical records is, in all other circumstances, necessary.
- The fact that an issue may be the subject of expert evidence at trial does not, in the Judge’s view, preclude the possibility that discovery of documents relevant to the issue, may be properly sought in advance of trail.
- The interaction between the Plaintiff’s pre-existing medical condition and the injuries sustained in the accident was significant in this litigation process and Discovery is intended to aid the opposing party’s preparation for trial.
- The fact that some or all of the discovered material will be provided at trial, does not assist a Defendant for example, in instructing his medical experts prior to the trial taking place.
- There was no evidence before the Court to suggest the Discovery sought would be overly burdensome and the Defendant had limited the period for which Discovery was sought to 5 months after the date of the accident.
The Court of Appeal found that there is no general prohibition on the discovery of post-accident medical records however, it does not follow that such an Order should be made in every case. It has to be considered whether the documents are relevant to the dispute, and if discovery of the documents is necessary for disposing fairly of the case, or for the saving of costs.
Justice Butler endorsed the reasons advanced regarding the need for discovery of post-accident medical records which centred on the possible overlap between the complaints of leg pain arising from the accident and the pre-accident history of issues with the Plaintiff’s back which made the records particularly relevant in this case. On that basis the appeal was dismissed.
It was noted that the criteria for Discovery includes the following:
- Necessity for the documents having regard to all the relevant circumstances including the burden, scale, and cost of the Discovery sought.
- There must be some proportionality between the extent of the documents to be discovered and the degree to which the documents are likely to advance the case of the Applicant, or damage the case of his or her opponent, in addition to ensuring that no party is taken by surprise by the production of documents at trial.
- In circumstances a too wide-ranging Order for Discovery may be an obstacle to the fair disposal of proceedings Discovery could become oppressive and it should not allow it to be used as a tactic in war between the parties.
Therefore, there is no general prohibition on the Discovery of post-accident medical records however, this does not mean that an Order should be made in every case.