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Chronic pain after an accident – tough times ahead for victims?

Chronic pain following accidents can be a common problem. A recent case however has shown the difficulties accident victims face proving cases in the future.

Corries are experts in accident claims. Our solicitors have great experience in successful claims for accident victims. Call us for free on 0800 655 6550 if you have had an accident and need help.

Here we talk about a recent case showing the difficulties accident victims face to secure compensation.

chronic pain
Chronic pain claims will be harder in the future

Chronic Pain – The Claim

In law there is a maxim that when injuring someone the defendant has to take the victim as he finds him. Consequently a victim who is vulnerable and suffers more due to an accident may get more compensation. However this is not always the case.

In the case of Ruffell v Lovatt 2018 the issue of pain following an accident was put firmly to the test. Miss Ruffell brought a claim for damages in excess of £1.6 million following an accident in January 2012. She alleged that the accident had caused a condition called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

Blame for the accident was quickly established but the amount of damages was firmly disputed. She had suffered pain to the neck and right lower leg. Her case was that her quality of life was greatly reduced.

What did the court do?

At the trial Miss Ruffell’s life history and medical situation was gone through in great detail. Medical evidence from pain specialists and psychiatrists was heard. Her medical history, life history and the timeline of events both before and after the accident were discussed.

Evidence from witnesses gave some detail but the case mostly rested with the pain experts evidence. Medical entries from as early as 1995 showed a pattern of pain issues.She had a complex medical history and had claimed benefits over a course of time for various conditions.

The benefit claim applications detailed chronic and long term other problems.

The judge formed the view that before the accident Miss Ruffell suffered significant physical and psychological problems even before this accident. The judgment listed 15 long term issues.

Chronic Pain – the evidence and the issues

The judge went carefully through the evidence and history. After the pre accident history the post accident medical records were assessed.Finding an organic reason for her complaints was a problem. In addition inconsistencies in what was told to the doctors was noted. The psychiatrists suggested somatic symptom disorder (SSD) might be at play.

The judge also carefully considered CRPS. It is, for many. untested and not yet accepted as mainstream diagnosis. There is some doubt about it and when it applies to certain people. That Miss Ruffell suffered with disuse of her leg and pain and other problems was simply not accepted by the judge. The lack of use of the leg and other pain did not seem to stack up from a physical perspective.

The Claimant’s pain expert did not impress the judge. His failure to properly assess and take into account her pre accident health undermined him. The Defendant expert was preferred.

The psychiatrists found Miss Ruffell has SSD before the accident. At best the found she had some short affect and was then back to her pre accident state.

The Claimant herself was assessed by the judge. Her description of issues with her right leg did not stack up with expected disuse. The differing accounts to doctors and to the Department for Work & Pensions for benefits was noted. Her social media showing days out and an inconsistencies with her evidence did not impress the judge. The numerous issues were especially relevant where the sums she sought were so high.

The claim for care was wiped out by these inconsistencies and lack of other evidence.

Chronic Pain – The Judgment

The judge considered and wrapped up his 67 page judgment  ( see here ). The key findings were

  • CRPS is a controversial diagnosis that is medically untestable. There are no diagnostic tests and doctors have to rely on subjective observation;
  • Limb disuse can present a picture similar to that of CRPS;
  • It would be a “fundamental error” to accept that simply because there is a time connection between the accident and the pain that this proves there was damage;
  • The fact that a person complains of certain symptoms after an accident does not prove that they were caused by the accident;
  • The court will go through the pre accident history. In this case this established that all symptoms had shown themselves some time prior to this accident;
  • The Claimant had a long and complex medical history prior to this accident. She was suffering from a number of discrete and significant physical and psychological disabilities pre accident;
  • As a result of these disabilities she was physical disabled, socially isolated and dependent on others;
  • Prior to the accident the Claimant had a long history of unexplained pains, social anxiety, panic attacks, long standing serious psychological problems and recurrent depression;
  • The Claimant’s pre accident condition was at odds with her own description of her pre accident levels of function and that presented by her expert pain management expert, which accounts were rejected;
  • The judge criticised the Claimant’s pain management expert and rejected his evidence.

The judgment was for £12,500 for General Damages and £350 for past losses. The case looks difficult to appeal.

Case Comment

Proving that an accident caused chronic pain after an accident is difficult. Victims often become fixed that an accident had caused all the problems.Many people have underlying problems which will surface in due course. An accident can be a trigger for some symptoms but is rarely the case that a court will blame everything on one accident. A court will normally expect to see recovery and will go carefully through a person’s history.

The case gives a useful “shot across the bow” for accident victims and their lawyers. It shows that to prove a case ALL evidence, past and present must be supportive.

Corries are experts in dealing with people and managing them through a claim. If you have suffered an accident in the last three years and think we can help then call us now FREE on 0800 655 6550.

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