A farmer suing over alleged injuries to his shin caused by a bullock at a cattle mart has lost an appeal against an order requiring him to supply his post-accident medical records to the mart’s lawyers.
James Egan, of Ballymacurley, Co Roscommon, claims he was injured at Castlerea Co-Operative Livestock Mart Ltd when a bullock collided with his left leg on November 13th, 2017. He says he has ongoing leg and lower back pain due to the accident.
The mart denies his claims or that it had vicarious liability for the actions of a bullock owned by a third party.
It pleads contributory negligence on the basis that Mr Egan failed to remain in the safety pens and was standing in a part of the mart where animals were kept and through which they moved.
In preparation for the hearing of the action, the mart sought disclosure of Mr Egan’s medical records. An issue arose over whether, in addition to the agreed discovery, the defendant was entitled to the discovery of his post-accident medical records.
When Mr Egan provided updated information about his injury, he disclosed to the mart that he has a history of back pain and a spinal disk bulge and underwent spinal surgery in the 1980s. This led to a request for discovery of his post-accident records which was refused for reasons including that it would be a matter for evidence at the hearing.
The High Court was asked to rule on the discovery issue and decided last January he must disclose the post accident records. The judge said such records are “not only relevant but invariably crucial” to every personal injuries claim.
Mr Egan appealed that decision. He argued, among other things, that much of the justification proffered by the High Court judge for his conclusion was speculative and had no relevance to the facts of this case. The mart opposed the appeal.
In a decision on behalf of a three-judge Court of Appeal, Ms Justice Nuala Butler dismissed the appeal.
She said the High Court judge was “fundamentally correct” in his decision to allow discovery of the documentation sought.
She said the fact that an issue may be the subject of expert evidence at trial did not preclude the possibility that discovery of documents relevant to the issue may be properly sought in advance of the trial.
The interaction between Mr Egan’s pre-existing medical condition and the injury sustained in the accident was now a significant issue in the litigation, she said.
Mr Egan had effectively conceded that his medical records are relevant and consented to the discovery of five years of his pre-accident medical records.
There was, in the judge’s view, no distinction in principle between pre- and post-accident medical records unless and until a point is reached where the records of his medical treatment overlap with legally privileged – as opposed to merely confidential - medical material.
The fact that there will be medical evidence if the case goes to hearing and that medical evidence can be called by both sides, did not preclude discovery of the records at issue being necessary at this stage, she said.