Personal Injury claims for Fibromyalgia – the importance of a specialist solicitor
So, you suffered a minor soft tissue injury in an accident but since then your symptoms have continued to get worse rather than getting better. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this is a common theme for those individuals who have developed Fibromyalgia (FM).
FM is a chronic illness that typically causes widespread pain throughout the body and can have a debilitating affect on a person’s life. The cause of FM is unknown, but in my experience as a solicitor bringing claims on behalf of FM sufferers, the condition can follow a very minor accident which you would expect a person to recover from very quickly, such as a minor road traffic accident.
The condition is more common in women than in men and is typically diagnosed in sufferers between the ages of 30 and 50. Sufferers of FM will often experience widespread pain, with particular pressure points, usually in the joints. They may also suffer from a range of other symptoms including fatigue, headaches and concentration difficulties.
There is currently no cure for FM and treatment consists of managing the symptoms of the condition as far as is possible as well as lifestyle changes in order to improve the quality of life for the sufferer.
In my experience of working with FM sufferers, it can often take a long time for the condition to be diagnosed. This is because other conditions are often excluded before an actual diagnosis of FM can be made. This can be very frustrating for FM sufferers in understanding the cause of their pain and discomfort. This poses particular difficulties in bringing a personal injury claim where the condition has developed as a result of an accident and a claim for compensation is considered. This is because there are strict time limits associated with bringing a claim. A personal injury claim for compensation must be started at court within three years of the date of the accident.
It is therefore important that you instruct a solicitor with particular knowledge of your condition, to ensure that your claim is dealt with effectively. My colleague, Marilene Antoni, has provided a useful blog about her experience of running a claim for Fibromyalgia.
A claim for compensation
In bringing a personal injury claim for compensation following an accident, there is generally a standard timetable followed to progress the case. A timetable, however, will differ depending upon the individual concerned.
I will use the example of a whiplash type injury sustained in a road traffic accident where the driver has admitted responsibility for the accident. In such circumstances, the process and steps a solicitor would usually take are as follows:
- Copies of your medical records would be obtained and an appointment would be arranged for you to be examined by a medical expert. In the case of a soft tissue injury, it is likely that you would be seen in the first instance by an orthopaedic expert.
- The orthopaedic expert may diagnose you at first as suffering from a soft tissue injury and give a period of time that the expert considers it will take for you to fully recover (i.e. the prognosis period). The expert may also recommend that some form of treatment, such as physiotherapy, may be necessary in order to aid your recovery.
- You would then have the option to settle your claim on the basis of this prognosis, or to wait to see if you did in fact recover as expected. If you did not recover as expected, you would then be referred back to the orthopaedic expert for a re-examination, and experts in other areas of medical expertise would be considered too. It is likely that you would be referred to a pain expert and/or a consultant rheumatologist and/or a consultant psychiatrist to consider the underlying cause of your continuing symptoms.
Difficulties for FM sufferers
The above timetable poses some particular difficulties for an FM sufferer.
- Using the above example, if you were to settle your claim on the basis of the initial prognosis given by the orthopaedic expert, there is a significant risk that you would be undercompensated for your injury. FM is a lifelong condition and could have a serious impact on your work life and ability to live independently. The value of any claim would therefore be considerably different with a diagnosis of FM compared to that of a soft tissue injury. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for an expert to diagnose FM at an early stage. I always advise my clients against considering settlement at such an early stage to ensure that it is clear what injury has been sustained and what it may mean for their future, to make sure that they receive the full compensation they deserve.
- As your solicitor, I would be obliged to send copies of any documentation prepared as part of your claim to the driver’s solicitor within a reasonable period. The medical report would be required to prove the injury that you have suffered and so would therefore be sent to the driver’s solicitor. There is always the risk that once the medical report is disclosed, that the driver’s solicitor would make an early offer of settlement. If an offer of settlement is made formally, there are costs consequences associated with it. You may therefore feel pressured to accept an offer of settlement at an early stage. I would, in my capacity as your solicitor, advise you as to all the risks associated with any offer to assist you in making an informed decision. I would also make it clear to the driver’s solicitor that as a result of your condition, you are not in a position to consider settlement until the likely prognosis of your condition has been considered by the medical experts involved.
- It is known that stress can exacerbate the symptoms of FM. Bringing a claim for compensation can be difficult, particularly as it involves thinking about an unpleasant event in your life. The stress of bringing a claim for compensation could therefore lead to further flare-ups in the condition. It may therefore be tempting for a sufferer to accept an offer of settlement that is less than their claim is truly worth, simply so that they can avoid the stress of dealing with the claim. My role in this situation would be to ensure that I took over the burden of the claim for you and made the process as easy as possible for the sufferer to deal with. I would also arrange appointments to speak with you at a time which was best for you. I know that some sufferers of FM feel better in the mornings and worse in the afternoon, as their fatigue develops. Others feel worse in the mornings, having slept in one position all night. As your solicitor, I would work with you in a way which best meets your needs.
FM is a complex condition that affects people in many different ways. Due to the nature of the condition, sufferers may be at a particular disadvantage when bringing a claim for compensation compared with those individuals who have suffered other, more easily identifiable injuries. The condition can be life changing and no amount of compensation can undo this. The right amount of compensation can, however, make it easier to live with the condition. It may, for example, allow a sufferer to work part time so that they can manage their symptoms. It may also fund adaptations to their home to make living independently easier.
It is for this reason that FM sufferers should ensure that the solicitor that they instruct has particular knowledge of the condition and can deal with their claim in an individualistic way which puts their needs at the centre of the process. This is the only way to ensure that a clear diagnosis can be reached and for the treatment to start at the earliest opportunity, in order to reach the best possible outcome and to achieve the right amount of compensation awarded.