Do Pre-Existing Conditions Affect a Personal Injury Case?

by: Sonja Bradley

It’s not uncommon for people to have chronic pain or a previous injury when involved in an accident. But how are pre-existing chronic medical conditions and prior injuries considered in the context of a personal injury case?

The party at-fault in a personal injury case is responsible for the injuries they cause. Their responsibility extends to the worsening of pre-existing conditions.

To recover damages for pre-existing conditions is complicated; however, the at-fault party takes his victim as he finds him and is responsible for all damages flowing from his negligent act.

What’s considered a Pre-Existing Condition in a Personal Injury Case?

Pre-existing conditions are illnesses or injuries that started before the accident occurred. There are two types, chronic conditions, and prior injuries.

Pre-existing chronic conditions

A chronic condition is commonly considered any disease or physical ailment that lasts for more than three months. Typically, as people age, they develop chronic illnesses, such as orthopedic, heart, or pulmonary diseases.

If you suffered from a chronic low back condition before an accident, it’s feasible an accident would cause damage in your low back. Has your pain changed since the accident? Has the pain increased? These are essential questions you have to be able to answer.

Your doctor may have objective tests of your back before and after the accident that shows changes in your back. His examination and testimony are relevant in confirming your claims.

For example, an MRI of your lumbar indicated a bulging disc without nerve impingement before your accident. And after the accident, an MRI showed the same disc was herniated and impinged a nerve. The MRI’s are objective evidence that the accident aggravated a pre-existing chronic condition.

Can a car accident worsen degenerative disc disease?

Yes, although insurance companies and defense attorneys tell victims otherwise. If you’ve been injured and have preexisting degenerative disc disease, you are entitled to be compensated for your injury.

Your pre-existing condition makes you at an increased risk for further injury and doesn’t nullify your personal injury claim. See the case summary below of Augustine v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company below. (eggshell plaintiff)

Previous Injuries

Previous injuries are injuries previously sustained from an earlier accident. Let’s say you were involved in an automobile accident and broke your arm. You went to the hospital and was put in a cast. The following week, you’re in another accident, and your arm is hurt again.

Does the most recent accident cause more damage to your arm? If so, to what extent? Your arm was hurt before the second accident. Does the at-fault party have to pay again for a limb that was broken in a different accident?

These questions will have to be answered by your doctor or other medical experts. However, if the damage to your arm was made worse by the second accident, the at-fault party will have some responsibility to pay for your losses.

Should You Mention Prior Injuries?

Yes, you should always be honest about prior conditions, especially with the attorney representing you. Being dishonest can effectively diminish your chances of a fair recovery.

Lying, or failure to disclose an old injury jeopardizes your entire case. It not only tarnishes your injury claim it also diminishes your credibility in all other aspects of your case. Opposing counsel use failure to disclose prior medical conditions as a weapon to attack plaintiffs’ truthfulness.

Recovery for a Plaintiff suffering severe pre-existing conditions

There is a legal theory referred to as “the eggshell plaintiff.” It’s a catchy phrase, but what does it mean? The eggshell theory stands for the premise that a defendant takes the plaintiff as is.

In other words, if a persons’ skull is thin as an eggshell and cracked during a minor rear-end accident, the at-fault party is responsible for all damages flowing from the injury. The eggshell condition can not be used to shield the at-fault party from full responsibility for the injuries.

The eggshell plaintiff in Louisiana

The supreme court of Louisiana addressed this situation in the case of Augustine v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. In the Augustine case, a 74-year-old woman was involved in a minor rear-end collision that resulted in no damage to either vehicle.

At trial, the woman testified that she had arthritis before the accident, and the pain increased afterward. The jury awarded the woman $50,000.

State Farm appealed the judgment was excessive based upon the slight impact of the vehicles. However, both the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal the Louisiana Supreme Court confirmed the jury verdict. The Augustine case solidifies that a defendant takes his victim as he finds them.

You need to provide a clear and detailed explanation of your prior medical condition, not only so you get the proper medical care but also so you can be justly compensated.

Defense attorneys and insurance agents will try to pin every injury illness and injury on your prior condition. Honesty, about your medical history, is the best approach to getting your proper treatment and compensation.

Medical Records

One advantage of pre-existing conditions is the paper trail documenting your medical history. It is essential to notify your attorney of all doctors who’s treated you so they can request a copy of the medical documents.

Your attorney can use the medical records to distinguish your current injuries and also work with your doctors. Medical records are useful in depositions of medical witnesses and during the trial. They provide critical information so a judge or jury can have a full picture of how the accident aggravated your prior condition.

Take steps to protect your case

If you’ve been in an accident and had a pre-existing condition hire an attorney. Insurance companies and defense attorneys’ primary responsibility is to save their clients money.

By hiring a qualified and experienced personal injury attorney soon after your accident can help you build a strong case by relating your current condition to previous medical issues.

Call Sonja Bradley, an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney.

Don’t let defense attorneys or insurance adjusters bully you because of a pre-existing condition. An experienced attorney can help you recover all the damages you suffered because of someone else’s fault. Damages you are entitled to recover are pain and suffering, lost wages, medical bills, and disability.

Sonja Bradley is an attorney with offices in Hammond, and Livingston, Louisiana.

Sonja Bradley J.D., Sonja received her undergraduate degree from Southeastern Louisiana University and a Juris Doctorate from Loyola University School of Law. Sonja is a member of the Louisiana State Bar Association and the 21st JDC Bar Association. She has 21 years of legal experience.