What to Do When an Accident Aggravates a Pre-Existing Injury

Thursday, May 19, 2016

pre-existing injury claimAccident claims are hard enough. But when the injured party was already suffering due to another injury or condition, it can get more complicated. Thankfully, complicated doesn't mean impossible.

Pre-Existing Injuries

A pre-existing condition or injury is one that existed before the accident happened. Pre-existing conditions include a variety of general conditions like degenerative joint disease, arthritis and the like. People may also have prior injuries like spinal injuries, a broken arm or whiplash. Regardless of the severity of the original condition or injury, having an accident may exacerbate them, delay healing or increase the level of treatment required temporarily or permanently. Both are treated the same under the law.

Pre-Existing Injuries and Their Relevance to a New Accident Claim 

While the pre-existing injury itself can't be the basis for a claim, since they can be aggravated by subsequent injuries, in most states, you may be entitled to compensation to the extent it caused further damage.

In Florida, for example, you have the right to recover damages related to a permanent aggravation of the previous condition or further damage caused by the new injury, though not for the pre-existing condition or injury itself.

Note that if an insurance company is involved in this situation (as in an auto accident), they'll likely fail to explain that to you and may give you the impression that you are not entitled to any recovery because the initial condition was not caused by the current accident. While we recommend that you always get an attorney involved as early in any process that involves recovering damages due to someone else's negligence, if you haven't yet done so and have been told this by an insurance company or the negligent party's attorney, it's time to get one involved, and we don't recommend having anything more than legally required communications with the defendant or their insurance company until you do.

"Eggshell" Rule

The eggshell rule refers to people who had a pre-existing condition that made them more susceptible to injuries that the average person, which the negligent party obviously couldn't have known. Essentially, it's irrelevant that you weren't aware Humpty-Dumpty's skull is made of eggshell and you weren't aware of that when you pushed him off a wall short enough that most people would have been unhurt. If his head cracks like the eggshell it is, you're still liable for the full damages, even if pushing him off the wall wasn't intentional.

Think of it in terms of high school kids. Putting peanuts in someone's smooth mashed potatoes sounds like a funny prank… until you find out the hard way they're allergic. But the offending student's lack of knowledge of their allergy doesn't stop the principal from suspending that student from school because they shouldn't have been messing with another student's food in the first place. 

Proving Aggravation of a Pre-Existing Injury 

A careful and detailed review of medical records must be done. Lawyers will typically consult the doctor who treated you, and if necessary, bring in other medical professionals as expert consultants (and witnesses if a trial is warranted).

The defense may try to claim that the recent accident has nothing to do with the current problem you're having. If it's a leg that was rebroken and the cast was in pieces at the scene of the accident, they could have a tough time doing that. But most of the time, it's not that cut and dry. Establishing causation is complicated and there are many factors that determine whether a pre-existing injury/condition has been permanently aggravated by a new accident.

In most cases, it's important — if not vital — to get a qualified personal injury lawyer involved as soon as possible. If you've been injured in an accident in the Kissimmee, Florida, area and it has aggravated a pre-existing injury or condition, contact the personal injury lawyers at Draper Law Offices at 866.767.4711 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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