The Effect of a Pre-Existing Condition on Your Car Accident Claim
By David Carnes, Staff Writer
Insurance companies are businesses that make money by taking in more from premiums than they pay out in claims. There have been many occasions when insurance companies have seized upon the existence of a pre-existing condition to reduce liability for a personal injury claim arising from a car accident, or even deny the claim altogether. The presence of a pre-existing injury is a legal complication that may require the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Medical records are typically the lifeblood of a personal injury claim. If you are pursuing a personal injury claim arising from a car accident, it is important that you disclose any pre-existing injuries, even injuries that might appear related to your car accident injuries. To fail to voluntarily disclose this information will cast serious doubt on your credibility if your pre-existing injuries are later discovered (if the insurance company subpoenas the hospital’s medical records, for example).
Nevertheless, there is such a thing as providing too much information, such as information that an insurance company or a defendant could use against you unfairly. It is best to disclose medical information to your personal injury attorney and let him decide when, where and how much to disclose. Do not sign a medical authorization form (that would allow an insurance company unfettered access to your medical records) without consulting your attorney first.
The “Eggshell Plaintiff” Doctrine
Strictly speaking, if you had a pre-existing injury that was worsened by your accident (an old back injury that was aggravated, for example), your claim should not be reduced simply because you had a pre-existing injury. Under the “eggshell plaintiff” doctrine, a defendant must take his victim as he finds him – and if a pre-existing injury caused you to suffer greater damages in the accident that would otherwise have been the case, the defendant is liable for them as long as the accident was his fault.
What an insurance company is likely to focus on is the claim that some or all of the medical treatment for which you claim damages (including all or part of a claim for “pain and suffering”) was necessitated not by your car accident injury but by your pre-existing injury. In this way the insurance company might seek to reduce your damages claim or deny it outright.
A key issue in many pre-existing injury cases is causation. Even if the defendant negligently caused the car accident, the car accident must have actually caused your damages in order for you to recover. If you were already undergoing treatment for back problems prior to the accident, and the accident made these problems worse, a court is likely to take into consideration the fact that you would have likely incurred certain medical expenses for back problems even if the accident had not occurred. A court will be disinclined to compensate you for these particular expenses, in order to avoid putting you in a better position than you would have been if there had been no accident.
Again, your personal injury lawyer should know how to present the evidence so that you can maximize the value of your claim.
Calculating Damages When a Pre-Existing Injury is Relevant
Even if your pre-existing injury is found to be relevant to your personal injury claim, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon your claim entirely. A skilled personal injury lawyer can compare pre-accident and post-accident medical records (“before” and “after” X-rays of your back, for example) to help compute the amount of damages that you are entitled to. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in your jurisdiction for further details.