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Do Pre-Existing Conditions Affect Personal Injury Claims and Settlements?

Many discussions about personal injury claims start with the assumption that the victim was in a state of flawless health before their car accident.

In real life, however, this is rarely true. Most people deal with all sorts of health conditions—some major and some minor. So what impact do pre-existing conditions have on personal injury settlements and the compensation victims receive?

The answer: it depends. A pre-existing condition shouldn’t prevent you from seeking compensation. However, it’s important to establish your health status both before and after the crash in order to show how the accident made your symptoms worse.

This isn’t always easy to do, and unfortunately, insurance companies often take advantage. Pre-existing conditions are often used as an excuse to deny or reduce the value of legitimate claims.

Pre-Existing Conditions: The General Rule

In general, the victim in a personal injury case can only recover compensation for injuries, medical conditions, or symptoms that are directly caused by the accident. If you had an existing injury or medical condition that wasn’t affected by the crash, you aren’t entitled to compensation for it.

You are, however, entitled to receive compensation for pre-existing conditions to the degree that the accident made them worse. This is known as exacerbation or aggravation of pre-existing conditions. You may be able to receive compensation not only for physical ailments and injuries, but also mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

The importance of determining the severity of a pre-existing condition both before and after an accident means that, in any personal injury case, the injured party will inevitably face questions about their past injuries or health conditions. Your attorney will try to establish the degree to which the accident worsened any conditions or injuries you had beforehand, while the insurance company will usually try to blame everything on any pre-existing problem they can find—no matter how minor or unrelated.

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Common Pre-Existing Injuries That Are Aggravated by Car Accidents

A person standing with their hands on their back indicating pain or strain

The sudden, blunt force of an auto accident often puts extreme stress on areas of the body including the spine, neck, and head. If you have a pre-existing injury in one of those areas, a motor vehicle accident can easily exacerbate the problem.

Some of the most common pre-existing injuries aggravated by car crashes include:

  • Prior head injuries such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI): If you’ve already experienced a TBI, you are more susceptible to future TBIs. Subsequent brain injuries are often more severe and sometimes lead to permanent damage.
  • Back and spinal cord injuries: A common pre-existing injury such as a herniated disc in your back can be aggravated or re-injured even in a small fender-bender.
  • Neck pain: Whiplash, or neck strain due to rapid head movement, is a common injury following a rear-end car accident. If you have any pre-existing injury to the neck or upper spine, a car accident is almost certain to make it worse.

If you have been seen by a medical professional for any of these injuries, those records and medical bills may be relevant to your car accident claim. A pre-existing condition like those listed above can cause additional trauma in the event of a car crash, and your personal injury claim will need to show how the accident made your condition worse.

RELATED: How Much Compensation Do You Get for a Brain Injury After a Car Accident?

Will My Pre-Existing Condition Affect My Car Accident Claim?

If a car accident aggravated your pre-existing condition, settlement negotiations with the insurance company will likely be complicated.

That said, you should never feel discouraged from pursuing compensation for your injuries just because of a pre-existing condition. In many cases, an injury victim who has received regular medical treatment will have an easier time producing concrete evidence of their medical history compared to someone who hasn’t seen a doctor in 10 years.

The compensation you may be eligible to receive for the aggravation of a pre-existing condition will depend on establishing the severity of that condition and how it affected your life before the accident. Fair compensation for a personal injury claim should include:

  • Medical expenses: When looking at treatment for a pre-existing condition, any treatment costs, consultations with medical experts, therapists, surgeries, etc. related to your accident should be covered if they are above and beyond what you had already expected to pay. For instance, if you are already in physical therapy, your bills would only be covered if you required extra physical therapy appointments.
  • Lost wages: if you missed work due to the accident or any medical appointments related to the accident, that monetary loss should be compensated with your claim.
  • Pain and suffering: You may seek compensation for lost quality of life. With a pre-existing injury, this will only be relevant to the extent that your quality of life was changed by the accident.
  • Property damage: This includes damage to your car in the event of an accident, and even personal belongings in the car.

Sometimes accident injuries can be more difficult to prove when you have a pre-existing condition. However, the injuries you suffer as an accident victim deserve fair treatment from the insurance company. You should not be afraid to seek out compensation for injuries following a car accident.

RELATED: Car Accident Lawyers in Charlotte, North Carolina

3 Tips for A Stronger Personal Injury Claim With A Pre-Existing Condition

The insurance company is looking to pay out as little as possible. This means the insurance company will search through your medical records for any possible evidence that of a pre-existing condition to blame for your injuries.

Here are a few tips to help you make your case as strong as possible:

  1. Hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent you. They will go over your medical history, including any information about pre-existing conditions, at the beginning of the case. Their experience in negotiating with insurance companies can be invaluable.
  2. Be honest with your attorney. Let your attorney decide how to handle any information that might seem to complicate your claim rather than keeping such details to yourself. Failing to disclose a previous injury could damage your credibility, jeopardize your claim, and even expose you to legal action if the defense finds out about your omission.
  3. Provide as many medical records as you can. Any documentation to show your health condition prior to the accident can be used to prove how things changed as a result of the accident. Even something as small as an existing injury involving knee pain can be affected by a car crash. While you may not have seen a doctor for lesser pre-existing injuries, physical therapy records can be enough to show how the car accident changed your injuries.

“The Eggshell Skull Rule” or “Take Your Victim as You Find Him”

One important legal concept has a rather unusual name: It’s often called the “eggshell skull rule.” It’s also known under a few other names, including the “take your victim as you find him or her” rule. In general, this rule applies to all personal injury cases, and it states that the relative frailty of the injury victim is not a valid defense against an insurance claim.

The rule’s name comes from an imaginary case that illustrates the core concept. Imagine a person who injured someone else, unaware that the victim’s skull was as thin as an eggshell. Such a condition would leave that person extremely susceptible to injury. According to the “eggshell skull rule,” the defendant is liable for all damages that stem from their wrongful actions, even though they had no idea about the victim’s condition and even though that condition played a role in the severity of the resulting injuries.

To use a few more specific examples, a person with a history of concussions might suffer a debilitating TBI in a crash that might not have caused a brain injury in a typical adult. Or, a person with osteoporosis might be at greater risk of severe bone fractures. According to the eggshell skull rule, the at-fault party can’t use the victim’s frailty to get out of paying for their damages.

The most important takeaway from this rule is that no victim should hesitate to contact an attorney if they were injured due to someone else’s negligence, regardless of the state of their health before the accident.

Contact Myers Law Firm If You've Been Injured

If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligent actions, Myers Law Firm is here to help with aggressive, dedicated legal advocacy. We understand how your prior injury can affect your case, and we have extensive experience with cases where a defendant’s insurance company tries to avoid paying claims. When you choose us to represent you, we’ll put our years of experience and familiarity with local courts to work for you, and we’ll fight relentlessly on your behalf until your case reaches a resolution.

Call our offices today at 888-376-2889 or fill out the contact form on our website to schedule your free consultation with our car accident lawyers. We will use this time to get to know you, learn about your case, and inform you about your legal options so you can go forward with confidence.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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