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How Do Pre-Existing Conditions Affect Auto Accident Claims: It’s Complicated

Like it or not, pre-existing conditions will play a role in your auto accident claim.  Whether the injured victim is  being treated for a chronic condition or some other current injury, it’s not uncommon for someone to be in less-than-perfect health before an auto accident. That does, however, beg the question of whether or not the pre-existing condition/injury will have an impact on your auto accident claim.

The answer, in typical legal fashion, is yes – possibly. It might impact some portion of your claim, but overall it should not prevent you from receiving a fair settlement in your personal injury case, and in fact in many instances it can increase the value of your claim.

Types of Pre-Existing Injuries and Conditions

Common chronic medical conditions that affect a new injury after an auto accident include:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Arthritis

The most common pre-existing injuries that are exacerbated by an auto accident include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Neck pain
  • Sprains
  • Broken bones
  • Back pain
  • Herniated disc

How Your Pre-Existing Condition Can Complicate Matters

If you’re in an auto accident and you have a pre-existing injury, the at-fault party is likely not going to be responsible to compensate you for the original injury that had nothing to do with the auto accident. However, if your current injury or condition is exacerbated by the accident you should be compensated for the extent of exacerbation.

The complication comes when attempting to prove causation and liability. It is very difficult to prove that something that already hurt and was receiving medical care now “hurts worse” than it did prior to the collision. It is difficult to quantify the level of injury or pain in some cases, which can lead to challenges in proving liability and receiving compensation.

The Causation Factor

Let’s say you’re in an auto accident and afterwards are having back pain. If you had never experienced back pain previously, it would be easy to prove causation – that the auto accident did in fact cause the back pain.

However, if you’re currently being treated for back pain due to a herniated disc that was caused by a particularly strenuous day of yard work, and you have more back pain after the auto accident, you would be required to prove that the additional pain is a direct result of the auto accident.

How can you prove this, when things such as pain levels are subjective and open to interpretation? One could argue that their current back pain is typically controlled by over-the-counter medication, but after the accident you have to take prescription pain medication and see a chiropractor weekly. However, be aware that the insurance company could require additional evidence to attribute the pain as an outcome of the car accident.

Calculating “Damages” – How Much Money Do I Get?

Let’s keep the previous hypothetical situation going, and assume the insurance company for the at-fault driver accepted your claim that the extra back pain you are feeling is due directly to the auto accident. It would be reasonable to be compensated for the cost of the chiropractor visits, medication and pain and suffering you incurred. If the extra pain made it so you were unable to work, you could potentially recover your lost wages as well. Economic damages in this case are fairly straightforward and easy to calculate.

Non-economic damages, on the other hand, would be significantly more difficult to calculate. Calculating these subjective and intangible damages without the complication of a pre-existing injury is hard enough; but to prove “pain and suffering” with the presence of a pre-existing condition will, almost guaranteed, open you up to questions and arguments to decrease the amount of damages from the insurance company responsible for settling the claim.

Complications Aren’t Necessarily Negative

The presence of a pre-existing injury or condition can very easily complicate your auto accident claim – but that isn’t necessarily a negative complication. Back to our hypothetical situation – if you’ve been treated for back pain recently, chances are you’ve been in contact with your physician and also had an MRI or other imaging in an effort to diagnose the cause of your pain. After the auto accident, with additional pain, it would not be unreasonable for your physician to order another round of imaging. With this second set of images, you could have solid evidence of an additional injury, thus opening you up to receive the damages for the back pain.

Another argument that experienced personal injury attorneys use is called the “egg shell” plaintiff. The attorneys will claim that, like an eggshell, their client’s pre-existing injuries made them more susceptible to injury and “easier to crack.” It’s not the injured parties fault that they were hit, and even though this collision may not have injured a normal person without pre-existing conditions, impact of any type will drastically affect an “eggshell plaintiff.”

While having pre-existing conditions and active injuries before an auto accident does complicate the process of successfully settling the auto accident claim, it isn’t necessarily going to lead to an automatic denial of your claim. The insurance company is guaranteed to have an attorney on their side, fighting to deny or decrease your claim in any possible way. Your best chance for success will come with an experienced auto accident attorney on your side. The auto accident attorneys at Ritchie Reiersen Law have years of experience helping thousands of clients receive fair treatment after an auto accident. Treating you with compassion and respect, Ritchie Reiersen Law will fight to protect your rights and help you receive the compensation you deserve. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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