Can a Pre-Existing Injury or Condition Affect My Personal Injury Claim?

If you have a chronic illness, health condition, or injury and are involved in an accident, the incident may aggravate your injury or condition. Irrespective of your pre-existing condition or injury, you can still pursue compensation for your damages, including your healthcare bills, rehabilitation costs, and other damages. However, your condition can complicate your case as the insurance company and opposing counsel may try to deny your claim or decrease your settlement because of your condition.

What Is a Pre-Existing Injury or Condition?

Pre-existing injuries and conditions refer to the health issues or conditions that a person has prior to being involved in the accident for which they are filing a claim. For example, you may have been diagnosed with brittle bone diseases (i.e. osteogenesis imperfecta), have a chronic illness, are currently recovering from a recent injury, or have a pre-existing injury. Types of pre-existing injuries include but are not limited to:

  • Scoliosis
  • Broken bones
  • Prior surgeries or injuries (like brain trauma or injuries that are still healing)
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle sprains and strains
  • Hypertension
  • Herniated disc or vertebral fractures
  • Nerve damage
  • Diabetes, fibromyalgia, neuromuscular disorders, or other chronic illnesses that cause arthritis or cause you difficulty healing

Pre-Existing Conditions & the Eggshell Skull Rule

If you are involved in an accident due to someone else’s negligence and have a pre-existing condition, your condition may be aggravated or may affect the severity of your injuries. As we’ve mentioned, the opposing counsel or your insurer may try to use your condition against you to discourage you from making a claim or as proof you don’t need a settlement award.

To protect those with pre-existing conditions or injuries, the Eggshell Skull Rule was established, which allows accident victims with weakness or frailty to still pursue damages in a personal injury claim. This rule also aims to protect eggshell plaintiffs from insurance companies who may try to dismiss claims if a person has a pre-existing condition.

The eggshell instruction is applicable in cases where:

  • the plaintiff’s condition was asymptomatic or dormant, or
  • the plaintiff’s condition was symptomatic and it can be evidenced that the damages caused by the defendant’s recklessness are greater than they would be if the plaintiff didn’t have a pre-existing condition.

Practical Application of the Eggshell Skull Rule

For example, let’s say Bob is rear-ended by Joe who was texting and driving. Even though Joe wasn’t going especially fast, Bob suffers multiple fractures from the collision because he has brittle bone disease. While Bob and his attorney may try to argue that Joe would have only suffered from some bruising if not for his condition, Joe will likely still receive damages as Bob acted negligently and caused him to be injured.

Another example would be Jane has a minor spinal cord condition that requires her to attend physical therapy regularly. After coming home from work one evening, Jane slips and falls in her condominium’s parking lot because of an uneven walking surface and potholes. Jane suffers some bruising and lacerations, and her spinal condition worsens. Because of the fall, she must now remain in a wheelchair. In court, Jane and her attorney prove that the complex acted negligently by ignoring prior complaints about the conditions in the parking lot, and even though Jane has a pre-existing condition, the negligent party will still be held liable for her injuries and damages.

Proving Aggravation of a Preexisting Injury or Condition

If an accident aggravates a previous injury or condition (like Jane’s spinal condition was exacerbated by the fall), you will need to provide substantial evidence that the defendant’s actions and negligence led to the aggravation. To prove that an accident aggravated your previous condition, you can submit:

  • Medical records. You can submit your medical records concerning the condition or injury from before and after the accident. Comparing the records can show that there has been a change in the injury and/or the care you need.
  • Employment records. If you have had to miss work and have lost wages, you can submit that as evidence as to your damages. These records can also show how you have needed different accommodations because your pre-existing condition was aggravated.
  • Witness statements. You can have friends, family members, and other people in your life submit a statement concerning how your condition has changed since the accident.
  • Medical opinions. In addition to your records, you can have an expert witness or a healthcare professional testify as to how your condition has worsened because of the accident.

In these cases, the jury or judge can also assign also apportion a percentage of the damages to your injury. Meaning, that your damages can be reduced if they can separate the amount of damages caused by the defendant’s negligence from the damages that your condition caused prior to the accident. You should speak with an attorney and be honest about your condition to get help calculating your damages and understanding how comparative fault and apportionment can affect your settlement award.

If you’ve been injured in an accident and suffered damages, we can help you develop a strategy to maximize your compensation and minimize your liability. Call the Law Office of Joseph A. Lazzara, P.C. at (720) 809-8262 or reach out online to get started.