How Do Pre-Existing Conditions or Injuries Affect a Personal Injury Claim?

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When you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence or intentional act, you may have not even considered how a prior injury or pre-existing condition may affect your claim. Insurance companies often try their hardest to reduce the compensation paid to an injured party. One of the most common tactics is to attempt to deny or discount claims when the injured party has some sort of pre-existing injury or condition. Fortunately, insurance companies cannot wholly deny these claims when their insured’s actions cause an aggravation or exacerbation of a pre-existing injury or condition.

Aggravation or Exacerbation of a Pre-Existing Condition or Injury

When an insured’s negligence or intentional act causes someone’s pre-existing injury or condition to become aggravated or exacerbated, then the insured is liable for the treatment of that aggravation or worsening. There is a distinction between aggravation and exacerbation, which may have different effects upon a personal injury claim.

An aggravation of a pre-existing injury or condition will generally be permanent in nature and lead to an increase in the general severity of that prior injury (for example, a person with degenerative disc disease suffering an injury that finally causes a spinal disc to rupture or herniate). An exacerbation of a pre-existing injury or condition is usually more of a temporary worsening of a pre-existing injury or condition (such as a person who previously injured their knee suffering from a temporary flare up of pre-existing arthritis).

In either case, it is critical to demonstrate a few things when an injured party has a pre-existing condition or injury. We must determine the status of the injured party’s condition prior to the accident or incident caused by an insured, so that a basis for the new wound or worsening of it can be determined. In addition, the mechanism of the injury caused by an insured’s negligence or intentional tort must contribute to the change in the injured party’s condition. Finally, we must determine through medical treatment whether this change is temporary or permanent in nature.

New Injuries Due to, or Worsened by, a Pre-Existing Condition

Another consequence of a person having a pre-existing condition or injury is that they may be more susceptible to future harm. Fortunately, there is a long standing legal doctrine called the “egg shell plaintiff,” which dates back over one hundred years in this country. One of the first famous cases exemplifying this doctrine is Voberg v. Putnam from 1891. In this case, a teenage boy was lightly kicked in the shin by another teenage boy; the injured boy had a recent previous injury to the same leg that had caused an unknown infection, which was aggravated by this new injury and resulted in the injured boy losing the use of his leg. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the Defendant was responsible for all injuries resulting from his act, regardless of how foreseeable they were. Voberg v. Putnam, 86 Wis. 278, 56 N.W. 480 (Wis. 1891).

In practical application, the “egg shell plaintiff” doctrine essentially means that an at-fault party must take the injured party “as they come.” So long as the actions of the at-fault party proximately cause harm to an injured party, then the at-fault party is liable, no matter how foreseeable or uncommon those injuries were from the mechanism of injury. Even the impact of a minor vehicle collision may cause catastrophic injury to someone with the right pre-existing condition.

Why You Need an Attorney With a Pre-Existing Condition or Injury

Fighting an insurance company for the compensation owed to you is difficult even in the best of scenarios; when a pre-existing condition or injury exists, many injured parties will find that an uphill battle just became a full on mountain to overcome. Regardless of whether a pre-existing injury was aggravated or exacerbated or a pre-existing condition led to a high susceptibility to an unforeseen injury, an insurance company will certainly attempt to use the existence of this prior injury or condition to limit their potential liability and your damages in any way possible.

It is critical that you have the representation of an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation that you deserve and are owed under the law. If you or someone you know has suffered an injury due to the negligence or intentional act of someone and their injuries were impacted by a pre-existing condition or injury, contact the experienced team of trial attorneys at Schiller & Hamilton Law Firm for a free assessment of your case.

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