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Can My Pre-Existing Condition Affect My Injury Lawsuit?

Posted on January 15, 2019 in Personal Injury

Many victims of personal injury accidents have pre-existing medical conditions prior to their incidents. Unfortunately, pre-existing conditions can complicate a victim’s damages claim. Pre-existing injuries or conditions may require the victim to prove, through medical records or expert testimony, that the injury in question does not relate to the pre-existing issue. It could also force the plaintiff to prove that the recent accident exacerbated an existing injury. Navigating these complex injury cases may require help from a personal injury attorney.

The Eggshell Skull Rule

Most personal injury lawsuits involving pre-existing conditions call into play the eggshell skull rule. This is a legal doctrine that creates liability for a plaintiff’s entire negligence-related injury regardless of pre-existing conditions. According to this rule, a defendant is responsible for a plaintiff’s reactions to the defendant’s negligence, however unforeseeable and uncommon. This does not mean the defendant will be responsible for all pre-existing injuries, but it would create liability for injuries pre-existing conditions worsen.

The name of the doctrine comes from a common example of the law in action. If the plaintiff had the peculiar characteristic of an eggshell-thin skull, and therefore suffered a more extreme head or brain injury than someone with a regular skull would have, the defendant will still be liable for the plaintiff’s total injury – not just the brain injury a typical person might have sustained. Unless the defendant has a complete defense, he or she will be liable for any injuries the plaintiff suffers due to the defendant’s negligence, even if the plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions magnify damages.

The eggshell skull rule can benefit a personal injury lawsuit plaintiff by not barring him or her from financial recovery because of pre-existing conditions. A plaintiff with previous injuries or illnesses may still be eligible for compensation after an accident if he or she can prove the defendant’s negligence. However, the existence of a prior condition could change the processes involved in an injury lawsuit.

Proving a Separate Injury

It may be necessary for the plaintiff’s side to prove that the injuries in question are separate from a pre-existing condition. Otherwise, the defendant could argue that the plaintiff already had the injury or condition prior to the accident – therefore escaping liability. A plaintiff’s lawyer may need to gather medical records and hire a medical expert to testify on the victim’s behalf. A medical expert is a practitioner with special skills, knowledge, or experience with a subject relating to the case.

Hiring a medical expert can be critical during an injury lawsuit involving a pre-existing condition. The expert may help prove to a judge or jury that the plaintiff’s injuries in question are new, and come directly from the defendant’s act of negligence. The expert may bring models, diagrams, and other pieces of evidence to help demonstrate the distinction between a pre-existing condition and the new injury.

Demonstrating a Worsened Prognosis

A plaintiff’s lawyer may need to prove that the defendant’s negligence worsened a pre-existing condition. For example, if a plaintiff already had a slipped disc in the spinal cord, but a car accident caused the disc to rupture, the plaintiff’s lawyer would need evidence that the accident worsened the plaintiff’s health prognosis. The defendant may try to argue that the plaintiff already had the injury. It will be the plaintiff’s responsibility to combat this defense and show evidence of the link between the defendant’s negligence and the injuries in question.

If you had a pre-existing condition before a personal injury accident, contact a lawyer about your case. An existing problem could complicate your lawsuit and even bar you from recovery, if you do not have a plan heading into settlement negotiations. A lawyer can collect the appropriate evidence and documentation, hire expert witnesses, and help you hold someone else accountable for damages despite a pre-existing condition.

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