Preexisting Injuries and Your Car Accident Claim: What You Need to Know

The typical car accident case focuses on injuries caused by the crash. But what if you were injured before the accident? What if the car accident made that injury worse? Personal injury lawyers call injuries or illnesses that were present before the accident preexisting conditions. This article will explain more about preexisting conditions and how preexisting injuries can affect your car accident claim.

What is a preexisting condition?

Simply put, a preexisting condition is any medical condition that an injured person had before the accident. Generally, preexisting injuries can be split into two categories.

The first type of preexisting condition is an old injury. Assume that Abby was hurt at work five years ago when she fell off of a ladder. The fall damaged her neck in two places. If Abby gets into a car accident next week, her neck injury would be considered a preexisting condition.

The second type of preexisting condition is a chronic condition. A chronic condition is something that you are either born with or have had for many years. You can treat chronic conditions, but they usually cannot be cured. Diabetes and arthritis are examples of chronic conditions.

According to federal government research, half of American adults have preexisting conditions. The numbers are higher for adults over 55. Anywhere between 48% to 86% of this group can have preexisting conditions.

Because preexisting conditions affect so many people, it’s important to understand how they can affect car accident claims.

How preexisting medical conditions affect personal injury claims

To understand how a preexisting injury can affect your accident claim, let’s go back to how injury claims work. To win your accident claim, you will need to prove that the other driver was careless. (Personal injury lawyers call this “negligence.”) To prove negligence, you’ll need to prove four things: 1) that the at-fault driver owed you a duty to drive carefully; 2) that the other driver failed to perform that duty; 3) that you were injured; and 4) that the other driver’s actions caused your injury.

That last point – causation – is where preexisting medical conditions can complicate a personal injury claim. Remember Abby who fell off the ladder five years ago and hurt her neck? If she hurt her neck again in a car accident, the other driver’s insurance company will do its best to prove that her car accident injuries were really caused by the ladder incident.

Although the insurance company will make arguments regarding causation, a preexisting condition will not necessarily keep you from winning your personal injury case. But the outcome will depend on the nature of your preexisting condition and how the accident affected that injury. An experienced Birmingham accident lawyer can help you prove that the car crash caused your injuries – not some earlier event.

Can I get damages if my car accident aggravated my preexisting injury?

Generally, yes. Abby fell off a ladder five years ago. If her injury was healed before the accident but her doctors now say that she will need surgery and physical therapy, the other driver will be responsible for paying for both the surgery and the therapy because without the accident, she would not need those treatments.

Can I get damages if a car accident made my preexisting injury worse?

In most cases, yes. Ben, a construction worker, had a car accident in 2012. After several surgeries, doctors determined that he had permanently lost 10% of the function in his leg. If Ben’s recent trucking accident caused his leg to lose an additional 40% of its functionality, the trucking company will have to pay for all medical bills and medical treatments associated with the 40% loss of function. But the trucking company will not have to pay for anything associated with the original 10% loss of function because they did not cause that.

Can I get damages if my car accident made my chronic condition worse?

Yes. Carol was diagnosed with arthritis seven years ago. She takes an over-the-counter medicine every day and goes to physical therapy four times a year. After an accident earlier this year, doctors recommended that she take a prescription medication twice a day and go to physical therapy two times a week. The at-fault driver should be responsible for Carol’s new medication and the extra therapy sessions.

Can I get lost wages if my car accident made my preexisting injury so bad that I can’t work anymore?

Yes. Let’s go back to Ben. Although he lost 10% of his leg function after the first accident, he was still able to work in his normal position. But after the trucking accident, he could no longer work in the construction industry. He could sue the trucking company for the wages he lost as well as his future lost wages.

Can I get damages if I have a condition that made my injuries more severe than the average person’s?

Yes. Personal injury law uses something called the “eggshell plaintiff rule.” (The plaintiff is the person who was hurt in the accident.) 

The eggshell plaintiff rule says that the at-fault driver has to “take the plaintiff as they find them.” This means that the other driver can’t use one of your preexisting conditions to argue that they should not pay damages or should pay less damages. 

For example, Dana was in an accident that broke her leg. For a normal, healthy person, a broken leg takes about 8 weeks to heal and the treatment costs about $10,000. But Dana has diabetes. It took her leg 12 weeks to heal and the process cost $15,000. The at-fault driver cannot argue that he should only have to pay $10,000. Under the eggshell rule, he has to accept that Dana’s diabetes made the injury more expensive. He has to pay the full cost despite her preexisting condition.

What should I do if a car accident made my preexisting injury worse?

If your car accident aggravated a preexisting injury, the first thing you should do is see a doctor. Getting medical treatment as soon as possible after an accident can help doctors determine the cause of the injury. (It also makes it harder for the insurance company to argue that your injuries weren’t that serious.) Make sure you tell any doctors about your preexisting injuries or conditions.

After talking to your doctor, you should contact an experienced Alabama accident attorney. Preexisting conditions can raise lots of legal questions. Your personal injury attorney will know which questions to ask and which facts will matter in your case. However, your lawyer will only know which questions to ask if she has complete and accurate information. So, be open and honest with your Birmingham injury lawyer. Having good information will help her give you solid legal advice.

Your attorney can also help you deal with the insurance company. Insurance companies will often ask injured people to give recorded statements or sign medical records releases. Never discuss your injuries – past or present – with the insurance company without talking to your Alabama personal injury attorney first.

How can I prove that a car accident affected my preexisting injury?

In cases involving preexisting conditions, your accident attorney will have to prove that it was the car accident – not something else – that caused your current injuries. Your medical records will be the key. Request the medical records from your prior injury or preexisting condition. Give them to your Birmingham injury attorney. As you continue treatment, keep any new records in a safe, organized place. Be sure to share the new files with your accident lawyer.

If a car accident made an old injury worse, we can help

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident that aggravated an existing injury or medical condition, you probably have lots of questions. If you do, do not hesitate to contact Collins Law, LLC. Our firm’s founder, April H. Collins, is one of Birmingham’s leading car accident attorneys. We handle all types of motor vehicle accidents. Call our firm at 205-588-1411 or use our website’s online scheduling tool to make an appointment for your free consultation.