Recent Department of Health and Human Service data indicates that up to half of all Americans under the age of 65 have at least one pre-existing health condition. For seniors, the percentage increases to a possible 86%.
These numbers are generally more applicable to health insurance coverage than personal injury lawsuits, yet they do demonstrate the potential of having to defend against a pre-existing condition if you file a personal injury claim. Further, the older you are, the higher the chances are that you will have a pre-existing medical issue. With that in mind, we analyze how pre-existing medical conditions can impact personal injury claims.
What’s a Pre-Existing Condition?
In a personal injury action, a pre-existing condition refers to any prior injury or medical issue that may explain the health symptoms at issue in the case. The lawyer or insurance company representing the defendant will look for any prior injury or condition from your past that might explain your current symptoms and lessen the defendant's responsibility.
Eggshell Skull Doctrine
The existence of a pre-existing condition isn’t a “get out of jail free” card for the defendant. The eggshell skull doctrine is a legal principle that addresses this. Essentially, it means that the defendant must take the injured plaintiff as they find them, even the plaintiff is fragile like an "eggshell." Thus, while a pre-existing condition may make a person more susceptible to injury, a defendant can still be held responsible for the injuries that they cause.
For example, take an elderly person who suffers from osteoporosis, which makes their bones weak. If they slip and fall on a dangerous premises, they are more likely to suffer bone fractures than a younger person with strong bones. Regardless of the pre-existing medical condition, the elderly person can make a claim for compensation if they are injured due to someone else's negligence. The pre-existing medical condition may factor into the value of the damages, but the existence of the preexisting condition, in and of itself, does not exonerate the negligent premises owner.
How a Pre-Existing Condition May Affect Your Personal Injury Claim
If you have a pre-existing condition, tell your lawyer so they can attempt to determine what damages were caused by your accident, and whether any portion of the damages is attributable to the pre-existing condition. You’ll need to show that your current injuries are largely due to your recent accident. Your lawyer can help you prove your case, but must know about any pre-existing conditions first.
Examples of Pre-Existing Conditions that may affect your personal injury case include the following:
- Injuries from a previous accident
- Birth defects
- Congenital conditions
- Stress-related health issues
- Recent injuries that haven’t fully healed
- Degenerative wear and tear in joints and bones
Having a pre-existing condition doesn’t automatically sink your personal injury case. As a matter of fact, in many cases, an accident can worsen a pre-existing condition. A skilled personal injury attorney may be able to build a case around these facts.
The Importance of Medical Records
If you do suffer from a prior health problem, the good news is that you have medical documentation. Your medical records are essential for your claim. They help define your pre-existing condition and how it affects you.
These records provide a “snapshot’ of you before your accident. This may be valuable evidence in proving your claim. It can show how serious your post-accident injuries are with a before and after perspective of your health.
Exacerbation / Aggravation
When an accident aggravates a prior medical condition, your lawyer can argue aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Medical records will help demonstrate this issue. Your attorney can point to this proof of the damages you’ve suffered from your accident – comparing your prior injury or condition before the accident to the same medical condition after the accident. New Jersey has a well-developed body of law that applies to these types of claims.
Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer Who is Familiar with Pre-Existing Conditions
The Reinartz Law Firm has a track record of successfully representing personal injury victims of all ages. We have experience dealing with cases involving pre-existing conditions. We understand how these conditions can affect a claim and work hard to ensure our clients’ best interests are always protected. Call our personal injury team to seek justice for your injuries.