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Can I File an Injury Claim if I Have a Preexisting Injury?
If you sustain an injury as a result of an automobile accident, while shopping at the supermarket, while leaning against a faulty banister or railing at your apartment complex, or in any similar situation, you may have a personal injury claim against the driver, landlord, business owner, or other party whose negligent actions caused your injuries. However, the value of your claim may increase or decrease, depending on the circumstances, if you have a preexisting medical condition or injury. The following article explores when and how a preexisting injury can affect a personal injury lawsuit.
What is a Preexisting Injury or Medical Condition?
A preexisting injury or medical condition is one that existed prior to the time that you were injured in the accident that led to your current personal injury claim. For example, if you injure your back due to cumulative trauma sustained from repeatedly lifting heavy items at work, and then injury your back again in an automobile accident, the other driver may argue that their actions were not the cause of your injuries, but rather that your condition was caused by repeated lifting over time.
When you file a personal injury claim, you put your medical history “at issue”, which means that the defense can request your previous medical records and review evidence of:
- Prior surgeries;
- Degenerative disc disease;
- Prior automobile accidents;
- Diagnosed nerve damage;
- Chronic illnesses like arthritis;
- Documented on-the-job-injuries;
- Prior work restrictions on lifting, bending, pushing, pulling, or repetitive motions;
- Congenital conditions or birth defects; or
- Seemingly unrelated medical conditions like epilepsy that may have contributed to the accident or your injuries.
A defendant will likely request copies of your medical records and medical history in responding to any lawsuit that you may bring in court or in examining any insurance claim you may have filed. If your medical records reveal that you were previously diagnosed with any medical conditions that potentially explain your current condition, the defendant or insurance may try to argue that your current symptoms are unrelated to whatever injury you sustained in the accident at issue and are instead attributable to your preexisting injury.
Typically, you will be unable to claim money damages for injuries that were already affecting you before the accident or injury, unless the accident at issue worsened your preexisting injury. The opinion and testimony of a medical expert may be required to ascertain the exact degree to which the nature and extent of your injuries are attributable to the defendant’s negligent actions. It can thus be essential that you carefully establish which symptoms are new and which pre-dated the accident at issue.
How a Preexisting Injury Can Affect a Personal Injury Lawsuit
How to Build a Successful Personal Injury Case: In your injury case, you will have to establish that the party you are suing had a duty to take reasonable care to avoid injuring you (e.g. to drive reasonably safely, to keep their business reasonably clear of dangerous conditions, to take reasonable precautions to protect you from on-the-job injuries, etc.). You must further prove that party failed to act in a reasonably safe manner, this failure caused your injuries, and you incurred damages as a result.
How a Defendant May Use a Preexisting Injury Against You: The defendant in your case will likely request all of your prior medical records as part of standard pretrial discovery process. The defendant will then comb through those records to find evidence of preexisting injuries that might provide an alternative explanation for the injuries you are claiming they caused. If you have had any prior surgeries or if you have been diagnosed with any even tangentially-related conditions, the defendant will likely try to argue that the injury you are claiming is just an old, preexisting injury that you are trying to pin on them. They will likely enlist a medical expert to offer an opinion on whether their conduct (e.g. poor driving leading to a collision, failure to install proper handrails on stairways, failure to clean up spills in grocery store aisles, etc.) caused your injury or whether your preexisting condition explains your current symptoms and medical complaints. Unfortunately, personal injury law can be a bit of a game with no shortage of medical experts ready to provide insurance defense firms that opinion they need to support their case.
How You Can Respond to a Defendant’s Arguments Regarding Your Preexisting Injury: You are entitled to respond with medical expert testimony of your own. Your medical expert will offer his or her opinion on whether the defendant’s negligent conduct caused your current injury. This expert will carefully examine prior records such as X-ray, MRI, or CT scan results related to your preexisting condition or injury. Your medical expert can also carefully review your prior disability claim documents, clinical records, and doctor’s notes to determine the nature and extent of your prior injury and that prior injury’s relationship to the injury you suffered in the incident that gave rise to your lawsuit.
If your medical expert establishes that the accident at issue in your lawsuit aggravated or worsened your preexisting condition, the potential money damages you can recover will likely increase. If, on the other hand, the medical expert can clearly opine that the nature of your current and preexisting injuries is so different that your previous injury is irrelevant to your current claim, you may be successful in recovering the full amount of your demand.
Get an Expert on Your Side
Even a case that seems very clear and easy at first blush, like a rear-end collision, can be complicated by details of a preexisting injury. Sometimes, there may be a medical record in your past that you have completely forgotten about or that does not seem at all relevant to your current case, which the defense will find and try to use against you.
It is so important to make sure you have a knowledgeable and experienced legal team on your side that is familiar with the games insurance defense firms play and can identify potentially relevant preexisting medical conditions before the defense does, so you can proactively prepare a counter argument.
If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact Silverthorne Attorneys today at (949) 234-6034 for a complimentary consultation of your case. We will use our years of experience to get you the compensation you are entitled to.