Can a Pre-existing Condition Impact Your Personal Injury Claim?

Over our lifetimes, we will develop any number of medical issues. Some, like a cold or tennis elbow, will come and go with time, leaving us without any lasting symptoms or vulnerabilities. Others, such as arthritis, can end up lasting for years and even decades, impacting our lives in many ways and making us more vulnerable to other conditions.

It is extremely common for plaintiffs in personal injury cases to have pre-existing medical conditions that impact their health on an ongoing basis, but it is something that is rarely talked about. We often hear third parties talk about damages in personal injury cases as if the plaintiff was a picture of perfect health before the accident occurred.

This type of narrative can make individuals with pre-existing conditions concerned that they will not be able to bring their personal injury claims, or that their health will be a barrier to finding a qualified attorney. It is important to know that this is untrue.

Understanding Pre-existing Conditions in Cedar Rapids

The first step in understanding the role that pre-existing conditions can play in your personal injury case is to know what a pre-existing condition truly is. For purposes of a lawsuit, a pre-existing condition is another medical condition that may be contributing to the injuries you experience or may have made you more vulnerable to those injuries.

For example, if your broke your ankle when you were a kid but recovered completely and suffer no lasting issues as a result of the break, it is unlikely to be considered a pre-existing condition that contributed to your broken leg in your car accident.

Conversely, if you have suffered from on and off repetitive stress injuries related to your shoulder and you continue to battle occasional pain or discomfort, this may be considered a pre-existing condition that contributed to a rotator injury that you incurred when you fell off a ladder.

Simply because you have suffered medical issues in the past does not automatically mean that all of those medical issues will be used against you in a lawsuit. Instead, the focus will typically be limited to any medical issues that are directly related to the injuries you incurred.

Pre-existing Conditions and Damages

Pre-existing conditions are relevant to a personal injury case because they impact the amount of damages that a plaintiff may be able to recover. While a defendant may be obligated to pay for expenses incurred as a result of his negligent behavior, he is not obligated to pay for injuries that are unaffected by the accident and previously existed. Thus, when you claim certain injuries, the defendant may try to argue that they existed before the injury occurred and point to your preexisting conditions.

Even if you had a condition that already existed at the time of the accident, the defendant is still liable for damages if his conduct aggravated the injury and made it worse. This means that the severity of your condition at the time the accident occurred is likely to be a central issue in the case.

The defendant bears the burden of disproving your damages claims. This means that he or she must show that your preexisting condition was the true cause of your injuries, or that your condition was not worsened by the defendant’s conduct.

The best thing that you can do as a plaintiff in this scenario is to be aware of these arguments and work with your medical providers to make sure that your conditions and injuries are adequately documented, and that those providers can clearly link the injuries you experienced to the accident that occurred.

The Eggshell Plaintiff

In some cases, you may suffer from a condition that makes you uniquely vulnerable to further injury or a condition that is easily aggravated. You may be concerned that the defendant cannot be held responsible for your unique condition. In actuality, a legal doctrine with a funny name can assist in these situations.

The “eggshell plaintiff” doctrine holds that defendants must take their plaintiffs as they find them, special conditions and all. The classic example is a defendant who runs into a plaintiff that has an eggshell thin skull and is thus extremely damaged by even the slightest of contact.

Under this doctrine, even though the defendant did not know the plaintiff had a fragile skull and even though the fragile skull contributed to plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant is still liable for all of the injuries that were a result of the accident. Simply because the plaintiff has a preexisting condition that makes her more vulnerable does not excuse the defendant from liability.

This doctrine provides critical protection for those who suffer from preexisting conditions and should help every plaintiff to realize that their medical condition should never be a barrier to reaching out and seeking medical assistance.

Iowa Attorneys Helping You Recover for a Preexisting Condition

If you were recently in an accident, it is important to seek treatment for your injuries as soon as possible. Ideally, you may want to see your primary care provider. She or he is the most familiar with the your medical history and can best assess what new injuries have been caused by your accident.

When your accident necessitates emergency treatment, you should make sure that your injuries are thoroughly documented by any medical professional that you see. You should also try to obtain copies of any records that were prepared. Once able, you should schedule a follow up appointment with your primary provider so that he or she can assess what has happened.

These steps can go a long way toward making sure that your new injuries, or the aggravation of an existing condition, are properly documented for any lawsuit that you may want to follow. Personal injury attorney Jonathan D. Schmidt can help you in the process by reviewing records and offering legal advice about what next steps you may want to take. For more information or to set up an initial consultation, contact him online or at (319) 774-6078.