Whether you’ve been involved in a car accident, a slip-and-fall case, or personal injury claim, any pre-existing injuries may seriously impact your case.
Your pre-existing injuries do not mean you cannot claim new damages and compensation for your new injuries. However, they may affect the impact of your claim and how much the court may award you.
Understanding this relationship between new and pre-existing injuries will help you and your San Diego personal injury attorney best prepare for court. Let’s explore how pre-existing injuries may impact your personal injury claim.
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What Is the Legal Definition of a Pre-Existing Injury?
US law defines a pre-existing injury or condition as a condition that existed before the current condition; in other words, the injury or condition (often used interchangeably in this context) existed before the accident.
What Are Some Common Examples of Pre-Existing Injuries?
Any injury or condition that existed before the accident can be technically classified as pre-existing. However, the most significant pre-existing injuries in the context of a personal injury claim may affect or impact any new injuries or conditions suffered because of the accident.
Some common examples of pre-existing injuries include:
- Congenital disabilities and other physical abnormalities
- Stress-related medical conditions, like asthma
- Injuries that are still healing
- Conditions related to joint pain, like arthritis; and
- Muscle sprains and strains.
These are only a few select examples of common pre-existing injuries.
Pre-Existing Injuries and Your Personal Injury Case
As the plaintiff, you and your personal injury attorney must prove that your new injuries are not mere aggravations of your existing ones. In other words, should you suffer new injuries unrelated to your pre-existing ones, you must prove it in court.
However, the defense has the burden of proof that your new injuries are indeed intensifying your pre-existing conditions. The defense must prove that you’re simply trying to claim that your pre-existing injuries are new injuries caused by the defendant’s negligence or malicious intent.
Disclosing your entire medical history to your personal injury attorney is imperative to help them best prepare to represent you. Should you withhold anything, you’ll hurt your case more than you’ll help it.
If the defendant’s negligence severely worsens your pre-existing injuries, your personal injury claim may retain its value. However, if you’ve only suffered minor exacerbations or hardly any new injuries, the defendant’s liability may be mitigated or removed entirely if the defense can prove as much.
The “Eggshell Skull” Rule
The “Eggshell Skull” rule is often cited in personal injury claims that involve pre-existing conditions. Essentially, a common law doctrine states that a negligent defendant is still liable for the plaintiff’s injuries regardless of whether that defendant knew about the plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions.
The rule is titled as such because, even if a plaintiff was liable to suffer more damages from an accident than the average person due to pre-existing medical conditions (like an eggshell-thin skull), the negligent defendant still retains fault. The plaintiff cannot be “blamed” for having pre-existing medical conditions that may intensify new injuries.
What Kind of Damages Can You Recover in a Personal Injury Case?
In personal injury cases, there are usually two primary damages the plaintiff may recover: Compensatoryand punitive.
- Compensatory damages are awarded to the plaintiff by the court for all expenses incurred by the plaintiff during the lawsuit process. These may include lost wages from missing work, out-of-pocket medical expenses, travel costs, and more.
- Punitive damages are what the court mandates the defendant to pay the plaintiff as punishment for their actions. These are punitive in nature and are often awarded to deter future events of a similar nature.
Two common subcategories of compensatory damages include economic damages, easily quantifiable expenses, and non-economic damages, which are not so simple to quantify and may include compensation for mental anguish and emotional scarring.
It’s important to reiterate that having pre-existing conditions does not forfeit your right to recover damages from a new personal injury case. Depending on the facts of the case and which party can prove the definitive evidence, you may still recover significant compensation or none at all.
What Happens if the Plaintiff Was Partially Negligent?
If the plaintiff has pre-existing injuries and is found to be partially at fault for their injuries, the compensation sum they may recover could shrink even further.
Contributory fault essentially establishes that the plaintiff had something to do with their injuries or the exacerbation of their pre-existing ones. If the latter is the case, it may become even more difficult for the plaintiff to recover anything.
Regardless of your own personal outlook on the likelihood of your case’s success, you should still consult with a personal injury attorney, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or feel you may have been partially at fault for the accident.
Navigate Your San Diego Personal Injury Case With Confidence With Help From HHJ Trial Attorneys
Pre-existing medical conditions and contributory fault tend to complicate what can already be an extremely complicated endeavor, so don’t go it alone. Enlist the help of experienced, trustworthy San Diego personal injury attorneys.