Can Pre-Existing Injury Affect Auto Accident Claim?

Pre Existing Injuries Car AccidentIf you’ve been injured in a car crash, your recovery should be of the utmost importance to you. You may not think that your prior medical history (or injuries) is important to your case—IT IS. The insurance companies will try to use this information against you and so always tell your attorney and doctors about prior injuries and medical conditions. Don’t hide facts—just focus on getting better. Let your attorney do the fighting for you.

The insurance company’s main objective is to reduce their own liabilities and pay you as little as they can. They often use the existence of prior injuries to reduce their claims and to justify their low-ball settlement offers. Discuss your case with an experienced and skilled Colorado car accident attorney; they can ensure that your rights to compensation are protected throughout the legal process—even if you had pre-existing injuries.  

Apportionment and Pre-Existing Conditions

Whether it was an old sports injury or a prior car accident injury, pre-existing injuries are common in car accidents. Oftentimes, car accident victims fail to disclose their pre-existing injury because they believe that these injuries are fully healed or not relevant to the case. Even if you’ve fully recovered from your injury or if your pre-existing injury has nothing to do with your most recent car accident injury, alert your attorney. While the insurance company is not entitled to ALL of your medical records, your attorney needs to understand the full scope of your injury and how it may relate to your past injuries.  

In Colorado, if a plaintiff in a lawsuit had a pre-existing condition prior to an incident like a car crash, and that condition was aggravated because of the defendant’s tortious or negligent conduct, then the defendant may be liable for the plaintiff’s entire damages. However, there is the possibility of apportionment. If a jury can allocate the amount of damages between the pre-existing condition and the damages caused by the defendant, then the defendant would not be liable for the entire damages. If the evidence presented does not support apportionment, then the defendant is going to be liable for the entirety of damages. The defendant is not required to pay for pre-existing injuries that were unaffected by the accident—only injuries that were caused or made worse by the accident.  

An example might be someone who has a previous back injury and gets in a car accident. After the accident, if that person has a new disc herniation that causes back pain, there will be no apportionment for the injury. But, if the accident aggravates the existing facet injury causing increased back pain and additional treatment, there will be apportionment.

In some cases, however, a plaintiff is asymptomatic with a pre-existing condition, and that becomes aggravated by a car accident. There will be no apportionment if a pre-existing condition was asymptomatic. This scenario would fall under what’s called the “Thin Skull” rule of law.

“Thin Skull” Rule and Jury Instructions

The “Thin Skull” instruction in court holds that a plaintiff need not prove the existence of a pre-existing bodily condition before the jury instruction can be given. “Thin Skull” is a term that refers to a tort doctrine in which the frailty of an injured person is not a defense in the case. In other words, even though an elderly person or an infant may be more susceptible to sustaining serious, life-threatening injuries than other individuals, that doesn’t make the defendant less liable. The defendant is liable for all damages that stem from their wrongful actions, regardless of the victim’s pre-accident condition.  

Therefore, if a defendant focuses on the plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries or conditions at trial, it would be crucial to use this jury instruction. Furthermore, if there is evidence presented regarding the plaintiff’s condition after the accident and that somehow the pre-existing condition caused or aggravated the plaintiff’s current condition, then the instruction should be given.

Your Doctor Can Help

When seeking damages after a car accident, your medical records should clearly show a relationship between your injury and your car accident. Medical records can make or break your case and your doctor can play a significant role in the amount of compensation you receive. Ask your doctor to clearly state the reason for your injury in your medical record. This will help distinguish between your pre-existing injury and your new injuries.

What Should You Do?

Remember, it is imperative that you disclose any previous medical conditions affecting your case—your credibility is extremely important. To ensure that you are getting the maximum possible compensation for your injuries and aggravation of pre-existing medical conditions, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

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