Pre-Existing Conditions in Personal Injury Cases

Pre-existing medical conditions in personal injury cases refer to any medical ailments that predate the accident or incident causing the injury. For example, they may include degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, or injuries from another prior accident. A victim can still recover if the injury aggravates or worsens the pre-existing condition. Recovery falls under the eggshell doctrine. This doctrine states that a defendant is liable for any damages resulting from its negligence even if the victim had a preexisting condition that made the consequences of the wrongful act more severe for her than it would have been for a person without the condition. The eggshell rule states only that the defendant may not escape or reduce liability because the victim’s preexisting condition made the victim more susceptible to injury from the defendant’s conduct.

Due to how complicated pre-existing injuries can be, we always strongly recommend those injured with a pre-existing condition speak with an injury lawyer. Because of the complicated nature of a pre-existing condition in relation to injury claims, it is essential that the victims disclose their prior medical history, pre-existing conditions, or previous injuries to their attorney for a full analysis and advice. Withholding the information can hamper an attorney’s ability to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company.

How Do Pre-Existing Conditions Affect Personal Injury Lawsuits?

Establishing a direct and proximate cause to a car accident is essential in receiving compensation. Direct cause looks at the immediate damage caused by the negligent act while proximate cause is the primary cause that sets everything in motion. Proving direct and proximate cause, requires a direct link to the car crash. The victim must prove that the actions by the defendant caused the damages. Such proof can be shown by police reports, testimony from the parties and eyewitnesses, physical damage photographs, medical records, and medical and accident reconstruction experts’ reports.

In injury cases involving pre-existing conditions, the defendant uses many strategies to defeat the plaintiff’ claims. In defeating direct and proximate cause, the defendant will claim that a medical pre-existing condition was the cause of the injuries and not the accident or incident. They will also argue the severity of the aggravation limits those damages. Failure to mitigate damages as well as lack of causation by the defendant is also used to limit recovery. The defendant often argues either contributory or comparative negligence arguing that the plaintiff caused her own injuries. Finally, an unforeseeable event  may be argued to preclude recovery. All of these strategies may reduce or  even preclude damage recovery in a car crash.

Building a strong case despite pre-existing conditions requires initially proving the other party was negligent. This is accomplished by photographs, witness statements, police reports, and medical records. Once liability is accepted, the insurance company will argue that your prior medical condition precludes recovery. To counter, a person has to show how the medical condition was made worse by the accident. This can be accomplished by medical records review, expert medical testimony, or establishing a correlation between the accident and the aggravation of the prior medical condition.
In a car accident case, the treating doctor or medical expert can provide opinions on the relationship between the pre-existing condition and the claimed injuries. They can testify as to how the accident exacerbated or worsened the pre-existing condition. Once established, they can provide insight into the extent of the injuries and how those injuries affect daily life. They can also estimate the costs of those injuries. A medical expert can also provide opinions on the severity of the injuries and how it affects the way of life and establish future medical care and costs. These doctors can provide diagnosis and prognosis opinions including permanent medical conditions.

About the Authors: Sawan & Sawan is a multi-generational, family owned law firm practicing law in the areas of car accidents, truck accidents, and other personal injury. Our firm practices law in Ohio and Michigan.

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Dennis P. Sawan

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Christopher A. Sawan


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