If you have a preexisting injury and you’ve been in an accident, you may wonder if you can collect damages from the responsible party for aggravation of your condition.
In many cases, insurance companies will fight compensating an injured person, claiming that the individual was in such poor physical condition already that the wreck did not cause additional harm. While you may not collect damages that cover your existing physical condition prior to the wreck, the law provides for you to be compensated for any physical or mental conditions that become worse.
What Is an ‘Eggshell Plaintiff?’
California law and common law both use the legal concept of an “eggshell plaintiff.” This principle holds that a victim being physically fragile prior to an accident does not absolve the responsible person of liability. If a reckless driver causes a crash that harms someone with a preexisting back injury, for example, that driver still bears responsibility even though a healthier person might have suffered lesser injuries.
The “eggshell plaintiff” concept also is known as the “unusually susceptible plaintiff” rule in California. A defendant in a car accident case bears responsibility for any harm to the plaintiff, even if that plaintiff has preexisting conditions and even if a healthier person would not have sustained similar injuries.
If you’ve been in a car accident that had the effect of aggravating an injury, an insurer may argue that the harm to you is meaningless. A car accident lawyer can help protect your rights for fair compensation despite any preexisting injuries.
Disclosing Prior Injuries
In an effort to deny claims related to injuries suffered in car accidents, insurance companies often will pore over medical records of victims. They will use any preexisting conditions they find in an effort to discredit claims of injury directly resulting from a crash, and they may argue that the recently sustained injuries already existed.
Your attorney will work with you to ensure that this defense does not work. However, it’s important that you disclose all your preexisting conditions and any other pertinent medical information to your legal team so that they can argue effectively on your behalf.
Even if you feel that past injuries and medical conditions are not related to your current injuries from a car crash, it’s vital that your attorneys understand your full medical history. By disclosing even seemingly dissimilar conditions, you lend credibility to your case.
Having preexisting conditions may even give you an advantage, because your attorney can compare your past diagnostic tests — such as X-rays — with current ones to prove that you suffered harm from an accident.
Winning a Claim Despite Preexisting Injuries
Legal precedent has established that individuals with preexisting conditions can recover compensation for aggravation of their injuries due to accidents.
In one recent case, the family of a 10-year-old girl who suffered a traumatic brain injury was awarded $10.7 million by a Los Angeles jury. Attorneys for the defendant argued that the girl should not receive damages because she already had an intellectual learning disability at the time of the accident.
The jury did not agree that the girl’s brain injury resulted from her preexisting developmental disability and found that the defendant was totally at fault for the accident. Before the trial, the plaintiff had sought more than $2 million, which was the limit of the defendant’s insurance policy.
The defendant made an offer to settle the case for a little over half the amount, which the girl’s family rejected. Following a nine-day trial and two days of deliberation, the jury issued a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded more than $6.7 million for economic damages and $4 million for non-economic damages.
Seeking Compensation for Your Injuries
If you have a preexisting condition that was aggravated by a vehicle accident, you should not hesitate to seek the compensation you’re due, whether through a jury verdict or a negotiated car accident settlement. The attorneys at The Law Office of Daniel J. O’Neill can assist you with filing a claim to hold the other party accountable. For a consultation, please contact us.